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Friday, October 9, 2020

Writing About Nature and Loving It

 Nature Writing

One of my favorite writing moments is coming up with ways to describe a sunset, weeds, animals, even dirt, using what I believe to be interesting words or combinations of words. That can be hard to do without reverting to "purple prose," which makes writing something unique about nature a  challenge.

No matter what I write--story, poem, novel--nature plays an important part in the setting. I may struggle with the plot or some relationship my characters are having, but I usually relax when I get to a place where I can interject a description of clouds, animals, water, trees, etc.

While my husband and I still had a cabin at Lake of the Woods, Oregon I was asked to write a chapter on the area's flora and fauna for a comprehensive history of the lake and its surroundings. The book was published in 1918 as Cabin Cruising, a Lakeside History. Below is one of the paragraphs I wrote for it.

The lake itself supports a variety of waterfowl. Some nest here. Others make it a stopping point during migration. From the campgrounds, resort, or lakeshore you can watch an osprey, similar in size yet whiter than an eagle, fold its wings, dive into the water feet first, and come up with a fish. Also seen on or near the water are great blue herons, Canada geese, grebes, buffleheads, and sandhill cranes. Occasionally a flock of American white pelicans will land on the lake. How delightful it is to experience these snowy birds with huge orange beaks use their nine-foot wing spans to soar through the air with the grace of birds half their size!

In 2011, I won a prize for a nature essay on tumbleweeds. Here is an excerpt.

Upwind from the road, a lone tumbleweed about the size of a bear cub bounded across the scant vegetation and over the crest of a gentle rise where it paused for a few seconds before leaping into the air and bouncing across the road. Strong-limbed, and with a few seeds left to sow, the tumbleweed rolled up the ditch bank into the waiting arms of a cluster of weeds with similar heritage, weeds stacked three feet deep against a barbed wire fence that shadowed the road as far as the eye could see. The thick pile of weeds made for a soft landing, but the thorny arms therein refused to let go, and the hapless tumbleweed’s gypsy days were over.

The story in my novel Brute Heart takes place in several natural settings. Most are in eastern Oregon. The one below describes a forest west of the Cascades.

The thick tangle of evergreen and deciduous trees embraced every imaginable shade of green, from the green-black undersides of the fir boughs to the chartreuse velvet moss that wrapped around the tree trunks and clung to the tops of rocks in the streambed. Vine maples, with sleeves of new green foliage, stretched across the rapidly moving water, their arms so long they sometimes entwined with limbs from the opposite side of the stream to form a leafy canopy.

I included more nature writing  in my novel, Never Done, published in 2017 by the Wild Rose Press, a turn-of-the-century story that takes place in western Colorado.

The plip, plip, plip of melting icicles signaled the beginning of what amounted to spring in Ophir Loop. A misty rain, hard to distinguish from low clouds, hovered over the gorge once or twice a week. Snow was still being measured in feet above the timberline, but bursts of wild green dusted the slopes. The creeks had begun gurgling again, and the pussy willows growing along their banks were silver with catkins.

Every once in a while something on Facebook resonates with me, and I save it for future use. How appropriate this one is for a post on nature writing! 


Monday, September 7, 2020

Woman Walks Ahead


My husband and I are great movie fans. Our television is usually tuned to a movie channel all day. Not that we sit and watch movies all day, but I do stop for a scene here and there, and the audio produces the background sound I need to drown out the constant ringing in my ears.

Since my husband prefers westerns and war movies, I end up watching a lot of films from those genres. Once in a while I come across a real gem as I did last week when I watched the western, Woman Walks Ahead.

This indie film released in 2017, although not historically accurate, is a beautiful portrayal of the emotional bond that developed between a New York widow who traveled to the Dakotas in the 1880’s to paint Sitting Bull's portrait, and the iconic Native American himself.

Filmed in New Mexico, the scenery is breathtaking. Jessica Chastain’s acting is superb, and the portrayal of Sitting Bull as a humble, intelligent human being with a sense of humor is refreshing. Add history’s treatment of this man and his people that ended in the tragedy at Wounded Knee and you have a drama that was for me a real tear-jerker. I haven’t cried that hard for years.

I highly recommend this unheralded movie for its overwhelming hold on the eyes, the brain, and the heart.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Life in America in 1910

My second novel Never Done is set in Colorado from 1885-1919. Although I had my great-grandmother's handwritten autobiography to draw information from, I did tons of research to make sure I correctly described  the clothing, transportation, etc. that existed during those years.

Below is an email I received that lists a few facts about life in America in the year 1910. If I'd had this list a few years ago, I might have incorporated some of the information in  Never Done. (published April 2017)

In the Year of our Lord 1910

The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.

There were only 8,000 cars traveling on 144 miles of paved roads.
The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
To buy gas for your automobile, if you owned one, you had to buy it at a drug store. 

Only 14 percent of American homes had a bathtub.
Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
Only 8 percent of  homes had a telephone.
More than 95 percent of all births took place at HOME.
Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.
Sugar cost four cents a pound.
Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.
Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

The average US wage in 1910 was 22 cents per hour.
The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
1910 wages in a sawmill as a common laborer were $2 a day
A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
Ninety percent of all Doctors had NO COLLEGE EDUCATION! Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press AND the government as 'substandard.'

The Five leading causes of death were:
1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

The American flag had 45 stars.
The population of Las Vegas , Nevada was only 30!
Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented yet.
There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.
Two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write and only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores.
Back then pharmacists said, 'Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind,
regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health'.
There were about 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE U.S.A. !

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Some Punny Takes on the Coronavirus

A pun, according to the New Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is "the humorous use of a word in a way that suggests two interpretations." Serious writers avoid them unless they are humorists, and because puns are considered a desperate method of getting a laugh, most people groan when a pun is the punch line of a joke.

I find them interesting because they show the versatility of the English language. Although puns may drive translators crazy, they can help teachers of English as a second language show their students the correct usage of words with multiple meanings. Who knows, the teachers might even get a few laughs out of their students.

Lately, the coronavirus has provided writers, comedians, and comic strip creators a new source of inspiration. Today I am sharing an anonymous writer's punny treatment of how the medical community might feel about reopening the country after months of inactivity. I apologize for the slightly distasteful conclusion.

Allergists were in favor of scratching it, but dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves.
Gastroenterologists had sort of a gut feeling about it, but neurologists thought the administration had a lot of nerve.
Obstetricians felt certain everyone was laboring under a misconception, while ophthalmologists considered the idea shortsighted.
Many Pathologists yelled, "Over my dead body!" while pediatricians said, "Oh, grow up!”
Psychiatrists thought the idea was madness, while radiologists could see right through it.
Surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole thing, and internists claimed it would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow.

Plastic surgeons opined that this proposal would "put a whole new face on the matter.”
Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but urologists were pissed off at people being back on the streets again.
Anesthesiologists thought ending confinement was a gas, and those lofty cardiologists didn’t have the heart to say no.
In the end, the proctologists won out, leaving the entire decision up to the assholes in Washington!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Summer Vacation

As a child growing up in Klamath Falls, Oregon--a mid-sized town with an altitude close to a mile above sea level, summer meant the blessed end of a long winter. And the sunny season seemed to arrive overnight. If our town experienced spring at all, it was usually threatened by sporadic below-freezing temperatures that shriveled the lilacs and made growing tomatoes nearly impossible.

Summer always seemed to break free shortly after Memorial Day. That was when the school year ended, too, and though I enjoyed going to school more than many of my classmates, I looked forward to playing softball, tennis, or kick the can with friends. Plus summer meant Girl Scout Camp and my family's annual trip to Washington state to visit relatives. Three short, busy months later, I was back in school and Jack Frost was nipping noses and painting treetops.

After graduating from the University of Oregon, I taught high school in the same building where I had attended classes four years earlier. As a teacher, I looked forward to summer vacation even more than I did as a child. Not only was it a break from preparing lessons and grading papers, I could empty my bladder when it was full rather than ready to pop. I took a few continuing education classes, and then spent the rest of the season lying in the sun in my back yards or on the shores of several nearby lakes. Sometimes I traveled to San Francisco or Reno.

I taught school for eight years before entering the private sector where, for the first time in my life, I no longer had the whole summer off. Summers in a nine-to-five working environment meant squeezing sun-related activities and short trips into weekends. Vacations at every company I worked for had to be scheduled, and employees with the most seniority got to choose first. As a newbie, which I was quite a few times due to my habit of job-hopping, I  received two weeks for the first five years of employment, three weeks for the next five. I earned three weeks at three companies but never more than that.

In 2007 I retired to what some people think of as a permanent vacation. During my forty years of employment I wrote business letters, proposals, instructions, etc. but never felt confident enough about my writing ability to make it my profession. I looked at retirement as an opportunity to try my wings at creative writing, and since retiring I have published two novels and numerous short stories, essays and poems. No money to speak of, just a whole lot of satisfaction.

My attitude toward summer changed again when my passion for writing was repeatedly interrupted by yard work, house maintenance projects, out-of-town guests and family gatherings. I appreciated the warmth and sunshine, yet missed sitting at my computer in the peace and quiet of winter. Over time I turned into the rare person (other than a rabid skier or snowboarder) who couldn't wait for the days to grow shorter.

This year when summer rolled around, I realized that dreading the season was like wishing my life away. I was causing myself a great deal of stress, sometimes my loved ones, too, when I insisted on squeezing my writing between summer activities. I decided other than writing blog posts and editing existing work, I am going to enjoy this summer. Now, when people ask me what I'm writing, I'm happy to tell them, "Nothing, I'm on vacation."

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Time to Read

Every day I receive a new corona virus joke or cartoon, so many they would fill an entire book, which I'm sure some enterprising person will anthologize after the pandemic ends. I have also received several Rube Goldberg-type continual motion videos that could only have been constructed by someone with a lot of time on their hands.

My favorite corona virus email by far is the CLEVER arrangement of book spines pictured below. I don't have time to check whether every one is a legitimate title (not photo-shopped) but if they are, the effort it took to put this together is comparable to one of those Rube Goldberg contraptions.

The corona virus has disrupted plans for many of us. We could use this unexpected "vacation" to create something silly or complete some of those household projects on our to-do lists, but let's not forget to use at least part of this chunk of time to read.

Monday, April 6, 2020

23 Steps to Gooder Grammar

Since we have been practicing social distancing for over two weeks now due to the carona virus, some of us may be getting bored. If you are looking for something to do, read through the 23 phrases and sentences below. You may get a chuckle or two from these examples of fractured grammar that  most of us learned to avoid by the time we were eighth-graders. If you were born before 1940 you probably learned these rules of grammar even earlier. 

1.  Don't abbrev.      
2.  Check to see if you any words out.      
3.  Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.      
4.  About sentence fragments.      
5.  When dangling, don't use participles.      
6.  Don't use no double negatives.      
7.  Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.      
8.  Just between You and i, case is important.      
9.  Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.      
10. Don't use commas, that aren't necessary.      
11. Its important to use apostrophe's right.      
12. It's better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.      
13. Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.      
14. Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized.      
15. a sentence should begin with a capital and end with a period      
16. Use hyphens in compound-words, not just in any two-word phrase.      
17. In letters compositions reports and things like that we use commas to keep a string of items apart.      
18. Watch out for irregular verbs which have creeped into our language.      
19. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.      
20. Avoid unnecessary redundancy.      
21. A writer mustn't shift your point of view.      
22. Don't write a run-on sentence you've got to punctuate it.      
23. Avoid clich├ęs like the plague.
                                                                                                    Author unknown