Trail Tales 12 August 2022

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

The snow was hard packed early in the morning, but I still couldn’t look down at the view. Stopping in the middle of the snowfield, Elaine had her camera out snapping photos and oohing over the vista. I stood completely still and stared at my boots, dead center on the narrow path trodden into the snow. It hadn’t looked that far taking the first step and I had no idea how many more I’d be required to take to get back to the rocks and dirt. When we began moving again, my view was limited to the heels of Elaine’s boots. I kept telling myself, “Just one more step. Take one more step.”

Reaching the other end of the snowfield, it was another quarter mile up the boulder field and down to the lake at the base of the diamond face of the mountain. No problem. I don’t mind boulder fields. The PB and J with Cheez-Its was particularly good this day as we sat by the lapping water.

“Come on. We need to get below tree line before those clouds get here.”

“Yeah. I know.” Sighing, I put on my pack and down the boulder field we went.

“We better put our chinks on; that snow’ll be slick by now.”

Thank you, sun, I thought. Chinks or no chinks, I really wanted to call for search and rescue to send a copter. I could see tourist hikers crossing in tennis shoes. Someone was going to die, tumbling down that snow field and onto the rocks a million feet below.

Crowded now, the snow had become very slick with the warm sun and the too many feet on the narrow path.

The guy behind me wanted me to go faster. I took a few tentative steps, trying to stay with Elaine. I felt him tailgating me. I knew I was going to slide off. Sweat was soaking through to my outer jacket. I could feel the uneven thud trying to leap out from my chest. I wanted some water but couldn’t even reach for the hose on my right pack strap.

Pushing. Pushing. Pushing. “Get off my back, dude. Just give me some space.”

Breathe. Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Step. And finally solid rock. As the guy passed me, I flipped him off. Take that, I thought, as Elaine and I moved down the trail and back into the trees.

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Dreams and Phone Booths 2 August 2022

Sometimes dreams come out of nowhere, so vivid that, at least for me, I can wake up reaching out for something that isn’t there. Or I wake up believing I’m in the place where I was dreaming and then it’s a shock to discover I’m not, causing momentary disorientation. Does that happen to you? In this dream, I was desperate and feeling the weight of stress and anxiety as I walked up to the counter in a bank.

The teller smiled at me, an older woman with greying hair. Her warm brown eyes were wide with kindness. The compassion coming from her brought tears to my eyes. She reached across the counter and took my shaking hand in hers. I’d never seen her before, but she clearly knew me. “Don’t worry.” she said. “There’s a phone call for you. You can take it in the phone booth right over there.” She pointed me to middle of the lobby where an old phone booth stood.

I walked over and opened the door, stepping into the silver and blue booth, and picked up the receiver. I clicked the little silver piece with my fingers like we used to do when we were kids.

“Hello?”

“Sally, it’s Daddy.”

At the sound of his voice, I sank down to sit on the floor. The phone booth melted away, but I still held the hand piece and saw the cord stretching out and disappearing past the wall. “Daddy? Where are you? I need you.” Tears were running down my cheeks.

“I’m in heaven, honey. But I’m right here with you too. Everything will be alright. You don’t need to worry.”

“Are you with my mom? And Cathy?”

“Yes, honey. Everyone’s here. We’re all together and fine. Candy too.”

I remember smiling and feeling such relief that they were together, and even our old dog too. I woke up feeling so calm and reassured, and like that was the most natural thing in the world.

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Graph Paper Poems 26 July 2022

I tell my students we’re going to write graph poems. They wander off into their own worlds during this silent writing time. Some are thinking. One twirls her hair, staring at the graph paper on her desk.

That kid has his head down, forehead to paper, and his arms hang down, his hands in his lap. That one yawns, stretching his neck, a grimace formed on his open mouth. His grey Vans are untied, and he is sketching two lines on the graph paper. He makes them ultra-dark, X and Y, as if the poem cares.

The skinny boy, short brown hair sticking up at his crown, finished his graph poem in about two minutes, letting the orange pilot pen clatter to the desk in case I hadn’t noticed that he was finished.

My welder is done, the words on his graph evenly split between positive and negative until the end where they slope upward, an arrow to the positive.

The cattle baroness is writing and re-writing the word intervals on the Y axis. Most of the poems are written in straight diagonal lines, but hers, the only sophomore in a class of freshmen, are curved and rolling.

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A Dark Night 18 July 2022

Photo by Egor Yakushkin on Unsplash

It was a dark and stormy night (Wait, have you heard this one before?), when suddenly the power went out. She’d been reading a note left on the counter and trying to figure out just who left it there. (Uh oh, that can’t be good.) Her roommate had moved out a week ago and no one else had a key, unless­­—but Sheila wouldn’t have copied her key.

The note said, “You should be more careful…” but that’s as far as she’d gotten when the lights went out. She felt in the junk drawer for the flashlight, pulling her hand back quickly when it touched something wet and slimy. (Hm, could be blood, or it could be one of those condiment packets stuffed into the drawer had leaked.)

That was when she heard the floorboards creaking overhead. She told herself it was just the normal sounds that were never spooky in the daylight. It sure sounded like someone was walking down the upstairs hallway. Now she had a dilemma. Should she call out Sheila’s name, figuring she must have come back to get those last couple of boxes? Or should she get out of the house now?

I mean, it wasn’t Halloween. It was just a simple storm. She had no chainsaws or really any tools for that matter; she didn’t even have an old shed. Her car was right outside, and it started reliably every time. And there was no dark forest anywhere nearby. This was a small city, for cryin’ out loud.

Taking a deep breath (Because that’s what you do just before you make a decision.), she grabbed her jacket, went out and got into her car, and called her friends to let them know she’d meet them at Denny’s.

If she had looked in her rearview, she might have seen the man with the sword (It looked like a sword.) leaving right behind her. And she might have noticed that the jacket she’d grabbed was not wet from rain.

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A Purple Skirt 12 July 2022

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The skirt was purple. It had a matching purple vest with golden buttons.

“You can wear any light-colored shirt with most of these.” Mrs. Miller was folding the skirts and pants and tucking them back into the box.

I was still holding the soft purple fabric to my cheek. Could anything be this beautiful? And they matched!

She’d given my third-grade self a whole box of clothes, hand-me-downs from her daughter for this scrawny little waif who’d come to school every day wearing too-short pants, clean but worn-out, and oversized shirts given up by older siblings.

“Alright dear, I’ll put the purple on top and you can wear it first. Now, let’s get this box out to where your dad is waiting to pick you up.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Miller. I love all of them.”

Her daddy was waiting out front and she hugged him and climbed in while he set the box in the back seat of the beat-up suburban, thanked her teacher quietly, and they pulled out to drive home. “Can I wear the purple outfit tomorrow?”

“Sure you can, and one every day after that until you run out. And then you can start over.”

These were the first new clothes that little girl had ever had. Everything she’d ever worn had come down to her from both older sisters and brothers.

She did wear that purple skirt and vest the next day with what had been a while turtleneck, grey now from so many launderings, and stretched over too many heads so that the neck hung more like a cowl. Her socks matched inside her shiny Sunday shoes, but one had no elastic left and pooled around her ankle.

Oh, but that little girl didn’t see the strange looks from the other kids, didn’t hear their low-voiced teasing when Mrs. Miller was at the blackboard. And at recess, she twirled, her bony knees poking out from under the purple as the skirt rose and fell while she spun round and round, arms outstretched to this wonderful world she inhabited.  

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Spirit Places 5 July 2022

There are places in the world where our memories of being there are so strong that when we return after some time has passed, we can be overwhelmed by emotions. I’ve led, I don’t know how many, pack trips over almost twenty-five summers into some rugged and beautiful places in Colorado’s mountains.

When a dear friend, who is also an old camper and wrangler, came to town and suggested a hike into one of those spots from days of pack trips, I said yes, of course.

Two dear friends, campers and wranglers, and one joyful partner and I had breakfast at a favorite mountain café and then dared the old deeply rutted road up to the trailhead. It took us a moment to orient, without horses, and recognize the little trail we’d take to get to this spot and to remember that we’d stop here, horses grazing, while campers readjusted saddle bags, pack mule loads were checked, and then get everyone started again.

We shouldered our day packs and began hiking up this trail to the little pond where we used to ride to for lunch, swim on the horses, and sometimes hunker down in the trees to wait out a storm before riding back to our camping spot.

The further we hiked, the more we remembered. This corner with that view, playing pass the stick, jolly ranchers, singing the Ping-Pong Ball song, Mrs. Mumbles, and tortillas with peanut butter or summer sausage to eat when we stopped for lunch.

But as we hiked that last little bit of the trail, and we came suddenly out of the trees to that little pond, we stopped and collectively relived a moment we’d experienced so many times before. Tears came from somewhere, an ache for pack trips we’d loved so much and looked forward to every summer. Hugging and laughing and marveling at just what hadn’t changed in the last 14 or 15 years, we took pictures of wildflowers, of Audubon and the Indian Peaks, of each other, and then we gathered in that same spot in the trees, ate our snacks and told our stories. And we felt the spirits of ourselves and those who had been there with us, still wandering in the trees or catching frogs by the pond or enjoying FOB time or retying their loose horse. We left ourselves there, one more time, and hiked back to the trailhead.

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“Make of Yourself a Light” 24 June 2022

Buddha’s last words were “Make of Yourself a Light.”

Make of yourself a light. There are places here in America that are becoming darker. It is not the beautiful dark of nighttime when the stars shine, or the moon rises, or the clouds move in and still the night. No, it is the darkness of deception, of lies, of oppression, of hatred.

So yes, make of yourself a light. Be that underground railroad. Be that voice speaking up and out against injustice, against deception, against harm. Make of yourself a light, even if it’s only to get to the next solid stone on the rocky path, even if it means reaching out a hand to steady another while your own boot sinks in the cold creek, even it means you must go alone to find a way.

Make of yourself a light. Find what is good and true and sing it with harmony and grace. Join your voice with others who may have the words but need the tune. Tell the stories that must be told. Make of yourself a light, and when that means you have to claw your way out of the deep hole again, then find a way to patch the cuts and bruises, feed your soul what will nourish it, and don’t bother about the blood stains you may leave behind.

Just keep moving toward that light that you are.

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Thin Places Work 20 June 2022

Photo by Magdalena Smolnicka on Unsplash

I recently read an article about using eight ways to describe a character to make them come to life. According to Jordan at Nownovel.com, those eight ways include:

“1. Start with character profiles and pin boards

2. Focus on details that reveal personality

3. Practice describing people in brief

4. Prioritize unique character features

5. Describe character actions and gestures

6. Find descriptive adjectives and fitting comparisons

7. Describe personality via dialogue and voice

8. Read writers renowned for good characterization” (www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-describe-a-person-examples)

So I played.

Claire is 18 years old with curly brown hair about shoulder length which she keeps in a ponytail most of the time, not only because the way it swings makes her smile inside but having it out of her face allows her to be much more aware of what’s around her. She has blue eyes, bright like a summer sky and her voice is quiet, but also quite pleasant when she sings. Her mother died when she was six and her father checked out on her, getting lost in his own loss. She dealt with a mean stepmother, found an older neighbor couple who took over that parent role in her life, and took off for Ireland when she was 18.

Although she did look back as she stood in line to board the plane for Ireland, she also had her head up and shoulders back when she scanned her ticket to walk on and find her seat. She wasn’t running away as much as running toward, but the insipid memory of Angelica had had its effect on her pace. Angelica was not the typical volcano stepmother, but more the slimy slithering snake carrying deadly venom with only the slight rustle of the long row of rattles at the end of her tail. And Claire was looking for room to breathe without pain.

The woods became Claire’s friend, and she often takes long walks and hums various songs that pop into her head without realizing she is making sound.

Playing here, but also working.

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The Popcorn 6 June 2022

Photo by Corina Rainer on Unsplash

“I’ll hold the popcorn.” I was sitting in the middle, so it just made sense. Susan and Cathy had their own sodas, and I could reach both, although Susan’s was diet.

When the curtain opened, we quietly debated whether we’d want to see the movies being previewed. Then the lights dimmed.

It wasn’t billed as a scary movie, but my body didn’t know that. Every time a door opened into a dark space, and the character stepped toward the unknown, eerie music crescendo-ing, my feet came up to my seat, knees to my chest.

I wanted badly to look away or close my eyes, but instead they opened wider, glued to the screen and tied to whatever fate awaited the doomed character. None of us were eating the popcorn anymore, too scared to make a move.

When I screamed, my arms flew up to shield me from the evil that had appeared behind our poor ignorant character, “Behind you,” I yelled at the screen.

It was too late, both for the character and for the man behind me, now covered in popcorn.

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Soft and Hard Places 25 April 2022

Soft is a warm bed and thick comforter after a long day, the muzzle on a horse just below and between his nostrils, a place to fall that is protected and maybe sacred, a loose pile of hay, the pre-dawn sky, finely sanded wood, footprints on a damp trail, the whisper of a newborn baby’s breath as they quiet in loving arms.

Hard is the ground you hit when you get bucked off your horse, the silence of two people sharing a space but not the path, the wind-driven bits of hay that stick in your eyes, the steep rock-filled trail leading up to the mountain’s saddle, the long cry of hunger or wail of longing that cannot be silenced by any amount of walking or rocking, the edge of a darkness filled with fear unknown, the line that will not be crossed.

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