Finding the Good Among the Bad and the Ugly

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photo from FanArtTV via Google Images

This post by Gayle M. Irwin

We received the news as we traveled back to town from our cabin: a friend had tragically died in a motorcycle accident. He was 51 years old. My husband had known Brian Scott Gamroth for nearly two decades. The Casper community had woken up to the sound of his voice on the radio for about that same length of time. All of Wyoming benefited from his presence not only on the air, but also through his charity work. Brian cared about Casper, he cared about Wyoming, and he cared about people. He was a philanthropic individual, a family man, a friend to many, from cowboys to senators, and he was passionate about many things. The radio station, our community, the state, and certainly Brian’s friends and family members, have big holes in their hearts with the sudden and unexpected passing of Brian Scott. So do Greg and I.

Ironically, Brian died not far from where my parents live in Montana, along a highway I often travel when I visit. Even more ironic, my parents were with Greg and I when the news about Brian’s death came via another friend’s text. I’m still sorting out the potential meaning of those ironies; perhaps to be more vigilant as I drive, especially on that roadway; or perhaps to live a generous, passionate, and compassionate life as Brian did. I will likely reflect on these things when I attend his public memorial service tomorrow (sadly, Greg is out of town for work on Monday and not able to attend, but he did create a short video in honor of Brian that will likely be shown during the memorial).

A few days after the stunning news about Brian’s death, I learned that Neva Bodin’s sister had passed. I also learned a friend is experiencing an uncertain health situation (she’s had several rough health goes the past few years), as well as heard about the passing of another’s friend’s 19-year-old cat – the kitty had been part of her life since a young kitten. Other friends are going through financial hardships, as are many in my community and state due to the downturn in the energy sector. Like dark thunderstorm clouds, sadness hangs heavily over hearts and communities I care about; and over mine as well.

img_1705With the bad and the ugly of this past week, however, have been incredible blessings. Autumn arrived and the leaves of bushes and trees in and around Casper are in full fall glory. Casper Mountain, upon which my cabin resides, has exploded with shades of gold, red, and orange. Greg and I took my parents to Rocky Mountain National Park to experience the eons-old mating ritual of Rocky Mountain elk – the bulls (males) bugling, challenging one another for the company of cows (females), gathering harems of those girls and preparing to add to the population of this majestic species.

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I traveled to the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming on Friday in order to attend a day-long writer’s workshop sponsored by a Wyoming writers’ group known as the Bearlodge Writers, named in honor of the Native American name for Devil’s Tower. Again, autumn was in full regalia, with coulees ablaze with crimson, buttermilk, ginger, carrot, lemon, and russet. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, and wild turkeys meandered the landscape — and the highway (thankfully, no car-animal collisions occurred!) I interacted with writers during the workshop that I had not seen in years and met new creative friends, and I learned from a woman who not only studied the craft of writing in college, but who has experienced success as a novel writer. I don’t consider myself a novel writer, but it’s an itching I’ve experienced during the past few years that I’ll likely scratch a bit more in the coming months and years – especially after finding precious nuggets of information and encouragement from this workshop and from other writers closest to me.

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Within the past weeks of stress and distress I’ve experienced some positives. Mourning loss is necessary, but as I write in my book for owners of blind dogs, “don’t get stuck there.” Depression and discouragement, anger and grief can hammer-lock on us if we allow. Don’t allow! Find the good within the bad and the ugly, whether it be the beauty of nature around you or the encouragement of fellow writers regarding your creativity. We all travel choppy waves in this ocean of life – most of us don’t have smooth sailing across the glassy sea. Sometimes in fact, we experience tidal waves from which we’re sure we’ll drown. My prayer, my hope, my wish, is that each of us, when faced with loss such as unexpected deaths or job layoffs, even rejection of our writing, will do what we must – grieve – but not get stuck there. Instead, find beauty in the ashes, find good among the bad and the ugly, for it is there: we just need to re-discover it, hold fast to it, remember and treasure it.

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Gayle_signing photoGayle M. Irwin is a Wyoming author, writer, and speaker. She composes inspirational pet stories for children and adults, including a guidebook for owners of blind dogs. In addition to her own books, her stories been featured in six Chicken Soup for the Soul books as well as Sundown Press’ summer release Pawprints on My Heart. Gayle is currently working on three more books, including a children’s cat story, a rescue dog story, and a devotional-style book called Seasons of Life, Seasons of Nature. Learn more about Gayle and her writing at www.gaylemirwin.com.

 

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Finding Inspiration in Nature – Part 1

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This post by Gayle M. Irwin

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” – John Muir

 

My husband and I own more than three acres of forest land 20 minutes from our home in Casper, Wyoming. At this location, I’ve composed short stories and books inside our cabin and under the towering lodgepole pines surrounding it. I’ve walked the wooded trails and listened to numerous songbirds. I’ve seen the landscape filled with snow, heard the crashes of thunder above, and touched pine needles kissed by rainfall. Wild turkeys, mule deer, red fox, butterflies, and hummingbirds call the area home, and many have visited our cabin site. Each experience makes my heart leap for joy, including my recent 30-minute encounter with a red fox just beyond the cabin porch door.

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Red fox visiting my mountain property in early June.

Nature inspires many and has for eons, including the writings of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau and the paintings and photographs of Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson. Moran and Jackson were part of the famous 1871 expedition to the Yellowstone region, painting and photographing scenes that became instrumental in educating those back East, including the U.S. Congress, which led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. Muir, too, helped tout the majesty of landscapes; his was a significant voice for creating many U.S. national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia and the Grand Canyon, among others. These, and many others, were visionaries, and their dreams and desires benefit us today. If you’ve not seen the Ken Burns/PBS documentary on America’s national parks, I highly recommend watching! (my husband and I own a copy of the series — the shows are WONDERFUL!).

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The National Park Service, which turns 100 years old this year, administers more than 400 different sites across the country, from national parks and monuments to historical battlefields, trails, and other historic sites. Whether mountains, deserts, forests, valleys, or seashores, these special places provide respite, amazement, and reflection.

I love nature! Since I was a child growing up in Iowa, I’ve found tranquility, inspiration, and fascination in natural areas. My parents are particularly responsible for my affinity for wild places – we took family vacations out west to Yellowstone, made camping expeditions to state parks, and took fishing trips to Minnesota and Canada. Dad created habitat areas for song birds and small game, and I helped him create and install wood duck boxes for nesting sites along the shore of the Mississippi River as well as at the pond on our 14 midwestern acres. I found solace under cedar trees alongside my dog, Bridgette where I wrote stories and poems in those peace-filled woods. I dreamed of becoming a lady park ranger in Yellowstone; instead, I became a journalist living at the park’s west entrance, yet I was still able to interact with the area’s wild spaces and wild creatures.

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I still interact with and am inspired by nature. Whether at my forest cabin, or traveling through my current home state, which is the site not only of the world’s first national park, but also the first national forest (Shoshone) and first national monument (Devil’s Tower/Bear’s Lodge), or visiting special sites in other states, like Rocky Mountain Park in Colorado, Glacier Park in Montana, or Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, each place whispers its own alluring grandeur.

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Running Eagle Falls and Two Medicine River – Glacier National Park

Whether you’re a writer, painter, photographer, or other artistic type, nature can speak to you and get those creative juices flowing. My husband is a videographer, and he uses the outdoors to create beautiful DVDs set to instrumental music that many find relaxing, for themselves or loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. This has become a growing business, helping him help others relax and appreciate places they may not get to enjoy in person as he/we have.

Spirit of America bookAs this post goes live, I’m wrapping up a visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I’ll be conducting a program about national parks this evening at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center as well as having a booksigning, all based on my story “National Parks – America’s Best Idea,” published in the recently-released Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America. My reflective composition concludes, “Many generations have benefited from the visions and visionaries of 1872 and 1916…. The spirit of America reigns in our national parks, for they remain America at its natural best.”

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Grand Teton National Park, Teton Mountains, and Jackson Lake – Wyoming

National parks are glorious, national seashores stupendous, national monuments magnificent, and national historic sites enriching. However,  a person doesn’t have to visit a national park, forest, or monument to find inspiration in nature. You don’t even have to live in a rural area. Cities have parks, botanical gardens, and green spaces. I encourage you to find your own special natural place and be inspired!

June is Great Outdoors Month, and 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I hope that you’ll take the time to get outdoors, to be refreshed, be inspired, and be peaceful in an outdoor setting this month, or at least sometime this summer. Stop and smell the flowers, watch a sunset, or listen to birds sing. When you do, you’ll not only find refreshment and replenishment, but you may also find inspiration for that next novel, poem, painting, or video, by which you can inspire others.

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Wildflower meadow – Idaho side of Yellowstone Park

Gayle at EstesGayle M. Irwin is an award-winning Wyoming writer and author. She writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults with seven books, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Sage Finds Friends, Cody’s Cabin: Life in a Pine Forest, and Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, as well as a Kindle e-book called Help! My Dog is Going Blind – Now What Do I Do? to help owners of blind dogs. She is also a contributing writer to six Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including the June release The Spirit of America, featuring her story about America’s national parks. Gayle speaks in schools, at libraries, and for various organizations. She enjoys sharing about the pet-human bond and the majesty of nature, hoping to inspire and educate children and adults about the beauty of creation and the creatures that share our planet. Learn more about her writing and speaking endeavors at www.gaylemirwin.com.

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Relatives and Mountains

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My selfie

by Neva Bodin

My brother-in-law has a license plate holder that says, “My Happy Place is in the Mountains.” And he spends time at his happy place with our family each summer, this year for the eighth year. At times we’ve had 16 family members present. This year there were only nine of us and three campers.

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This butterfly was quite small but posed for me amongst the colorful rocks.

Yellow, black and rust-colored butterflies escorted us at times. A heady, sweet fragrance reminiscent of honeysuckle permeated the air. A carpet of bright yellow and brilliant white, with swirls of various hues including purple, blue and pink spread out before us. We were over 9000 feet in altitude and rising. The purest blue sky cradled white cotton-ball clouds above us. We were on a four-wheeling trail ride on our annual family camping trip.

Our son-in-law who lives in Wyoming between the Rockies and the Bighorn Mountains is our trip planner. He has hunted and played in those mountains since he was young, a tradition he now carries on with his two children.

The peace and freedom felt on those mountain tops is unique. The lack of cell phone and internet services is freeing. The amount of cooking and eating we do is stupendous.

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On the trail.

Our four-wheeling trips that last 4-6 hours include a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit, chips, cookies and soft drinks, and now coffee with my son-in-law’s new butane coffee maker for campers! It is delicious.

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Relaxing by the campfire: (L to R) my dog-in-law, son-in-law, and husband.

Back at camp we have T-bone steak grilled over the campfire, with grilled potatoes that include lots of onion and butter, all wrapped in aluminum foil and tender and tasty, smoked ribs, baked beans, home-made caramel rolls, bars, cookies and salads. We also had smoked roast, S’mores and the usual brats, wieners and hamburgers. This year we had chicken pasta primavera one night. It is most definitely a “mountain top experience.”

We saw lots of pronghorn antelope and their babies, white tail deer does and fawns, a huge bull moose, mountain sheep and babies (through a spotting scope), and some in our party saw elk and bear. Rock Chucks, ground squirrels, called Picket Pins by locals, a Martin, squirrels, chipmunks, Jack Rabbits and a variety of birds popped into our sights. The Mountain bluebirds are like blue jewels with wings that contrast sharply with the landscape colors.

We visited Kirwin, WY, a now-ghost mining town where Amelia Earhart was having a cabin built when she disappeared on her famous airplane flight. We visited the Double D dude ranch where she stayed and had friends. All now silent and all but abandoned save for the Forest Service and sight-seers.

We heard the story of a very interesting “house of ill repute” that was apparently a “mountain top experience” also. And learned where the highest placed oil well in the United States was drilled. Watch for these stories in future blogs.

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Scene on one four-wheeling trip

And as we soaked up the scent of pine and fresh mountain air, as well as the ice-cold mountain shower that dumped on us during one four-wheeling trip, we wondered about the trappers, miners, and their women and children, who lived in log cabins, rode the stage coach trail near our campsite, and had the courage and fortitude to exist in this beautiful, bountiful, yet rugged land. It’s a place set apart from our high tech world in many ways.

I am always disappointed when an empty pop can, candy wrapper or beer bottle jars my effusive adoration of the mountains. How can someone be so callous as to mar this rugged landscape where nature still rules with a heavy hand?

Aside from that, we had another glorious time of admiring nature, staring into a campfire, and bonding with family. And eating, did I mention that we ate well?

I will segue into a couple more stories related to this trip in future blogs. Stay tuned.

My Delightful Drive

105182105411111CDPBy Neva Bodin

The letter for today is “D.” And at first, I didn’t have anything decidedly interesting to write about..

Ding, an idea dropped into my mind! I had just gone on a drive! On a delightful day! I would drone on about my daytime drive!

“Desist!” you say. Drats.

For several years I have gazed at two scenes near a highway we travel quite frequently when visiting my youngest daughter’s family. When my hubby drives, the goal becomes getting from point A to point B, and roadside attractions are seen as things to pass.

Alone this particular morning, I drove along the highway, stopping as I wished, backing up when I needed to, and taking side roads I’d never traveled.

I had two attractions in mind to stop at, but the morning grew richer with each mile. I noted the antelope grazing, a common site, on my way out to the first scene, several miles from town. Hawks flew and prairie larks darted about.

I stopped at the approach leading into the object I wanted to photograph. Barbed wire, strung tight above tight woven wire guarded the site. A slouching gate was followed by two more barbed wire fences so wouldn’t gain me an easy entrance either. Dear me.

I satisfied myself with telephoto shots, of a small, leaning building, a testimony to our Wyoming prairie chinooks, and stubbornness.DSCN1983

On my way to my next scene, I spotted a herd of many-colored and types of goats, near a black llama and a white llama! These I had not seen before along this highway. I stopped.

At first the goats ran. As I got out of the car, they stopped to look at me. I snapped several shots then got back in the car to see the white llama lift her head, and with some kind of unspoken signal, the lead goat, evidenced by a red collar and bell around it’s neck, signaled the rest of the band, and they all lined up behind the collared goat as he headed for the llama who turned and lead the procession away from danger. I snapped some quick shots through the car window.DSCN1995

I proceeded to my planned photo shoot—an old abandoned ranch site with a house made out of perhaps large homemade blocks, chinked with plaster. Old abandoned places fascinate me. Who lived there? How many lived and loved in that small dwelling? My mind immediately conjures up a story. I managed to crawl through the barbed wire there, it sagged more. But had to watch my step. Many cows use the old building for shelter from sun and flies in summer.DSCN1997

Now I was about 16 miles from town. On my way back, my mind caught a sign about some red wall to the north. I turned in.

About six miles farther on a rough but paved road, I had not seen any red wall. I did see a bentonite plant near a railroad in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and lots of birds, sage, a huge silver wheel cover off to the side, and prairie. Our area is known for lots of bentonite in the soil. I turned around.

There was my next delightful surprise—wolf or coyote, I’m not sure. All I know is he/she was large, about the size of a large German Shepherd, and all gray, with a healthy coat of fur. The creature wanted to keep checking the ditch (commonly called a barrow here) which was full  of sagebrush and rabbit brush, but with me backing up and driving forward a couple times trying to get its picture, the beleaguered animal went through the fence and took off across the sage. I snapped pictures through the car window, but got only sage and pasture.DSCN2003

My drive ended sitting in a Subway restaurant enjoying the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich while I typed this, and smiling about my delightful drive.

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A Tour to Hole in the Wall

105182105411111CDPBy Neva Bodin

The Hole-in-the-Wall gang, if not already famous, was catapulted into public awareness back in 1969, by a fiction film, based on some fact, about one famous gang that frequented the place in Wyoming known as the hole in the wall: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Paul Newman and Robert Redford were the stars. The gang existed in the late 1800’s.

And, in 1988, Paul Newman opened The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut so that children coping with serious illnesses could have a special hideout where they could simply be kids. http://www.holeinthewallgang.org/Page.aspx?pid=471

In Wyoming, the Red Wall is a bluff of red sandstone connecting southwest Johnson County and Natrona County, approximately fifty miles long, It has one narrowing canyon dividing it. This canyon providing access to a valley of grass that nourished stolen cattle, became known as the “Hole-in-the-Wall.”

I have had the privilege of writing some homesteading stories for a local newspaper and interviewed a couple families who mentioned connections to the gang. In my research, I found out it was not just one gang, but several who lived in that area and used the secluded and hard-to-reach spot to hide from the law. It is a beautiful area.

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The ruins of one of the cabins in the valley.

Perhaps there is some “honor among thieves” as, according to Wikipedia, the gangs built cabins, left each other to their own pursuits and managed to co-exist. I wonder how they kept the rustled cattle separate, if land boundaries were an issue, and did they get together for card games?

One rancher in this area, (about 30 miles from the hole-in-the-wall) put a notice in the paper that he was coming to get his cattle. The rustlers put an answering notice in, saying basically, “Come and get ‘em. We’re ready.”

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One of the red buttes on the trail to Hole-in-the-Wall that makes up the Red Wall.

My husband and I had the privilege of going on a tour of the area in 2013. We had to have a four-wheel drive vehicle, take our place in a long line of 20+ other vehicles and snake our way, perhaps 11 miles, across a prairie surrounded by sharp-edged red buttes. The prairie also hid sudden deep and narrow arroyos to cross that I was sure our pick-up would be wedged into and not able to get out of again.

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Me standing on the wheel of the chuckwagon where we ate our lunch on the tour.

It is a very informative tour, beginning with visiting a spot where events of the Johnson County War happened, and culminating with a picnic beside a chuck wagon, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. However, the small canyon where we ate had a trail coming into it that had been a stagecoach trail that became a county road for a time.

And if you could make it over a treacherous fence, a short walk along another arroyo led to petroglyphs on a rock wall.

To add to the ambience of the tour, Butch Cassidy’s great grand-nephew, Bill Betenson, who wrote the book, “Butch Cassidy My Uncle,” was on the tour and we ate lunch while sitting beside him, on a stump at an old wooden picnic table. It was great. Until it started to rain.

We hurried to our vehicles and began a treacherous, slow crawl across a prairie trail, now wet and slick with Bentonite. Bentonite, a clay formed by the decomposition of volcanic ash, is very slippery and can expand to several times its size. It is used in many products, some being cat litter, drilling mud for oil wells, sealants, and in wine purification. Wyoming is full of it.

Turning a sharp corner on that prairie road on the very slippery soil was not easy. Or coming up out of those narrow arroyos.

There is a deep canyon with a cave where the outlaws stayed nearby also. We have camped near there and hiked down…down…down to the river below and into the cave. Artifacts, like a table, etc, have been removed by sight-seers, so one must use imagination when standing in the cave. Some locals remember the items there.

And then one must use much stamina to get back out of the deep canyon—about a half hour crawl back up an almost vertical side. (You slide part of the way down.)

Beauty, awe at what outlaws accomplished and went through to practice their (dare I say craft?) lawlessness, and my meeting someone who actually supplied them with food because some were family, makes the history of this area, and the era of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, fascinating to me. Oh, if I only knew all the secrets this dusty, red, brown, tan, green, gray and yellow ground holds. And if Butch and the Kid really died in Bolivia, or came back to Wyoming and died in obscurity.

The Sheepherder

105182105411181CDPby Neva Bodin

“No speak Englese,” he said.

The man, probably in his thirties, stepped out of the sheep wagon sporting a wide, gap-toothed smile, a five o’clock shadow, and a tan not entirely due to the elements. He was flanked by three small border collies.

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The “No Speak Englese” sheepherder’s wagon.

That effectively ended my, “Hi, so you’re the guy we’ve seen riding by us on your four-wheeler and horse looking for sheep!” We commenced to petting the dogs who seemed more inclined to come forward with a welcome and “get to know me” attitude.

We recently camped back in the pines and aspen near a main artery to the popular Louis Lake in Wyoming. Several times a man on a four-wheeler, driving sensibly slow in comparison to the many other vehicles on the road carrying weekend vacationers through the incredibly gorgeous scenery, passed by. He came on a dirt trail from across a meadow, obviously searching for sheep in our minds, since we had seen the small collie riding on the back and also heard the bleating of many sheep in the distance. We had noticed some sheep on a hill nearby to the east the first night, enjoying perhaps a respite from the larger flock we could not see behind the hills and forest, to the west.

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The sheepherder with his trailing companion.
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A few of a large flock cared for by the sheepherder.

That morning we had seen the shepherd riding his horse, the three dogs eagerly running beside, heading for the small band of sheep on the hill. A ways behind, a beautiful honey gold horse followed, having a slight limp, but determined to trail the rider, obviously not about to be left in camp by himself.

The sheepherder’s appearance brought to mind another encounter about over twenty years back with another sheepherder in a sheep wagon, on another mountain. We had stopped to visit and that man did speak English. He invited us into his wagon and talked about his reclusive life, guarding a 1000 head of sheep. He had a “boombox” that gave him entertainment in the form of listening to ball games and music. He got one four-day weekend a month off, to go into town for personal supplies and leisure time.

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Myself and Frank the Sheepherder 1990

Once a week, the rancher he worked for brought food, fuel and water for him, food for his dogs and horse and salt for the sheep. He gathered the sheep together at night by putting out salt. He carried a gun to protect them from predators, which included foolish humans who sometimes harassed the sheep while out joy riding in pickups or all-terrain vehicles. There aren’t many areas untouched by humans anymore.

Where we camped recently, coyotes from three different directions yipped and howled one evening, perhaps complaining they hadn’t had any mutton to eat lately.

The sheep wagons definitely come under my definition of early campers. Developed in the 1870’s in Wyoming, they have a two by six foot floor, with sides expanded above that, equipped with bed across the back above cabinets and drawers, one or two burner plated wood stove near the opening in front, (ready to throw out if the fire threatened the wagon, the man said), and shelves with doors to store clothing and food stuffs, all protected by a round metal or canvas cover. They are a tiny home away from home. In the past, the tongue in front was long enough or shaped for a horse or horses to pull; they now are adapted for pickups to transport to the grazing spots.

They are an intriguing tie to the past, the future, and to the Basque people who were some of the first sheep herders in the state of Wyoming. But that’s another story!

Sunlight Basin

105182105411111CDPBy Neva Bodin

We spent 8 days in the Rocky Mountains last week in a place called Sunlight Basin. I still carry the wonder of the rock giants that guard the lush valley and burbling mountain creek in my soul.

“Mountain Majesty” are two words that not only go beautifully together in the song, America The Beautiful, but also fully describe my feelings whenever I see a mountain. Gigantic, longstanding, awesome, peaceful, and awe-inspiring also fill my thoughts.DSCN1354

To a flat-lander, a first encounter of this area may be a shock. My husband and I first pulled our camper off Chief Joseph Highway (a picturesque road that takes one to great heights before dropping into the valley via multiple switchbacks) onto Sunlight Road six years ago. As the gravel road led us through ranch land lush with grass and protected by log fences, we wondered how wild it would really be. As the road narrowed in places to one lane, climbed to new heights with steep banks right next to the camper, led around sharp bends, and pine trees and aspen closed in, we began to fear it would be too wild! We pulled into a campsite by the creek.

Later, our mountain savvy son-in-law informed us we should have driven further! So this year, on our third trip there, we drove 15 miles into the basin, settling our campers on the previous site of a Sulfur Mining Camp. (The old outhouse—not useable anymore, is still there.)

But oh, the peace: of hearing water washing a stony creek bed as it hurried out of the mountains; the lack of man-made odors in the sweet, fresh air; the ever-changing scenery in mammoth  mountains with their razor sharp peaks that gave birth to clouds and afternoon showers, wrapped themselves in ribbons of fog at times, or glowed in the golden haze of evening sunsets.DSCN1296

DSCN1377And the wildlife, some visible, some not, but their presence known by their calls, tracks and scat. Two in our party saw a black wolf, two years ago we saw four wolves together. All of us saw moose, deer and squirrels. Night Hawks competed with Bank Swallows in the evening sky, swooping to clear the air of bugs. A young jay or hawk cried vigorously for hours to remind a parent to feed it. Multiple other bird calls filled the air. Binoculars identified Rocky Mountain Sheep and Mountain Goats near the summits.DSCN1393

An occasional huge bug helicoptered into our campfire area, just to see what we were up to. Smoke baptized us as mountain breezes swirled it around in generous amounts to everyone gathered around the rock fire ring. Ambience was no problem!

We ate like kings—some beans to remember the early trappers and cowboys, but also steak cooked over a wood fire, shrimp boiled in beer, tacos, hamburgers, brats and early morning flapjacks, eggs, bacon and hashbrowns. We rode our four-wheelers through creeks reluctant to let us through which soaked our feet with snow-cooled water. We marveled at an old gold mine that had heavy machinery still in place—how in the world did it get there, probably close to a hundred years ago, up a mountain covered in vegetation, trees and rocks?DSCN1331

In short, we melded present and past in another mountain top experience for me, out of reach of cell service, internet service and the corner store. Awe, sweet bliss.

WHAT KEEPS YOU FROM WRITING?

By Neva Bodin

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When my precocious daughter was four, she decided she could ride my old bike which was designed for a seven or eight year old. Tall for her age, (people thought she was six), she could pedal and steer the unwieldy thing by standing on it, if she could just get her balance. She fell, got hurt, cried, and kept on trying.

In anguish myself, seeing her tears, I commanded her to stop.

“No, I have to ride it!” she cried as sobs coarsened her voice and Wyoming dust outlined tears on her cheeks. Eventually she triumphed, riding away—a victor.

ladybeetleRecently I watched a small beetle attempt to cross over a large twig in its path. It fell, it tried again, fell, tried again…you get the picture. Eventually it succeeded. It didn’t stop to look embarrassed (can bugs look embarrassed?), or appear discouraged; it just kept trying.

For fifteen years a story has been marching around my brain, irritatingly begging me to let it out. Encouraging this brain persecution is the conviction that there are women out there (somewhere, everywhere) who could grow a Christian faith and understanding of some struggles by reading this story. An inspirational romance, the hero and heroine must work through misconceptions, emotional and physical pain, and getting to know themselves in order to find love and rediscover their faith in God—if I can write it well enough. There is the rub—fear and pride are marching around in my head also! I now realize I learned from my daughter and the beetle—there is false pride and there is healthy pride.

Tears and pain sometimes accompany learning something that will eventually give us a healthy pride in ourselves, thereby increasing our self-esteem.  We must ignore fearful self-talk and naysayers. Failure many times leads to success; it hones our skill. Thomas A. Edison said, “I’ve not failed, I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”

False pride doesn’t allow for failure and embarrassment when pursuing our goals. It may keep us from pursuing goals. But who do I think I am to avoid looking foolish in my failures?

Many successful and now famous authors have been rejected multiple times. Among them are George Orwell, J K Rowling, Dr. Seuss, and Stephen King. The stories rejected by some publishers went on to become best sellers. While I am no one special, I am in good company if my manuscript is rejected!

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, s...
Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, seated at desk covered with his books / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them,” said Isaac Asimove.

Realizing that part of my procrastination comes from feeding the wrong kind of pride has given me new insight and inspiration to finish, polish and begin submitting my novel. No, my tendency to procrastinate and delay work on my novel with the excuse that the flowers need watering, the dishes need washing, etc. has not gone away. But, I now face the real reason I fight myself on this issue, and remember the lessons a little girl and a bright shiny bug taught me. We are meant to try and keep on trying any worthwhile passion, until we get it right. Not only might we  accomplish it, but we will be an inspiration to others on the journey. Portrait on side of Dr. Seuss.

Follow me at Twitter @nevabodin1, on Facebook, or http://nevabodin.weebly.com/

WHAT KEEPS YOU FROM WRITING?

WHAT KEEPS YOU FROM WRITING?105182105411181CDP

When my precocious daughter was four, she decided she could ride my old bike which was designed for a seven or eight year old. Tall for her age, (people thought she was six), she could pedal and steer the unwieldy thing by standing on it, if she could just get her balance. She fell, got hurt, cried, and kept on trying.

In anguish myself, seeing her tears, I commanded her to stop.

“No, I have to ride it!” she cried as sobs coarsened her voice and Wyoming dust outlined tears on her cheeks. Eventually she triumphed, riding away—a victor.

Recently I watched a small beetle attempt to cross over a large twig in its path. It fell, it tried again, fell, tried again…you get the picture. Eventually it succeeded. It didn’t stop to look embarrassed (can bugs look embarrassed?), or appear discouraged; it just kept trying.

For fifteen years a story has been marching around my brain, irritatingly begging me to let it out. Encouraging this brain persecution is the conviction that there are women out there (somewhere, everywhere) who could grow a Christian faith and understanding of some struggles by reading this story. An inspirational romance, the hero and heroine must work through misconceptions, emotional and physical pain, and getting to know themselves in order to find love and rediscover their faith in God—if I can write it well enough. There is the rub—fear and pride are marching around in my head also! I now realize I learned from my daughter and the beetle—there is false pride and there is healthy pride.

Tears and pain sometimes accompany learning something that will eventually give us a healthy pride in ourselves, thereby increasing our self-esteem.  We must ignore fearful self-talk and naysayers. Failure many times leads to success; it hones our skill. Thomas A. Edison said, “I’ve not failed, I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”

False pride doesn’t allow for failure and embarrassment when pursuing our goals. It may keep us from pursuing goals. But who do I think I am to avoid looking foolish in my failures?

Many successful and now famous authors have been rejected multiple times. Among them are George Orwell, J K Rowling, Dr. Seuss, and Stephen King. The stories rejected by some publishers went on to become best sellers. While I am no one special, I am in good company if my manuscript is rejected!

 

“Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them,” said Isaac Asimove.

Realizing that part of my procrastination comes from feeding the wrong kind of pride has given me new insight and inspiration to finish, polish and begin submitting my novel. No, my tendency to procrastinate and delay work on my novel with the excuse that the flowers need watering, the dishes need washing, etc. has not gone away. But, I now face the real reason I fight myself on this issue, and remember the lessons a little girl and a bright shiny bug taught me. We are meant to try and keep on trying any worthwhile passion, until we get it right. Not only might we  accomplish it, but we will be an inspiration to others on the journey. Portrait on side of Dr. Seuss.

Follow me at Twitter @nevabodin1, on Facebook, or http://nevabodin.weebly.com/ Continue reading “WHAT KEEPS YOU FROM WRITING?”

Judging a Book by the Cover

Alethea

by Alethea Williams

I designed the cover of my first book with the help of my editor. I thought it was beautiful. It looked so classy to me. The tree picture was free from a stock photo site. The cover color I chose reminded me of antique, yellowed, handmade paper—perfect, I thought, for a book set in the 1920s. I wanted my grandma’s passport picture in an oval frame at the bottom, because her story was the inspiration for my fictional account of an immigrant’s journey to happiness in America.

51WyJNthFML__SS500_The comments I got on my perfect cover almost broke my heart. My father-in-law thought my grandmother had a mean look on her face in her passport photo. My son wasn’t looking forward to reading the book because he thought the cover indicated it would be a sad story. Everyone who reviewed the book assumed it was a true story because of my grandmother’s picture, even though I tried to be clear it was a work of fiction.

New Picture
Image credit: Jargon Media LLC

One of the editor’s suggestions was that I use a cover picture of an old house with lots of sunny blue sky. When I solicited comments from family, I was told the bright sky blue color indicated cheerfulness and hopefulness. I thought it looked spooky and abandoned, not the first impression I wanted potential buyers to have of the book, and so I discarded the blue.

I thought the book would have more electronic sales than paperback, completely misjudging my audience. I thought the audience for this book would read Westerns, and historicals, and maybe sweet romance. Sales were okay for a first book, but not great.

New Picture (1)
Image credit: Jargon Media LLC

If I had it to do over, maybe I would change several things:

  • Find a picture of a ranch.
  • Make my grandmother’s picture less prominent, or perhaps bite the bullet and leave it off the cover.
  • I think I misjudged my audience. Maybe I would try to sell the book as mainstream literary fiction, lower the price of the paperback, and really push paper sales. I don’t think the people who really liked the book read Westerns, or sweet romance, or even historical. I don’t think they own an e-reader. I don’t know how many times I heard, “My mom (or grandma) really loved this book.” If the reader was familiar with coal mining towns, so much the better. My aunt warned me she doesn’t read fiction, and she read it twice.
  • Maybe I would listen a little more closely to the editor, whose opinion I had paid for and who certainly had more experience in publishing than I did.
  • In thumbnail, which is how the cover is seen on most sales sites, my name is so tiny it almost can’t be read. I would make it bigger.

Perhaps part of getting published is realizing how much of our cherished illusions we’re willing to give up in order to see our name on the cover of a book. All in all, publishing my first novel was a good experience. I learned a lot. I sold the industry average number of books for a self-publisher. But, in the end, maybe I wouldn’t change anything. I still secretly like my cover best…although if I could sneak back in time and change the size of my name, I would make it bigger.

The author of historical novel Willow Vale, available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Jargon Media, Alethea Williams blogs on Actually Alethea about writing, writers, and Wyoming history.  Follow on Twitter @actuallyalethea, or visit Alethea Williams, author on Facebook.  Comments and honest feedback always welcome!