For the Love Books and Writing

I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. I don’t remember any children’s books around our house. Ask me my favorite book as a child, I don’t know. I do remember a few books stacked on tables for decoration and Mama sometimes reading a mass paperback book.

The first experience I remember with a book was in 3rd grade. Our teacher, Miss Aden, read aloud each day from the Secret Garden. I was transported into the mysterious world of the sick child, the discovery of the neglected garden and the miracle of transformation.

During high school, my older sisters read Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove and passed them down to me. They called them crotch burners, as when the character, Heather Simmons, seeks refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

It took me leaving my Southern home and culture to discover my love of books. My first couple of years at the University of Mississippi had been a social endeavor. I was to join a sorority and assure I would have a husband. I don’t remember my parents discussing what I’d like to major in, but I do remember that my mama didn’t speak to me for weeks when I dropped out of sorority rush.

My brother, eleven years older, became a professor at the University of Montana. After a visit, and falling in love with the rivers he took me on and the mountains we hiked, I decided to finish at U of M in 1981. I studied, became interested in books and learning. I discovered writers such as Tom McGuane, Richard Hugo, Ivan Doig and started reading Southern writers, Eudora Welty and Faulkner. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered pleasure.

No wonder when reading Welty’s One Writer’s Beginning, I wished I had grown up in her house:
“I learned from age two or three that any room in the house, at any time of day, was there to read in or to be read to. My mother read to me. She’d read to me in the big bedroom in the mornings, when we were in her rocker together, which ticked in rhythm as we rocked, as though we had a cricket accompanying the story. She’d read to me in the dining room on winter afternoons in front of the coal fire, with our cuckoo clock ending the story with “Cuckoo,” and at night when I’d go in my own bed.” Eudora Welty

Welty lived in the same town I grew up in, Jackson, MS. My parents never spoke of her. They were more concerned with our appearances and place in society. Once I had discovered Eudora Welty I remember though getting chills of excitement when Ms Welty and I were both buying underwear at McRaes department store.

In the 90’s, I moved back to Mississippi after a divorce, to be close to family. As fate would have it, Tom McGuane came to Lemuria Bookstore for a reading of Keep the Change. A little piece of Montana in Mississippi. After the signing, I said my hello’s to John, the bookstore owner. We knew each other from earlier years. Our reconnection landed me a job at his beautiful bookstore. John had recently moved his tiny bookstore into a brand new space with room for each genre, a children’s section that felt like its own store and a first editions room where John kept his office. He ran a smooth operation for author signings, promoting them, assuring we had plenty of their books and a special booth for them to sit, converse with readers and sign their books.

I was in heaven, surrounded by books, talking to customers about books, buying and reading so many books. (For the first time, I had to get prescription eye glasses) Meeting the personalities behind the writing was also a treat. I was struck by the kindness of writers I met such as Kaye Gibbons, Lori Moore, John Grisham, Mark Childress, Ellen Gilchrist, Rick Bass, Tim O’Brien, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Morris (I loved Willie, what a character) to name a few. If I were working there today, I’d be meeting Jesymn Ward, Kiese Laymon, Angie Thomas, Natasha Trethewey and Ralph Eubanks.

Books are what I spend my “extra” money on. Often buying more than I have time to read. I’m not a fast reader nor do I devour several books every few weeks, but I read consistently. I find delight in the craft of writing and the talent, along with hard work of writers.

I don’t know about God, but what about the miracle of making strokes on paper that become letters, then words, then paragraphs, an entire page, then a book, a story.

A writer has crafted the words and sentences in a way that makes a reader cry, laugh, empathize, feel connected and understood. Or one is taken on a journey, can feel the air, smell the scents, see the sky and all the surroundings described. They are educated about things they would have never know of before reading the book. Their eyes are opened. They see things differently now.

It is nothing short of a miracle.

As always, thanks for reading.

In the footsteps of Norman Maclean

Sunday afternoon, I sat alone in a theater, surrounded by people and cried. There is a lot of sadness in the world. I was listening to writers speak of this sadness, expressing it so eloquently. The power of words and people who craft them perfectly is enough to bring me to tears.

The In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean festival, free to the public, brought Timothy Egan, Shane Morigeau, Debra Magpie Earling, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass, Doug Peacock and more to the stage.
Rick Bass, who I adore, introduced Terry Tempest Williams with humor and tenderness. They are long time friends.

Terry in turn, told a story of how Rick had been there for her when her brother committed suicide a couple of years ago. He rang, she said and started telling me a story. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry for your loss” nor try to say the right thing. He just told story until they hung up.

In keeping with the theme, public lands and sacred ground, Terry shared a story of Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo Utah commissioner candidate who went to court to prove his residency. You can read more of his case in the Salt Lake Tribune. He did win. Terry asked Willie, “what do we do with our anger?”
“Terry, it can no longer be about anger. It has to be about healing.” Willie Grayeyes


I missed the speakers on Saturday. Heard it was excellent, with a tribute to the late William Kittredge. Terry shared a passage from Bill’s book, Hole in the Sky,
“We tell stories to talk out the troubles in our lives, trouble otherwise so often unspeakable. It is one of our main ways of making our lives sensible. Trying to live without stories can make us crazy. They help us to recognize what we believe to be the most valuable in the world, and help us identify what we hold demonic.” William Kittredge

Doug Peacock shared stories and read from his books. I confess I have not read them yet. Listening to him, I’m inclined to read them. Rick mentioned he requires his students to read, The Grizzly Years. That’s now on my “must read” list.

Another take away was a reminder of the work that needs to be done to save Yaak Valley Forest.
“In addition to being the stronghold of the last 25 grizzlies in the Yaak Valley, the northwest corner of Montana holds one of the great stalwarts for any successful plan for the western United States to successfully weather the rising tide of global warming.” Rick Bass, Black Ram Project.

As a high school friend of Rick’s ex-wife, I had the good fortune to visit and stay with them in the Yaak on several occasions. We’ve floated the river, passing moose, walked in the forest, watched the northern lights from a fire tower and sat atop a mountain ridge with the taste of Rick’s freshly baked pie in our mouths as shooting stars were the free of charge showing for the night.
It is, as many places are, a place worth saving.

“The cruel things I did I took to the river.
I begged the current: make me better.” Richard Hugo “The Towns We Know and Leave Behind, The Rivers We Carry With Us”

As always, thanks for reading.

It’s Good to be Home

Last night I was back in my cozy, sweet room at the hotel. For the past month I’ve been pet sitting up near the local ski area, falling asleep and waking to the quiet of the mountains. The first sound I heard each morning was the trickling creek below as I opened the door for the dog to go see his neighbor friend.
This morning I wanted to give Buzz, the dog, a morning pat on the head as we ran upstairs, me opening the door for him then turning on the kettle for coffee. He’d come back in by the time my coffee was made, then we’d head back downstairs for writing time. We didn’t leave each other’s side much.
Yes, I’ll miss my furry friend, but I’ll be headed to care for a couple of labradors soon enough.
This past summer, I moved into a bigger room at the hotel. It has a sink, three windows that face east, a beautiful view of Hellgate Canyon, and one window that faces south and down at the alley below. I love the windows, but I don’t love the noise at night.
Lying in bed last night, as the sounds of the train, glass being thrown into the dumpster and a drunken couple arguing in the alley filled my room, I started a google search: how much to replace windows? These windows are probably the originals, sometimes hard to open and shut, single pane with no insulation. It would be a financial endeavor for sure. Next search: how to sound proof windows. Of course there are sound absorbing curtains. One search suggested quilted moving blankets. I already have curtains up. But, I have a vision now that I might try. Starting with one window, the one over the alley, using velcro I’ll attach a quilt at the top and inner frame of the window, sew ties at the top. It can be let down at night, rolled up during the day, like a window shade. I’ll let you know it goes.
The hotel is quiet in the mornings. Robert and I are the only early risers. I tiptoed downstairs to get oatmeal going for the two of us.
Sleepy eyed, Robert shuffled from his room, “oh, what a surprise to see you, it’s good to have you home.” My sleepy eyes smiled back at him, “it’s good to be home.”

View of Hellgate Canyon

Meet Some of My Unexpected Family

My new room with a silver ceiling had a loft bed that I decided to use for storage, not wanting to go up and down the ladder each time I had to use the bathroom.  I bought a twin bed, hung twinkle lights and my star light from the ceiling, arranged books on the shelves, set up a writing desk, put my half & half in the frig and I was home.

Winter was coming in Montana, and I couldn’t wait. Eugene held my dear friends, but it didn’t hold my heart, Montana has since I came to visit my brother in the 80’s. 

My cocoon of a room had all I needed. Covid times have not been social times. But for me, social times began to slip away in 2017 as I began to grieve the loss of my relationship with my daughter and grandchildren. Now that the rest of the world had joined me in isolation, I felt a comfort that felt unfair because the rest of the world was now grieving. 

Slowly but surely, I meet the other residents of this historic hotel. With Covid protocol, residents mainly kept to themselves in their rooms, a twist from its history.  Back when Robert acquired the building some forty years ago, bohemians inhabited the rooms, art was created, and parties thrown. Friends who are long time Missoula residents have said to me with a laugh, “oh yea, I remember the parties at the hotel.” Surprisingly, I didn’t attend parties at the hotel during the 80’s but I was certainly at other parties, after waiting tables then out dancing. 

Completed in 1902, it was bustling with a restaurant, and saloon on the main floor. Rooms were rented for 75 cents by railroad passengers and workers. It’s been said it was a brothel at one time. With travelers and a saloon downstairs makes sense. 

The extend of socializing when I moved in was meeting in the kitchen while preparing a meal. Jennifer, lived in the room next to me. We’d chat as hot water ran through the cone for morning coffee. Sleepy eyed, she told me about her work at a peach orchard, her love for plants and her boyfriend. Eventually, she shared about her conflictual relationship with her mother, but how she was committed to loving her. Of course, I commended her for this commitment. On her 30th birthday, Jennifer, proudly showed me the presents her boyfriend had given her; a plant and an apron he had sewn himself. 

John, lives at the far end of the hall in the biggest room at the hotel. It even has its own bathroom. He’s around 30 years old, works for the forest service Bless his heart, he tries to keep everyone in line, leaving notes on the white board, reminding everyone to lock the doors, shared stats on daily Covid deaths. He’s a sweetheart but I wish for his sake he didn’t worry so much. 

Sam, what a sweetie. He’s early twenties, in school and works for the forest service. He’s from Virginia. His room is small, and he is a growing boy, so we’d end up together in the kitchen mornings and evenings. We talk food, the South, it’s history, the why of it all and how can we bring justice to this world. As I cooked pancakes for the two of us, he said, “man you remind me of my grandmother” Well shit, he had won my heart! 

The common areas weren’t and aren’t as clean as I care for. It doesn’t seem to bother the others too much. They are young, in school, working, and keeping a social life such as it is. After a few weeks, I was able to rally Jennifer, John and Sam to deep clean the 3rd floor kitchen. Jennifer tackled the refrigerator, pine soled the ceiling light fixtures that had years of dirt of them, Sam scrubbed the oven, John and I threw out items in the cupboard that were, yes, years expired, plastic lids with no bottoms. Counters were scrubbed and the floor swept and mopped it. It felt good and I got to know my fellow roomies a little more. I learned that Jennifer and John had never heard of Walt Whitman nor Leaves of Grass. I remedied that at my next visit to the 2nd hand bookstore. 

 Charles, who doesn’t leave his room much, stopped me in hall one day, “hey, would you roast us a turkey for Thanksgiving? My work is giving me a free turkey.” “Sure” I replied. I started my internet search for how to roast a turkey, it had been a few years. I asked Robert what he would like to have served at our Thanksgiving meal? He put in his request and meal planning began. 

Unexpected Family, how it came to be

It’s been a year since I moved in with my unexpected family. The end of summer 2020, I was back in Missoula to get more of my things and live in Eugene. But at an outside concert in my friend’s yard, I met Chris Sand, aka Sandman, the Rappin Cowboy. He mentioned there was room in the “hotel” he lived at in downtown Missoula. As Chris shared more with me about where he lived, I became more and more interested, almost certain I wanted to live there. He offered to show the place to me, introduce me to the man who owns the building and lives there. 

Coming through the front door, a fairly large plastic spider moved up as the door swung open, back down as it shut. The carpeted stairway leaned to the left a bit and a sculptured gnome like being meet me at the top. I felt the adrenaline of being in a fun house. Chris and I walked past the community kitchen with an artful colorful titled floor, gas stove/oven from probably the forties. Across the way, the wooden floored dining area held a round table and chairs, an old couch (that needed to go in my opinion) shelves with a turntable, album collection, books and plants that reached from floor to ceiling. 

We walked past three of four rooms, and a fish aquarium before coming to Robert’s room at the end. The globe outside his room was not lit up, meaning he probably wasn’t around. We knocked anyway. Chris letting me know Robert can’t hear well so it’s best to speak loud and clear. We yelled his name a few times but got no answer.

As we walked back down the hall, Chris pointed out the twinkle lights above. The high ceiling had concrete with circular clear glass sections that supposedly came from the old Missoula underground. (I started to research Missoula underground, there is much to read, and I will eventually).

He pointed out the two bathrooms on the 2nd floor before we made our way up the next very slanted set of stairs. (the 1stfloor houses a store) The 3rd floor’s full bath was a full mural of fish, octopus and other ocean creatures on all walls, giving me the feeling, I was swimming in the ocean. The smaller bath was fully collaged with pictures and sayings from magazines, so you are never bored in this bathroom.

The kitchen is stocked with dishware, silverware, microwave, stove and all the necessities with a sitting area across from it with more floor to ceiling plants. The twinkle lights from below shone through the glass in the concrete. The 3rd floor also had a fish aquarium. At the front end of the 3rd floor is the “yoga” room that has become the tv room with an extensive library of VCR tapes and dvds. Above is a large loft with several beds. Before Covid times, Chris mentioned that a traveling band may stay in the loft. For payment, they would buy the house a large box of toilet paper from Costco or find some way to make a contribution. I was liking this place more and more. 

The 3rd floor has 9 rooms, each is furnished with a bed, desk, chest of drawers and a mini frig. Some are larger with a sleeping area as well as a sitting area and sink. He showed me the available room, small but with a loft bed and built-in bookshelf across one wall. Looking up at the silver painted ceiling, I knew this place was my silver lining. The affordability made it a no brainer. Once my house/pet sitting picked up, I wouldn’t be paying an arm and a leg for a place I was not at very much. 

I left a note for Robert to let him know I would like to rent the room. A day later I came by early in the morning as Chris said that was the best time to catch him. He was happy to meet me, laughing, he had assumed I was a male because he has a male friend by the name of Francis. Many people don’t realize that males spell it with a “i” and the female version is Frances. He likes to have an equal mix of males and females living at the hotel. 

As we spoke loudly to each so he could hear me, he asked if I had any crazy boyfriends or a large dog. My answer was no. 

Chris phoned later to say I got the room! On a handshake and $100 deposit, I told Robert I would be back in a few weeks with my things from Oregon. 

*The fist of my writings on my unexpected family. More to come. Some names have and will be changed. Real names will be used when permission is granted. Chris Sand has granted permission. Be sure to check out his music at the above link.

Chris Sand

Playing with poetry

It was a lovely reprieve to take part in Luther Hughes’s workshop, Reaching for Joy last week. Writing memoir has already proven to be hard, rewarding, triggering, and necessary. Luther’s workshop felt like playtime in comparison. I am not a poet, but it’s fun to try it.

The assignment guidelines: start with “it”, a time you made a choice to basically have faith and also include a food.
Some of you may recall this “story” from a blog post in the very beginning of this blog as I drove from Montana to the southern tip of Baja.

Somewhere In Mexico

It was noon
Driving slow, low shoulder, two lane highway
Potholes in the middle
Didn’t see it coming but heard the pop, felt the bump
Damn only sand
It was the only way to go
All alone as far as the eye could see.
A man came along as we tried to understand
Resigned to not panic, only to trust
He tried with his truck and chain to get me unstuck
But fuck
As if from the sky, a bus fell into sight
Angels who looked like farm workers descended and lifted my car
I witnessed a miracle
Then was on my way to the next town to get a taco

Worth Your Time

It has warmed up to 16 degrees from 4 degrees today here in Missoula, MT. But the sun is shining and it’s actually quite beautiful after a day and night of steady snowfall. It will warm up to the 50’s by the end of the week. I’ll head to Eugene starting this Thursday.

A couple of talented friend’s work appeared this week. I hope you watch and listen. I found them both entertaining and enlightening. It’s worth your time.

Chris Sand: Montana’s rapping cowboy, “20 for 2020”

Also, part-time Missoulian, Quentin Robinson, stars in the first episode of Move on Netflix.

Quentin Robinson starring in Move

https://www.sozoartists.com/lovehealsallwounds

Driving through Idaho (a different kind of place)

My last stop in Idaho was at the Cenex in Salmon, ID. Guns and ammo stores with large signs lined the streets. Huge Trump flags flew outside homes and from backs of oversized pickup trucks.
I ran into the Cenex, which had a True Value hardware store in it, to use the restroom. I was one of the only mask wearers in there. As I waited for the restroom, I peeked in the camping section. A young male employee approached me, not wearing a mask. I backed away as he asked if I needed any help. “I thought you might be looking for your husband, since you are in the fishing and camping section,” he said. “No, no husband, I’m a camper,” I replied. “Oh you are one of the lucky ones, there aren’t many of you,” he smirked.
After a quick visit to the bathroom, I couldn’t walk fast enough out of there.
It is beautiful country, with a sense of fear in the air. As a liberal woman traveling alone, it wasn’t the safest I’ve ever felt. In fact, I felt 100% safer traveling through Baja, Mexico alone.
When my map app announced, welcome to Montana, my tension relaxed, I took a deep breath of relief.
Yesterday, I had an appointment with my favorite chiropractor here in Missoula, Dr. Van Eerden, at Hickory Street Chiropractic Clinic, http://www.hschiro.com/
He really is good, gentle and uses the activator. Our visit was mainly me on the table with him doing visceral manipulation. We talked of Idaho, shared stories that only confirmed my sense of fear driving through there. His son played soccer, thus they found themselves traveling there for games. Ivan’s gentle touch gave my hips some relief. By evening, I was feeling the pain again and exhausted. I have a doctor’s appointment next week to continue the search into what is causing this discomfort.
Meantime, Aranda Bowman LMT, https://www.massagebook.com/Springfield~Massage~Aranda?src=external (highly recommend her) who I saw in Oregon a week ago sent out this Youtube with some self myofascial bodywork. Check it out and take good care of yourself.

Thanks for reading and coming along on the journey.

Need some community tonight? Join in for live storytelling at Tell Us Something, https://www.tellussomething.org/ $10 per ticket. Support the arts, support storytelling.

Pink barn in Idaho with smoke filled skies

Out of the smoke and into the hot springs

I had planned to drive back to Montana to get a few more items, leaving earlier this week. However, I had to wait and have the van windshield repaired, plus get some bodywork for my back.
Luckily, a friend told me about Crystal Crane Hot springs, https://www.cranehotsprings.com/ in eastern Oregon. Yesterday, I got all camping gear situated and made my way east. It was just the ticket. A new route for me to drive to Montana, seeing new sites. The hot springs helped my back and made for a great night’s sleep. The first overnight in my new, used Toyota Sienna van. Figuring out how to arrange things, so it’s convenient and comfortable. I’ve got some ideas, nothing elaborate, keep it simple. A platform for my inflatable sleeping pad, with space for drawers underneath will be the first project.
I’ll be in Montana until the first week in October. I’ve got no obligations until then. It’s beautiful this time of year in Montana.
Sienna van and I will get in some camping. 🏕
Also, I love my physical therapist in Missoula. Thinking she might work one of her miracles on this back issue.
Next stop will be somewhere in the Sawtooth Mountains, going through Sun Valley, (I’ve never been in this area) all the while watching the fire maps and possible road closures.
See you soon Montana.
Prayers for fire evacuees.

Goodbye Dolphin, Hello Sienna Van

Bye, bye Dolphin, hello Toyota Sienna. I kept loving the Dolphin and wishing it to be what I wanted it to be. But alas, a cylinder went and it needs an entire new engine. That’s when I faced reality! It’s been sold to a Toyota mechanic. In it’s place, I have a Toyota Sienna van.
The Sienna will be perfect for weekend camping trips. I’ll remove back seats, set up a bed, pack camping stove, all camping supplies (bear spray) and off we’ll go. The ability to be in solitude in nature is my saving grace.
Just so happens, I have a friend looking at Siennas for camping purposes. She has sent me links to some great companies that do conversions. ie:  Contravans
I probably won’t get all fancy, start small, put in a roof vent for sure. It’s always fun to look at websites and Youtube to see what can be done.

The Sienna was perfect for bringing a load of my stuff from Montana to Oregon. Will have to go back for one more load.

Happy Camper
Thanks for reading!