Through My Words

So, one of the things you run into when you’re traveling the US are folks from your (old) neck of the woods.  I have, when you get right down to it, run into quite a few folks lately who are from my (old) neck of the woods in northern Colorado.  I’ve had some fascinating conversations with those folks, not just about the places and things we have in common but also about the frustrations and negatives we share.

I mention this because I met a couple today who ticked all of those boxes.  Not only are they from just up the road from where I used to live, but their interests are pretty damned similar to mine.  Even more intriguing, their story is pretty similar, too.  They, too, got sick of living where it is always crowded and busy; of living at a pace that never seems to leave time just to breathe; of existing, rather than living.

Now, look.  There is no conceivable way I can argue that living in Yellowstone offered a frenetic, crowded life.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  But when the time came to finally wrap up my time in paradise?  Yeah, the very thought of going back to the nuttiness of northern Colorado was something I just could not face.  Hence my current little wanderjahr.

At any rate, back to this couple…

They left the area with nothing but the idea of living a better life.  I met them because they now run a successful farm*, and have just recently expanded that farm by building a small restaurant and brewery on it.  That right there is pretty much, well, heaven to me.  The corn they use in the polenta?  Yeah, they grow that.  The apple that comes with the ploughman’s lunch?  Yep, they grew that, too.  The beer they brew?  No, they don’t grow the barley or the hops, but they use yeast grown from a wild strain they harvested off of their own pears…

*Remember, I’m a farm/agriculture nerd, on top of all those other nerd-isms I’ve shared on these pages…

There is a school of thought that says our fascination with historical fiction and fantasy stories derives from a need/urge to look back to the “old days”; from the urge to live a simpler life in a simpler time.  And, no, before you ask, it is not purely a thing of the modern world.  Hell, Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe two hundred freaking years ago, and 150 years ago Robert Louis Stevenson started in on shipboard life and pirates’ treasure!  But looking to a simpler life?  Yeah, I’ll buy that.

Hell, I live that.

One of the dangers of life, by the way, is defining and measuring yourself by increasingly complex things.  Living by the values and measures of the external world, rather than those internal to you.  Even writers suffer from this, to be honest.  It is far too easy, and too common, for us to define our success or failure by those measures set and valued by those who do not create the words.  We get caught up in being on this best seller list, or appearing in that magazine.  And, sure, those measures have some meaning — especially when the mortgage is due! — but do they really define us, or our words?

If this blog has achieved nothing else, it has allowed me to offer some bits of advice to other writers out there.  One of those bits consistently has been — and still is — that you don’t write for anyone but yourself.  If you are writing what others want to hear; if you are writing words that don’t matter to you; if you are writing solely for the external measures, you are writing stories that won’t last, and words that don’t matter.

Here is an image for you, a small picture to flesh out the words.  If I am writing for anything or anyone external to me, it is for this:

A kid sits alone, reading late into the night.  The day may have been normal, or it may have been terrible.  There may have been friends, or there may have been no one.  Whatever the day brought, that kid sits alone at night and reads the words.  The story and the characters…they come to life in the words.  They become examples to follow or to flee; founts of wisdom or insanity; examples of those who have overcome, or those who have failed.  The best of them…they become treasured friends.

I was one of those kids, sitting alone late into the night and throwing my entire self into the story.  I laughed with Ford and Arthur and the other hitchhikers; I triumphed with Garion and Pug and Corwin and a host of others; I learned about loss and grief from the likes of Roald Dahl and Kurt Vonnegut and, especially, What Dreams May Come

When I look back, I learned grace and strength in adversity from writers like Samuel Delaney and Ursula LeGuin.  I learned honor and duty from folks like Joe Haldeman and Robert Heinlein and JRR Tolkien.  I learned…

Shit, I learned everything, from everyone.

That kid, alone under the covers? The one who want — who needs — to read words that resonate and matter?

That is why my own story is still one of wandering and learning and trying new things. That is the simpler life I value, and that I will always be chasing. That is why I write: for that kid, alone under the covers, learning and living through the words.  Through my words.

The Song of the Wolf

Winter isn’t coming, it’s finally here…

Thank God!

The snow has finally come, and the icy temperatures.  With those temperatures comes “winter mode” for Yellowstone.  I don’t mean winter mode for the Park Service and the visitors, I mean winter mode for everything.

If you weren’t around for my winter posts last year, I would encourage you to go back and read a few of those.  I’m not going to repeat those posts, other than to point to a few of the differences wrought by the change of season for those folks who are new to this stuff:

  1. Winter is the time for wolves. Contrary to what most folks believe, summer up here is a terrible time for wolves and other predators.  In summer, the prey animals — elk primarily — have all the food and energy they could ever want.  In winter, however, food is scarce, and so is the energy to fight or flee.  Food is scarce, I should expand, for those who live on grass and leaves.  For those who live on meat…well…there’s always something on the menu.
  2. Yep, the bison are still effectively armored tanks in winter, just as much as they are in summer.  Everyone still leaves them hell alone if they have any choice in the matter (except, of course, the idiot tourists who deserve their post-bison trips to Urgent Care).  Oh, every meat-eater within ten or twelve miles of a carcass will try to come to the feast if a bison dies naturally, but actual predatory kills are pretty damned rare.  It’s pretty much just “my” pack that does it here in Yellowstone, mainly because that pack’s range has some of the harshest winter conditions in the continental US (the Hayden Valley area, if you’re wondering).  Hooray for Mollie’s Pack, lupine overachievers!
  3. Snowshoes ain’t fashion accessories.  I lost a snowshoe, once, on a solo backcountry hike.  Ever tried to walk ten miles through thigh-deep snow on only one snowshoe?  I had to spend two hours hunting around in sub-zero temps to find my lost ‘shoe.  Trying to get out without that missing ‘shoe, however, would very likely have had a best case result of frostbite and hypothermia.  Ahem.
  4. Cougars are still a thing in winter, by the way.  People ask me if I’m afraid, doing the stupid shit I do in the backcountry.  No, I’m not.  The only wildlife that scares me, honestly, are cougars.  I can read the signs to know what’s going on in an area, predator-wise, and have a pretty good idea how close I am to danger.  But a cougar…  If they’re doing it right, the only time I’m gonna know a cougar is stalking me is when I feel the teeth and claws.
  5. No more tourists!  I have a good month to month-and-a-half before the snowmobilers start coming through, and the number of non-local folks willing to brave the cold and snow to go wildlife viewing is pretty damned small.  That means things are blessedly, happily quiet.  Of course, it also means that there is jack shit actually open in this tiny town, but with every silver lining comes a black cloud…

Random writing thought…or, more accurately, a random language and word-use thought.  Now, I’ve mentioned before that I write naval history, alongside (distantly) my fiction stories.  Well, as part of that, I read and watch a ton of stuff — both fiction and nonfiction — about ships and navies, both in war and in peace.  I watched, the other day, a French movie about subs.*  Now, this movie had some “accuracy issues,” but so does pretty much every US submarine movie (the German flick Das Boot was one of the very, very few to get it right).  The word-use thing, however…that’s what set my writer-nerd nerves to tingling, not so much the movie itself.

The movie (and a plot point of which they didn’t make enough) was called Le Chant de Loup.  Netflix translates that as The Wolf’s Call, but I prefer my own translation of The Wolf’s Song.  That phrase is referring to the eerie, screeching “cry” of active sonar when it is hunting you.  I’ve heard (in recordings…not actively) that sound, both the lupine and sonar versions.  It is not a perfect metaphor by any means, but the emotion and imagery behind it…I hadn’t heard that phrase used in that way, and I absolutely loved it.  Writers for the win!

Yep, I’m still a nerd.

*You can stop snorting about “cheese eating surrender monkeys” right now.  The French have a navy that is larger and more effective than the British, as a matter of fact, and behind only the three major powers (US, China and Russia).  They are actually one of the very few (beside the US, British and Russian navies) to extensively use nuclear subs.  

COVID update — erm…if you thought the virus was magically going away, that bubble of yours needs some freaking bursting.  My tiny little town is in the middle of its third outbreak.  Including, I will add, me.  What do you call a bitter, cynical writer in quarantine?  Bored.

Mollie’s pack at work.