Friday, May 18, 2012

tide line

Tutka Bay, Alaska, September 4, 2010. 
Taken while on a stroll during the 49 Writers retreat.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the high water line. How high is the highest tide? How high will the flood waters rise? What washes up on the tide? Tsunami debris has begun washing up on some Alaskan shores after spending over a year on the ocean. Some has been returned to the owners. It has only begun.

This year's retreat leader at Tutka Bay is Pam Houston. Only a few spaces left. Still tempting.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I don't like to speak too soon, but here goes: last week, I was minding my own business writing away, working on the novel. It was Tuesday and my brain was fired up, adding a plot twist that had come to me earlier. I kept scrawling in my notebook, moving my character half-way around the globe. Then, as I wrote the words, I realized I was on the last section, the last paragraph, the last word. The End. I put down my pen. I had finished my first draft!

Except there was still work to do. The next day, I pulled the laptop close and began typing, sometimes with just one hand, sometimes with two. Both were difficult in their own way. One handed is slow, two hands was a strain for fingers that had been on hiatus for over a month. I plugged away, thinking maybe I wasn't quite ready for two-handed typing.  My PT on Monday said, "go ahead." She stressed good ergonomics but thought I was ready. Beyond ready. That afternoon I worked on it more, and it was either Monday or Tuesday this week that the first draft was fully typed. Phew!

Sometimes I wondered how and when I would get there, but as my friend from the writing group suggested, I let my characters guide me. After that it was typing skills I learned from Mrs. Petrowitz during sophomore year of high school, honed by years of use, that helped me race to the end.

Now begins the task of editing. And fact checking. Thanks to online research, I could find examples of some of the important historical details that surround the story lines. (I'll share more on that later.) Coincidentally, Deb at 49 Writers just put up a post about rewriting. Lucky for me I hadn't gotten rid of my old printer. The ink is low on the new one and I really wanted to print the entire draft. I hooked up the old, slow printer, and had enough paper to print it all.

This afternoon, I gathered my notes, a notebook, Deb's post (which I'd printed out), the first 60 pages of the draft and strolled over to my local coffee shop. I set up with my Americano and my pencil and began reading. Reading and taking notes, making small edits, a list of questions. I didn't allow myself distractions, having left the laptop and a book at home, and placing myself indoors instead of out in the sun looking at the mountains. Three hours later (or was it four?), I had made my last notes for the day.

It feels good to be on this path, working on the edits and evaluating the structure and the level of detail I give to sections of the story. Even evaluating how the first page should open the story. So much to consider.

The Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference is in three weeks. I want to be ready.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

signs of spring III

kids bike in the cul-de-sac riding last year's outgrown bicycles
knees nearly hitting the handlebars
with low tires and creaking chains
have yet to find their helmets.

neighbor cats emerge and gather
orange and white, collared cat on the path between house and shed
locked in a stare-down with our tuxedo, guarding her sunny deck
twin tuxedo shows up now and then, mostly when ours is sleeping
I mistakenly open the door to call it in and it scurries away.

poufy white and orange cat sees me in the window
begins to slink away, as if holding its wide belly lower to the ground will fool me
"i was just leaving."

they converge, some days, in this wild back yard
among wood piles and rock stacks, compost and brown leaves
I imagine they're drawn to the wildness
the hiding places, sunny napping spots
the absence of dogs or children on outgrown bicycles.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

signs of spring II

We walked along the trail that circles the bog, my friend and I, a few evenings ago. No snow remained on the dirt path, though soft mud and wind-downed twigs marked the route. I watched my footing; was careful to not drag my feet as Alaskans are known to do during the icy days of winter: skimming our feet carefully over the surfaces. I can't risk a fall so lift my feet as if walking along uneven cobblestones.

On the far side of the loop trail, we make a side trip to a viewing platform to watch geese, ducks, gulls. The migratory birds returning to nest and feed ignore their neighbors, the hardy magpies who tease and cajole the fair-weather Alaskans.

I'm looking for another creature; have seen and heard them overhead. Want to know if they will be nesting nearby again. We turn to leave and my friend sees something, the long-necked, tall bird. We move closer. The crane disappears as it dips its head into the marsh grasses, foraging. Reappears. Its voice silent; not calling its mate. We wait, watch, listen. Finally continue our walk. I hold onto my hope that the mate arrives soon, riding on the winds blowing from the south.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

signs of spring

All winter, I can look out my living room window and, through the trees, see the outline of the Chugach Mountains just a few miles to the east. Draped in white, the sun rises from behind them; in the evening, the sun's final light bathes them, reflecting pink alpenglow on the skyline.

Each spring, I can see the progression of melting as ridges develop sharp outlines, like line drawings in a coloring book, framing the receding snow. It is then that buds on the birch and cottonwood awaken, opening more each day, coaxed by spring's ever-increasing daylight. Sometimes I think they open so quickly that if I were to sit still long enough, quietly enough, I could hear and see the leaves unfurl on their branches. Smell the first scent of sap as it diffuses into the air.

No matter how slowly the spring seems to progress in the North, one morning I will look out the window and barely discern the mountains' outlines through the gaps between the trees, those spaces having been filled with thousands, millions, of unfurling green leaves. I welcome the color back to the monochrome world, anticipate the sticky sap tracked indoors on shoe soles and cat paws.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

hops for me

I was out the other night with some friends. We'd dropped by a local Mexican place after going to the Rural Route Film Fest (I know; I'd never heard of it either) at Out North. As we enjoyed our margaritas, the topic of beer came up. Seems there will be yet another microbrewery starting up in Anchorage, to which I say "hooray!" My friend said that a certain master brewer was not a fan of the IPAs. He thought they are just a fad. The two people I was talking with agreed, they were dark beer lovers.

I used to not be a much of an IPA person myself. I enjoy my porters and stouts, with their almost chewy richness, or, on rare warm days, maybe a fruity raspberry wheat or a hefe. IPA wasn't my go-to beer for hot days, though I would sometimes drink it because it's what Jon enjoys so we often have some in the house.

Then a few years ago, Jon and I were visiting my family in Wisconsin. We were walking on a rail-trail on the outskirts of Wonewoc when either my brother or my sister-in-law pointed out the hops growing along the side of the trail. The remnants of the 1860s Sauk County hops (Humulus lupulu) craze? I picked a few of the dried fruits (it was February) and popped them in my mouth.

The slightly bitter, zesty flavor filled my mouth. And that, I explained to my friends at the bar the other night, was the moment I began to appreciate the IPA. I agree that some IPAs seem to be bitter just to be bitter. But I now recall a perfect IPA I had last Wednesday at Snow Goose when I was there with my mountain biking gang. (They had gone biking while my friend Corinne and I went for a stroll.) The beer had a full, bright flavor. A little citrus zest and a little bitter. It was the color of pale honey. It was like a first kiss.

Monday, May 7, 2012

tell me a story

I had to have mine redone after I biked to the end of Eklutna Lake. Then I didn't ride for another year.
It's not 100 percent; I get clicks I didn't used to get.
The doctor said "trust me" then moved my arm and it hurt so much, he told me to relax but I couldn't because it hurt!
I didn't like the PT. He moved my arm but he didn't tell me first so I could have prepared and breathed. So I changed PTs but maybe she wasn't the best.
She retore hers going down the stairs with something in her hand so she wasn't using the handrail.
She slipped on the ice.
He crashed while skiing.
She had three months off work to rehab it and was lifting weights by the end.
I'm 100 percent!
I can do everything I did before.
Now, I do strengthening exercises.
Stronger than ever!
Full range of motion!
Yours wasn't as bad as mine. You'll be fine.

A month and a day out and I continue to improve. And listen to stories. Hope for a good outcome. I go for walks in the neighborhood or at one of the parks that has a paved path that's new enough to not have cracks from frost heaves and years of use. Not every day, but a few times a week.

I do my physical therapy. Three times a day. I have some restless nights that lead to tired days.
I get rides from friends to PT, other errands. Appreciate them taking the time; offering encouragement; promise to be a better friend to the next person who goes through this.

I watch my neighbors clear their yards of the winter's debris: gravel and twigs, long-buried toys. I look at my brown lawn and wish for a clean-up crew. I avoid doing one-handed labor for fear of tripping over a rock or a low spot in the yard, both of which there are many. Because at each stage of the PT I tell myself "I don't want to go through this again." It's a slow road, but we never grasp just how slow until we're on it, do we?

I continue to write my fiction in longhand; am not even attempting the one-handed typing transcription; just plug away; moving along: scrawl, scrawl. One month until the writers' conference. I read books, long magazine articles. Think about hiking because sometimes thinking about biking just gets me down. Ah!, the way four miles disappears under bike tires, while under foot the distance seems too daunting for me. Even after a winter on foot.

Today, the birds are singing, the buds on our birches are about to burst open. And, today, they're going to take my icing machine away. This is how I measure this spring's progress.