A Rambling Recap of the Last Week and a Half

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Two Fridays ago, Nickel Creek’s music soared through my ear buds’ wires as I knelt on the carpet to polish the small wood table perched in between our recliners. I tried not to think about my hazy future, about the way neither Louis nor I knew if we’d been accepted to grad school and it was already almost May. And then my iPhone stopped playing Nickel Creek and started jangling its regular ringtone. Montpelier, Vermont, read the screen. Ice trickled into my legs. I frantically clicked the answer button and fumbled with the earphones.

“Hello? Hello? I’m sorry, I was cleaning my house and I have earphones in because I was listening to music…can you hear me?”

A woman’s voice. “Yes, I can hear you, that’s fine.”

“Okay. Hi, this is Laura,” I said, my heart galloping against my ribs.

“Hi Laura, this is the program director from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.”

 

MFA programs don’t call a person to tell them they’ve been rejected. When the program director told me the faculty enjoyed my manuscript and essays and that they were pleased to accept me into the program, I very unsophisticatedly squealed into the phone. I had applied to the program, a low-residency MFA, on a last-minute intuition two days before the deadline, which meant I’d had to write a personal essay and a critical essay in one weekend—and I rarely do things last-minute, so I did my best and hoped it would be enough but knew it probably wouldn’t be. I was rejected to six programs in creative writing MFAs, which I now see I should not have applied to anyway. I write fiction middle grade and young adult literature, though I love penning nonfiction essays as well. The program at VCFA fits me perfectly, and my first residency is in July.

That same day, my husband and I learned we needed to move to Loma Linda, California, and that we’d be living there for at least two years, if not longer. Thus began the search for somewhere to live, and we had specifications: reasonable rent, a yard for my German Shepherd dog, Bella, who has lived with my parents since I left for college, and, if we could make it happen, a few more square feet of space. For three days, we found nothing. Condos and apartment complexes and mobile homes and regular home rentals are afraid of dogs who don’t spend their days yapping through houses, riding in handbags, or licking their owners’ faces. They are afraid, especially, of German Shepherds. Bella is calm, well trained, and good with people, but she is also cautious and protective.

Just when I lost hope of ever getting to have my own dog live with us and be our first baby, I found a landlord who loved German Shepherds and whose home had a gated yard. The rent was reasonable, there was a one-car garage, two bathrooms and bedrooms, and…glory of glories…a dishwasher. And this sweet woman offered to install a washer and dryer in the laundry room for us. We jumped on this God-sent opportunity and packed our things the next day (Wednesday of last week). We moved all of the packed boxes on Thursday, and my parents arrived on Thursday night because, a few months ago, my mom and I signed up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) SoCal Chapter Retreat at a vineyard resort in Temecula, and it happened this weekend.

On Friday, my mom and I unpacked boxes and shopped for house decorations. My mom has the perfect eye for tasteful decorations, and we found this wonderful shelf at Target to make up for the kitchen’s lack of storage space.

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My dad and Louis took a U-Haul to the cottage and loaded our furniture and brought it to our new home, and after helping them arrange most of it my mom and I took quick showers and headed to the first day of our writer’s retreat, during which we got to eat refreshments and chat with editors from Bloomsbury Children’s Books and Farrar Straus Giroux. The next day we participated in roundtable sessions with the editors (editors from Henry Holt and Greenwillow HarperCollins also came to the event), listened to Lin Oliver (SCBWI’s co-founder and executive director) share her wisdom on writing for middle grade readers, had a lovely mother-daughter lunch at the Vineyard Rose Restaurant, absorbed editor talks on how to improve our work, and so much more.

We commuted an hour from Loma Linda to Temecula for each day of the retreat, and shortly after we returned home from the second day, our kitchen sink clogged and Bella got herself sprayed by a skunk. These two events happened almost simultaneously. And since it was dark and the skunk smell smelled really weird and un-skunky for a little while, I put my hand right on Bella’s damp face and smelled my hand, which smelled like mashed vegetation mixed with skunk. I probably held skunk liquid right in my own face, because today we’re pretty sure it was a skunk. We had no hydrogen peroxide and were ready for bed, so I rinsed her with baking soda and shampoo and water and hoped for the best.

The next day my mom and I attended the retreat’s last day, and we arrived at the vineyards early enough to stroll, enjoy the hot air balloons hovering over the rows of vines, and take a ‘vineyard selfie.’

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We said goodbye to the wonderful writers and editors and event hosts at noon and promised ourselves we would return next year, and then we met our men at an Indian restaurant for lunch. Now my mom’s on her way to pick up my Chinese sister Wendy from the airport (she was a foreign-exchange student a few years ago, but she’s family to us), and my dad’s staying here until Tuesday. He and Louis are getting Louis’s new lawn-care equipment set up, and other things are falling into place: the washer and dryer come next week, the Internet people arrive on Tuesday, the landlady’s calling the plumber about the sink tomorrow, and I bought hydrogen peroxide and washed my stinker with it, baking soda, and dish soap. I pretended we were just playing with the hose, but she thinks I spent too much time just scrubbing her skin. She’s ignoring me in this picture and pining for the world beyond the little black barrier (a.k.a. skunkland).

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My life has become busy again, a different, delightfully tiring busy. I go to Arizona this week to see Wendy and more of my mom (yay!) and get to hang out with my dad on the drive there. I’m glad I came to accept the slow, unsure pace of life that came before this, because now the madness is marching right along with me on its back, and I love it. I love it. I’m grateful for my husband and parents, because together the four of us have made moving quick and almost easy. I’m thankful everything has fallen into place—it won’t always be this way, and I am going to enjoy every moment.

 

Laura

 

That Was Then, This Is Now

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Then

            Five different assignments cling to my waking thoughts, and before I finish them five more will grab their heels and demand that I complete them. The clock reads 5:00 a.m., and I stumble toward the ink-dark kitchen, tugging the banker’s lamp’s dangling chain on the way. The splash of light it gives I can handle, but more would slam my eyes shut again.

            I pour water into the crimson kettle on the stove and turn the gas knob. I dump coffee beans into the grinder and turn it on, cringing as the rhythm screams through the house. The book I am making for my art class whines from its place on the kitchen table. Now, now, now! You must complete me now! I ignore it and stare at nothing as I wait for the kettle to wail.

            When it does, I forget the next step. I take the lid off and start to plunge my hand into the boiling water, but I stop before my fingers burn. I shake my head and replace the lid, pour the water into the French press, stir it, and wait. Stupid girl, I think.

            But it’s early. Before me lies an hour of writing, an hour of exercise, an hour of homework, and then three hours of work, an hour of lunch, five hours of class. And after that, more homework: reading books I wouldn’t chose to read outside of school, writing research papers on subjects I struggle to care about, making those awful art books that do not forgive the sins of escaped glue and uneven cuts.

            Kashi Simply Maize cereal becomes my easy dinnertime friend. I eat it every night. My husband eats frozen dinners when he gets home, or a dollar burrito from Del Taco.

            This will end soon. I will graduate in a few weeks and be done and happy.

            But though I do not know it, I am happy with this busyness.

            I am always doing.

            I am never without tasks.

After

            We have graduated, and now we begin the stagnant state of waiting to find out where we go to school in the fall. Louis leaves for his first full day of work as the head teaching assistant for La Sierra University’s biology labs. He won’t return until late night, because in addition to running labs he teaches one himself: gross anatomy. And that one ends at ten. I sit at the kitchen table, which is devoid now of splayed artwork and loose homework papers. I am a housewife, with no homework to rattle my bones and no presentations to prepare for or papers to write.

            I planned the menu and went grocery shopping and cleaned and did laundry yesterday. I hum as I gaze out the silent windows, and then sit down with a book. I read for a while, think about writing but don’t, and then stand. I walk through the living room, through the bedroom, toward the only bathroom, turning sideways as I pass the bed. Someday Louis and I will live in a house that does not force us to turn sideways like that.

            Slow hours later, I realize I have nothing worthwhile to do. I have no children to care for, not even my German Shepherd, Bella, who can’t live in this cottage because there is no yard. I cannot write, for reasons I wish I knew. Panic claws its way up my throat and the cottage walls step toward me. I look at them in disbelief. This, this absence of busy, was supposed to bring me joy.

 

Now

            I rise at six, make my coffee in the kitchen’s fragile, brilliant morning light. My basil plant reaches toward the sun and has sprouted new leaves, which makes me feel better about the African violets, which perch next to the window with the basil but are wilted. Steam curls from my favorite burgundy Longaberger mug, which my mother gave me on my eleventh birthday. I think it will last forever. I pluck my Bible and journal from my desk and sit in my recliner, read and think and write and sip for an hour.

            And then my pace changes completely. I don exercise garb and embarrass myself in front of the TV as I try to nail a T-25 workout. After this I step outdoors and watch as the grass in the dooryard shivers in the gentle wind. I run two miles and return to the cottage, whose color is a meeting of salmon and taupe and age.

            I shower, I eat, I read. I go to class, because I could not stay completely away from school and am sitting in on my favorite professor’s class sessions on young adult literature this quarter. I return home, eat the no-bake chocolate oatmeal peanut butter cookies I made yesterday, and then check the calendar on the refrigerator to see what I get to cook for a late dinner.

            At 6:30 p.m. the sun crawls behind the distant hill, and I take a beach towel outside and lie on the emerald grass. I read, but I also watch. I watch the stray cat hunt for ground squirrels and insects in the tangle of blades. I watch the birds roost on electricity poles, wonder where they’ve come from and where they’re going. I watch the leaves on the trees shudder in the whipping wind, and that same wind moves through me and leaves joy to sit with me on the beach towel.

            But most of all I watch the remnants of the sun as they un-burn the sky, slowly, until I am left in violet twilight.

 

           

 

 

 

 

Songs and Stories and Scary Futures

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When I sat down to write the first chapter of “And the Blackbirds Mock,” the entire story had already come together on a thirty page outline (though, of course, I discovered new and different things about the story and characters as I wrote chapters and deviated a few times from the outline). Sometimes I like to write with music in the background to get me in the story’s mood, and sometimes I need absolute silence.

That morning, I craved music. There was something meaningful in what I was about to do, I thought, and I wanted a fitting song to which to listen as I penned the story’s first words. I combed my iTunes music library for an appropriate song, and an album of Celtic hymns snagged my hungry gaze. I had not listened to most of the songs in the album, and I don’t even know when I acquired it, but one song in it had always taken a churn to my emotions and knocked them around (in a good way). The song, “Morning Has Broken,” had no words on the Celtic album, but I considered that, as it was a hymn, it likely had words. 

I did a Google search on the song and found not only the lyrics but a moving ‘music video’ of Cat Stevens (that WAS his name–he changed it to something else now), whom I’d never heard of, singing the hymn. Stevens did not write the song, but he made it popular. Here are the lyrics:

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

These lyrics carried me to the manuscript’s first sentences and broke the barrier between the story in my mind and its physical existence on paper as I listened to the song over and over (I can do that without getting sick of songs—it drives my family members nuts). Finally it became part of the delicious absorption that I love most about writing, the state of mind where nothing exists but the story and the characters and I am wholly where they are and not at all tired, stressed, and dreading a frightfully busy day. I am somewhere else. 

But I still used the song in the story. I felt that Okalee, one of the crucial characters, would adore a song about spring, and first mornings, and blackbirds speaking. And so in the first chapter, Polly (Okalee’s older sister) smiles and tries not to grimace at Okalee’s off-tune rendition of “Morning Has Broken” as they prepare for River Day. I’ll let you find out what River Day is if I ever get this manuscript published. 😉 

For my next project, which is still just a shimmery, nascent idea in my head, the song that plunges me into the story’s feeling is Nickel Creek’s “Elsie” (not an original song of theirs) from the band’s new album, A Dotted Line. I really shouldn’t start talking about Nickel Creek, because they are my favorite band and I have the delightful opportunity of seeing them in concert in May, and I could write about how wonderful their songs are forever…they’re considered a bluegrass band, but not pure bluegrass, and I’ve loved them since I was eleven.

Though “Elsie” really clicks with the new story idea, I can’t start writing the story yet because right now I am waiting on a few life-changing decisions to be made, both by me and by those whose minds I can’t control. Life is pretending it’s calm and sweet. I do, after all, get to spend all of my time reading and cooking right now (just look at the picture at the top of the post…lie on the towel and read every evening these days). But when I think of June, which is when Louis and I must leave our cottage and find somewhere else to live, I start to fight panic. I do not like not knowing what is going to happen to my family of two in the increasingly near future, and it makes me feel frozen and unable to create new stories. But that’s another day’s post. For now, I just let the idea cook as I read book after book after book.

 

Laura

I might write a post later about books I’ve either finished recently or am reading, and here they are if you want to try them for yourself:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (finished)

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (finished)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (currently reading)

Rekindled by Tamera Alexander (currently reading)

Come Read My High School Journals!

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Me, Gina, and Lora in Peru, 2008.

 

Unedited excerpts from my diaries and journals, 2007-2009…

8-13-07 (14 years old)

“Wow! I just read my little (tiny, really) blue diary from summer of ’05. I was the dweebiest little thing! I wrote words like ‘wonderful’ ‘beautiful’ ‘pleasant’ and ‘lovely’! In almost every sentence. I think I was trying to be like the people who lived a long time ago who wrote diaries.”

November 22–Thanksgiving Day (Livingstone, Guatemala, 15 years old)

“I wish I was home for Thanksgiving! Today all the families back home will be having Thanksgiving Dinner and we’ll be eating bland hotel food. We better do SOMETHING special! Yesterday we went to some Ancient Mayan Ruins called Tikal. It was pretty cool to see the old temples and monuments—and we saw a bunch of monkeys up in the trees!”

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At Tikal, the day before the above journal excerpt.

12-25-08 Christmas Day (16 years old)

“I got little Bella for Christmas! I am so excited I love her! I put the collar on her it is so tiny and cute! It’s green :). Mommy said as soon as I prove myself to take good care of her, she will hand the ownership papers over to me :). She is my dog! Her full name is ‘Isabella Marley Akiva’ but on her tag it’s gonna be just Bella, or Bella Marley. I’m soo happy :).”

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Bella and me, Christmastime 2008.

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Learning to be a good ‘mommy’ to Bella…and practicing the selfie art, which I have mostly given up these days. 😉

6-24-09 (16 years old)

“Camping with Louis was SO MUCH FUN! We had a really nice camp spot, and 2 dirt bikes and our mountainbikes and our tents and cooking things…and Bella…it was a nice camp setup. We rode dirt bikes all 3 days, and it was awesome. Every time I got up a tough, steep, rocky part of the trail, my Louie was waiting at the top…today dad came up and we all rode for 5 hours. It was so fun :).”

Bella, me, and Louis on that very camping trip.

Bella, me, and Louis on that very camping trip.

9-26-09–Talent Show (at Mt. Ellis Academy) (16 years old, my senior year of high school)

Whew! I’m so glad the talent show is over. It was fun, playing Come Home for Sarah to sing to :). Sarah won 2nd with ‘Amazing Grace’ a cappella :). I had such a nice day, a nice long nap, a nice apple pie and ice tea with my dad, a nice long video chat with Louis!”

(The video of me playing Come Home on the piano while Sarah sang, at that very talent show.)

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What is the point of all these excerpts? Well, first of all, I was writing in my current journal this morning (I did not provide any words from it because it’s still too recent 😉 ) and thinking about writing a new blog post about journaling when I decided to extract my dusty high school journals out from under my bed. As I started reading the first one, which I decorated with a narcissistic selfie before selfie was even a word, I realized that in many ways, I haven’t changed much since 2007.Image

In the long introduction to this journal, I write that “My name, my full name, is ‘Laura Elisa Strawn Ojeda.’ I’ll be taking out both Strawn and Ojeda when I get married.” Yep, I did that, though I do love both names and they will always a part of me. I wrote that “I also have a sister, Sarah Katrina Strawn Ojeda. She is 13. She is a very nice little sister, but we are as different as day and night.” Still true, but in a good way. My favorite things to do were to “Ride dirt bikes, and snowmobile, sleep, exercise, play volleyball, basketball, and do gymnastics, be with my friends, watch movies, being crazy, hyper, and fun, being outdoors, acting (which is what I want to do when I grow up), read, write, be in my room alone, talk to friends on MSN Messenger, basically, I love to enjoy life, live it to the fullest, and be crazy!!!”

I die of laughter when I read those lines. I no longer care to become a famous actress. MSN Messenger is obsolete. Being ‘hyper and crazy’ is not high on my to-do list. I don’t do sports anymore but still enjoy random moments of volleyball, basketball, and especially gymnastics. My favorite book list remains the same, but with additions: at the top is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and that set of nine books will never lose its place. And Louis and I want to buy dirt bikes again when we have enough money, so I will return to that hobby someday. If we ever live somewhere snowy, I would love to have snowmobiles, as well.

In many ways, however, I am drastically different. I did not share these lines with you, but I was a teenager, thus I felt things deeply, invested most of my time in my social life, and harbored animosity toward my dear parents (more in the first journal than the second). Regardless of all the embarrassing things I wrote in these old journals, I love that I have them. I didn’t realize how many details my memory forgot until I re-read my journals, for I recorded the mundane, the extraordinary, the sad, the happy, the infuriating, and the bittersweet.

I bought this journal, probably my fourth in my life, right before I got married, and I vowed to write in it every day.Image

 

Did I do that? No…school chomped my free time like a desperate creature with nothing to eat but my hours and minutes. But I did write all about my wedding day, and I wrote on the window seat of the Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria, Canada, every morning of my honeymoon, and I covered big events and moments of my life this past year. Now I have time enough to include the mundane, and someday I will thank myself for that. Everything I write is fodder for future fiction stories and nonfiction essays, but the best thing about having journals to return to is that reading them is like popping into the past and talking with an old friend—but that friend is simply a younger, stupider, funnier, and sometimes wiser me.

 

Laura

P.S. Do YOU keep a journal, or did you ever keep one in the past? Do you enjoy re-reading them? Have you used things you wrote about your life in your school essays or in fiction stories? I would love to hear your experience with journaling!

The Green Place

I found this video as I was looking through my iPhoto library for inspiration on something to write, and when I watched it, I realized that I don’t need to write much for you to take something away from the three minutes of greenery: I talk, the entire time, about the place where I’m sitting throughout the video. It’s a plank in a tree in my old front yard in Montana that my dad built for my sister and me when I was eleven—so ten years ago—and in the video I talk about why it’s so special. What I say is now funny, sweet, and sad to me all at once.

There was once a zip-line that ran from the plank to the now-fallen playhouse in the distance, which is why I talk about broken arms. I took the (very rough) footage to remind myself of Montana—it was the last time I was there. Almost two years have passed since then, and I’ve forgotten how GREEN Montana gets in June!

I have always loved to sit and read by a creek or a river or in my plank in the tree, because I deeply enjoy being able to look up, allow the stunning and peaceful surroundings to soak my senses, and plunge back into what I’m reading. As I say in the video, I did this a lot there on the plank. Enjoy this little piece of my childhood, this place that inspired me so, and think about your own treasured places: what area gave, or gives, you the most inspiration to both read and write? I would love to hear your stories!

 

Laura

 

Thoughts on Steinbeck’s East of Eden

ImageI wrote a bold and uninformed research paper after I read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row for a class earlier this school year in which I argued that Steinbeck did his best ever work in Row. I had never read another Steinbeck book. My professor said that if I could support that thesis, that was fine, but he thought Steinbeck had written better works…like East of Eden (and, some of you are likely thinking, The Grapes of Wrath). And so I purchased East of Eden and sat down to read it in mid-March.

I did not know what to expect from this 600-page book, and that was a good thing. I had no negative or, aside from some vague recommendations like my professor’s, positive expectations for the story. The book’s first sentence is, “The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.” That’s not exactly gripping, but what follows is, and I can’t explain why. There is something in the opening words, the descriptions of the valley, that took my hand and led me to the doorstep of a long, engaging, and utterly human narrative.

Without ruining the story for anyone, I will say that even in the first 100 pages I met a character I wish I could sit and share a meal with and speak to for hours, a character whose pain I wish I could eliminate, a character on whom I wish all kinds of pain and yet don’t because I can understand some of the reasons for his pain, and more, and as the pages gave way to more characters and more hurts and joys and triumphs and cruelties, I realized that I could not imagine this novel ever ending. Maybe that’s why it took Steinbeck 602 pages to write it. I did not want it to end, but I also thought it should because it is a book and books end. I just could not imagine it ending.

But it did, and I cried. I never felt close to crying throughout the entire book because I was too close to the characters to be able to separate myself from them and see their pain—I was there with them. That’s what it felt like. But in the last page the journey I had traveled with Samuel Hamilton and Adam Trask and Aron and Cal and Abra and Lee cloaked itself around my shoulders and pressed its bittersweet weight into my mind, and emotion and awe clogged my throat and squeezed through my eyes. Thankfully, no one was around. 

I hope this isn’t too vague a blog post, but I don’t want to give spoilers to those who might read East of Eden. I will say this: I highly recommend the book. You will, as one of my friends said, meet one of literature’s worst villains, maybe even two. You will question how much of them you can find within yourself. But the biggest gift Steinbeck gives us in East of Eden is a sprawling, intricate picture of who these people are and what people and events and landscapes formed them, because he begins at their beginning and walks with you as far as a book can go without getting ridiculously lengthy. This book gave me a profound understanding of the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and therefore perhaps of myself.

And on a lighter note, who would have thought to describe frying eggs this way? “He broke the eggs in the hot grease and they jumped and fluttered their edges to brown lace and made clucking sounds.” If you ask me, that’s exactly what it’s like to fry eggs. 

I’ve ordered a copy of The Grapes of Wrath, a beautiful hardbound 75th anniversary edition copy, and when it gets here I’ll read that, too, so that people don’t look at me in shock when I say I’ve read Eden but not Grapes. And because I really like John Steinbeck.

 

Laura

 

A Thank You to Yellowstone (and your Greater Ecosystem)

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Me in Yellowstone National Park, the last time I went (I was 19).

“Look! It’s in there—can you see it? Do you see it?” My mom pointed into the woods by the side of the road in Yellowstone National Park. Cars had heaped themselves on the side of the road, a sure sign of a wildlife sighting in Yellowstone, and sure enough, the hushed voices breathed the word with reverence: Bear! Bear! 

“I don’t see it! Please, please, where is it?” I heaved my eyes at the woods and searched the trees for movement. “Mom, where?” Desperation slipped into my heart. At nine years old, patience came to me in transient bursts. It’s only slightly better now. I had wanted to see wildlife in the wild my entire life, and until the previous year such a thing proved difficult, for my family had lived in Reno, Nevada, and we were so fascinated by the occasional deer spotted in the nature near the city that we have hourlong videos of the animals staring blandly at the excitedly-wiggling video camera. Now that we had moved to Montana, a deer spotting was old news. I saw them often, especially on the sides of the I-90 freeway, dead from crossing without looking both ways.

But a bear was something else. A bear, a real bear–why, I dreamed of seeing a bear! And that day in Yellowstone my mom was looking straight at a bear and I could not see it.

“It’s gone. I think it went farther back into the forest,” my mom said. We walked to the car, and I sat inside, my young heart devastated at my failure to see the bear.

But a few hours later, my dad stopped the car behind a line of traffic on a road in the park. “I wonder what’s going on,” he said as he rolled our windows down.

“Bears!” I squeaked as the black mother bear and her two mini-me cubs crossed the road and sauntered into the field below. Rangers had come to the scene and were keeping tourists out of the bears’ way, but the bears did not give the humans a glance. They were not afraid, nor were they belligerent. The scene stayed in my mind for days, and it remains there now.

A year later, on another trip to Yellowstone, I sat staring out the window in the backseat of the Toyota 4Runner, letting my imagination run wild among the hills and forests and cliffs and mountains that grace my favorite national park. A movement on a hill to the right snagged my eye, and I gasped. “A grizzly bear!” I whispered. The golden beast plodded up the hill, its humped rump and shoulder outlined in sharp curves against the cerulean sky, its fur rippling like prairie grasses in the low wind.

I lost myself in what I saw, and by the time I managed to tell the others of my discovery, the bear had gone over the hill.

“Are you sure it was a grizzly?” they asked.

“I’m sure,” I said, and though I was only ten years old I knew, after two years in Montana, what a grizzly looked like and what it could do, and that picture, like that of the black bear, sunk into my mind.

*

In the spring of 2012, I took my last trip to Yellowstone before my family moved away from Montana. I told my family and Louis, who was my boyfriend at the time, that I had seen many animals in our time in Montana: more black bears, the grizzly, coyotes, a fox, skunks, moose, elk, bald eagles, and countless rabbits and deer and squirrels but that I regretted not having ever seen a wolf.

“I want to see a wolf before I leave,” I said as we drove into the park. The early spring had left the hills and riverbeds yellow and patchy with snow and mud, but their beauty still reached into me and bound me to the land. Please let me see a wolf today, I thought. Please.

I did not have to wait long. Though I had visited Yellowstone numerous times and had never seen a wolf, that day a pack was feeding on a carcass almost right inside the park’s entrance, and a devoted group of wolf-watchers (who followed the pack all day with their expensive cameras and binoculars) allowed us to look in their equipment and see the wolves closely. I stared through the lenses and watched: there were a few black-colored ones, and a few grey ones. The carcass lay limply on the ground, and the wolves ate it in bits. If you’ve ever seen The Grey, you’ve seen giant wolves lunging for flesh with murderous breath and gleaming fangs. These Yellowstone wolves did not do that at all (and I hate that movie). They simply sunned themselves, got up, took some bites of the carcass, and laid back down.

The sight engraved its beauty into my brain, and I left the park that day thanking God and the wilderness for the many visions of natural grace and life that run through my head and inspire my writing every day. I write about Montana—nonfiction about my childhood in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, fiction set in its rugged, serene beauty. Granted, most of Yellowstone lies in Wyoming and I’m not sure if the animals I saw there were in Montana or Wyoming, but both states are wonderful and someday I hope I can live somewhere where people have not smothered the wilderness with pollution and crowds and noise. But for now, those scenes—the black bear and her cubs, the grizzly going over the hill, the fox disappearing into the trees by Bear Creek, the wolf pack in Yellowstone—give me the peace I crave, the stillness that settles deep in my soul and allows me to think, and for that personal, eternal gift, I am thankful.

 

Laura

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Being silly 🙂

 

This week I’m linking up with Kristen Oliphant and other wordsmiths for Not So (Small) Stories. Our prompt this week is ‘personal’. http://kirstenoliphant.com/2014/03/24/small-stories-seventh-edition/

(I still don’t know how to make the pretty link-picture appear here…sigh…oh well.)