If you’re looking for a special gift of words, consider buying the Central Oregon Writers Guild 2022 Literary Collection. Local writers submitted long and short poetry and prose covering a wide variety of topics.
The work of 37 authors was accepted, including two of my pieces. My poem and short story are both about autumn, my favorite season. 🍁
To purchase the book, visit Roundabout Books & Café in the Northwest Crossing neighborhood of Bend. You can also purchase it here, from Amazon.
Local writers appreciate the support you’ll give them by buying this gift of words.
Today I’ll share a few stories related to special flowers in my life.
Whenever I see roses, I think of a funny thing that happened to me when I was in my early twenties. I had just started dating a guy who checked parking passes where I worked. I invited him to my cozy little A-frame house on Puget Sound in Washington state. When we got to my house, I pulled open the screen door and there was a bouquet of roses tucked next to the main door. I grinned and asked if they were from him. “No,” he said sheepishly. He pulled a bouquet of roses from behind his back. Oops. The flowers in my door were from a different admirer. Awkward!
I took these photos on the High Desert Garden Tour this summer. The tour takes place in different Central Oregon locations, from sprawling rural ranches to tiny city yards. This year the featured gardens were in Bend.
I’ve noticed odd plants, animals, and natural features recently and wondered if they were real or surreal.
I had an odd feeling when my flight flew over Mt Rainier a few weeks ago. Just as we passed over its peak, this strange creature emerged from its depths. Yikes! I was glad I was able to take a quick snapshot before it disappeared.
While exploring Crack in the Ground on a June field trip, I was overcome by a sudden feeling of peacefulness. I paused when I noticed a movement from the corner of my eye. This benevolent Picasso face emerged from the rock walls and smiled and nodded at me.
On a recent hot afternoon, I dozed off in my comfortable recliner. I was awakened by a strange noise. A few feet away, I saw a weird creature. It had the head of a ground squirrel and the body of a cat. Was it real or surreal?
When I drove the highway west of Cody, Wyoming, I saw stories unfolding in rock formations along the road.
The short paved trail in the photo below takes you to a place of wonderment along the North Fork Shoshone River.
Stories unfolding from a distance
The rock formations along the ridgetop are a village of homes with a view carved by the common folk. At one time, the richest man in town lived in a round home atop the tallest tower. He bragged about his wealth to anyone who would listen. One day, he danced with glee around and around inside the house. It fell to the ground, but he survived. From then on, he lived a humble life in a square home and he never danced again.
Sheep Mountain is a distinctive landmark about 15 miles southwest of Cody.
Walking towards the burial mounds of Knowth, in County Meath, Ireland, it’s easy to imagine they must have many stories to tell. The largest mound was likely created circa 3200 BC. This is part of the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne. I featured another passage tomb nearby in The façade of Newgrange.
Each image tells a story on its own, butI created a Tale of Knowth to go along with the photos.
Tale of Knowth
“Go to the mounded land on the day fall begins.” Maimeó said to me weeks before her passing.
Once I found the 18 mounds, I didn’t know where to turn. I followed the curving trail around the largest mound. A cool gust from the north made the emerald grass covering the mound dance in the wind.
“Find the sunburst kerbstone. It will show you the way.” I remembered Maimeó’s words.
The sunburst kerbstone? I thought. Spirals, crescent, and other patterns covered the boulders encircling the mound. I wondered how I would find the right one.
I trudged around the perimeter of the mound, pulling my cloak close. Light snowfall drifted by me and settled in the characters carved into stone.
Why is it snowing on autumn’s eve? I thought to myself. I tried to keep warm by rubbing my arms and stamping my feet. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something.
Sometimes you experience memorable moments by following fall close to home. I’ve made a special effort to capture glimpses of the season in photographs this year near my home in Bend. Fall is my favorite season!
Autumn weather brings cloudy skies and spectacular sunrises that take your breath away.
Trees don their finest fashions and marvel at their reflections.
Some trees try to see how many shades of autumn they can pack onto one branch.
And when the leaves fall, they dazzle you like an ephemeral work of art.
If you listen closely, you’ll hear the leafless trees revealing stories layer by layer until they are clothed once again.
A couple I once knew had a memorable experience involving mushrooms, up close and personal. They went out mushroom picking with friends in the rainforests near Olympia, Washington. That night, they prepared a fancy meal that included the mushrooms they harvested.
After dinner, they sat around the table exclaiming how wonderful the freshly-harvested mushrooms tasted. Suddenly, they noticed the family cat had jumped onto the counter and eaten a little of the mushroom sauce. She immediately began to vomit.
The dinner guests looked at each other with horror. When they picked the mushrooms, they weren’t sure of the exact species. Even when you look at mushrooms up close they can be difficult to identify. If you eat the wrong type, it might kill you.
Out of an abundance of caution, they decided to go to the hospital. Everyone had their stomach pumped in case the mushrooms were poisonous.
When they returned home, they were surprised to find the cat with a litter of newborn kittens. The cat wasn’t sick from poisoning—the vomiting was due to her labor.
At the time it happened they decided to err on the side of caution, but later, they thought their reaction was pretty funny. 😀
Steep knife-edged mountains arose from the plains centuries ago. Over time, torrential rains wore them down into rounded hills. Though plants tried to take root on their soil, none survived.
The Wise One summoned the artists of her tribe. She asked them to paint the hills in sacred colors. Pale green colors, from crushed sagebrush leaves and golden rabbitbrush blossoms, and black and red, from sumac trees, filled their brushes. The artisans painted the hills with broad brushstrokes and veiled the skies with delicate dabs of white.
On a desert wander, clouds fill my head. A scrub jay calls to me in its raucous voice and my attention shifts. I stumble over a rock, plain and gray. The rock beckons me to pull it from the sandy soil. Just a rock, I think. Dark and hardened, like my thoughts. It’s stuck fast in the soil and I pry it loose with a juniper twig.
I cup the rock in my hand and feel its weight. Though it appeared ordinary in the soil, it is not. Other hands have held this rock. They chipped away the darkness to reveal a shining edge. My fingers trace its sharpness; an unforeseen treasure from the past brought to light. My desert wander turns to wonder. As dawn breaks, the clouds lining the horizon disappear.
Sometimes you visit places where the landscapes are pretty as a picture. Here are a few places I’ve visited in the western states that feature picture postcard views. I tell a tiny tale about each of them.
Kiger Gorge on Steens Mountain, Oregon is full of drama. A giant serpent tunneled through here leaving scales of deep green. Wise ones believe the sweetest water can be found in shallow wells beneath these strands of greenery.
Morning Glory in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming is a glorious sight. The artist who created this landscape experimented with various colors. She could not settle on using a single color and discarded her pallet here for us to find.
This grandfather tree in Arches National Park, Utah often told tales of wild places to his many grandchildren. When he passed, they honored him by preserving the bones of his existence and planting golden flowers near his roots.
So, the other day I heard a loud “chirp, chirp” call outside my house. I peered out the back door and spotted a baby American Robin in the middle of the yard. Maybe it was the same one we put back in its nest several days before, giving it one more chance at life.
When I approached, the young bird walked underneath some cactus in my garden. Meanwhile, both parents continued chirping loudly.
A movement nearby caught my eye. A Red-tailed Hawk lurked in the background, watching the fledgling. No wonder the parents of the baby robin were upset!
I tried to catch the young robin, but it flew. Not well, but I was pleased to see it could now fly. The bird settled in the gravel and rocks, right under my High Desert mural painting. Maybe it wanted to be a character in one of my stories. 😉
I’ve been out and about more recently and photographed several spectacular sights seen in blue and green.
I thought the pictures deserved a story, so I made up a tiny tale to go with each one. At a virtual conference I attended yesterday, I learned a “micro-story” is a form of flash fiction with 300 or fewer words. I’m calling the following stories “mini-micros” since they range from 43 to 58 words. Not sure if they qualify as true stories, but they were fun to write.
A crowd of manzanita shrubs watches a shifting skyscape in awe. Their pink blossoms open in silent applause. Snow-covered Cascade volcanoes rumble in the background, taking in the show from a safe distance. Steam billows from their peaks, merging with the dancing clouds.
Clouds emerge from a crack in the ground on a chilly spring morning. They radiate outward from the ridgetop and tree branches stretch and reach towards them. Striated boulders celebrate by tumbling and crashing down a steep slope. An osprey drifting overhead crows in anticipation as another glorious day begins.
When I was a young child, my grandfather often told me the tale of the Lost Forest. Here is how he told it…
The people of the village disliked them for their beliefs, distrusted them for their appearance, so they fled. The villagers pursued them so they ran faster and faster.
They paused on a faraway hill and sought shelter beneath the sagebrush. The pursuers shouted in the distance. Unsure what to do, they became a part of the environment.
One by one, they stood still and extended their arms with palms tilted upward. Long green needles sprouted from their fingertips. Puzzle-like bark crept over their skin. They wiggled their toes and pale white roots snaked their way into the soil. A shudder ran through their bodies and branches poked through their buckskin clothing.
And then they grew. They shed their human form and grew taller and taller.
For me, it was a rocky start to photography. As I mentioned on my About page, I dropped out of Photography class in High School. I was failing the class. My focus was still unclear during those rebellious years.
College and beyond
In college, everything changed when I roomed with two Photography majors. In one of the places I lived we converted a bathroom into a makeshift darkroom. I spent a lot of time in that room, unrolling spools of film in semi-darkness and immersing prints in sharp-scented fixatives.
I also served as a part-time muse since the college required Photography program students to take one roll of pictures a day. The infrared picture of me below, dressed as a lion, was taken by my roommate Jill.
During one winter break, we left our rented house to spend time with our families. I arrived back at the house days ahead of everyone else. A catastrophe greeted me. Unbeknownst to me, my out-of-state roommates neglected to pay the electric bill—they assumed our rent included electricity. The electric company turned off our power when no one was in town, and the house was ice cold. The pipes had broken in the ceiling, releasing a steady stream of dripping water. My first thought was, “Her photos!” I scrambled to salvage my roomie’s pictures from her drenched room. String zigzagged from wall to wall and I hung up the saturated prints.
I’m pleased to announce that one of my short stories was recently published in Placed: An Encyclopedia of Central Oregon, Vol. 1. This slim volume, however, is not an encyclopedia in the traditional sense of the word. It contains a collection of poetry and prose about this part of the planet. Central Oregon includes sagebrush deserts, thick pine forests, winding rivers, and volcanoes lining the horizon. Placed embraces tales of the wild, but also stories related to unique features – like Ocean Rolls from a local bakery.
My contribution is The Toad Queen, written after encountering a Great Basin spadefoot toad in my yard. It is one of the most unique things I’ve observed in Oregon – unlike anything I have ever seen. I snapped a couple pictures of it and gently pushed it off the trail. This creature with such an odd appearance and life history deserves a special story.
Did you know there are secret rooms at McMenamins Old St Francis in Bend? Here are pictures of two of the blacklight rooms with their secret blue views.
You can’t get into to the rooms through a traditional door. You have to find special panels in the hallway and push them in just the right spot.
The secret blue views inspired me to write microfiction stories related to each room.
On the night of the harvest moon, trees in a hidden forest create plump blue and red fruit. Jackrabbits venture into the forest, searching for the red fruit. They nibble on their magic and dance until the sun rises and the fruit disappears.
My friend asked me to go hear author Pamela Royes talk about her book Temperance Creek: A Memoirat a quilt shop. At a quilt shop? I thought. I didn’t know that QuiltWorks had a “Books to Quilts” program.
Pamela spoke about her book and showed slides of where she lives in the rugged country near Hells Canyon in northeastern Oregon. A chance encounter with Skip Royes led her into living the life of a wandering shepherder. She and Skip spent four years on a life-changing journey in the wilderness. Pamela transforms from a carefree hippie into a responsible woman who learns to appreciate the wildness of her new home. She also learns of the culture of the Nez Perce, who first occupied this land.
Her lyrical prose helps paint pictures in your mind of her adventures and the surrounding country. Quilters made the “words into art” and they displayed their work in this shop. Pamela became emotional as she described her appreciation for the quilts depicting her words. These creative works meant more to her than any trophy.
I entered a short story I wrote in a local contest and I just found out it took first place in the Children’s Fiction category. Hooray for me! 😀
The short story from my first novel is called How the River of Falls Came to Be and it’s about a little newt who gets more than he asks for. He ends up turning into a tortoise in the desert and he misses the rain.
Here are the last couple of paragraphs:
“Many years later, Tortoise passed away and his shell tipped upside-down and filled with water from passing storms. In fact, the shell caught so much rain it overflowed. The heavy shell eventually sunk and settled deep in the earth. It became the source of a river with many waterfalls. Río de las Caídas.
Sometimes when you walk along the river, you can see the smiles of Rain and Sun in waterfall rainbows. They are showing their gratitude for the gift Tortoise gave to the world.”
I’ll be reading the story I entered in the Central Oregon Writers Guild Contest next month at the downtown library in Bend, Oregon.
Back to work editing my book, Dark Fountain Songs. Maybe I’ll draw some pictures of tortoise to go along with the “award-winning” tale.
I’m sharing the March issue of the High Desert Voices newsletter. It’s a newsletter for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. I help out with the newsletter and I’m particularly proud of this issue.
This issue of the High Desert Voices newsletter includes a History event – 19th Century Making & Mending; Art – a new exhibit by Native American artist, Rick Bartow; Nature – a fact sheet on white sturgeon; People – a profile of our Communication Director; and Recreation – a trail through the colorful Blue Basin. There’s a little more related to updates for the different areas of the Museum and kudos, for work well done.
In The Story Who Came to Visit, I mentioned I would be doing an Open Mic event here in Bend. Yes, it does take a bit of courage to do something like that. Yesterday I read a short piece from the children’s book I wrote during NaNoWriMo. The audience was eager to hear the work of local writers.
I read a story about a bullied girl who finds her courage after talking with a magpie and a badger. They both have hidden weaknesses but found their inner strength. Nuǎn, the main character in the story, finds her strength just when she needs it most. A snow leopard that had attacked her and left her scarred is about to attack another child.
Last month, The Darkness of Hills, The Lightness of Wings came to visit me for 25 days. Yes, that was a long visit. She spoke a little bit to me each day until she was 50,129 words long.
I started her as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge. That’s short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s a commitment I wasn’t sure I could make, but I did it.
I knew I wanted the story to take place in the late 1800s and I wanted to include a Chinese girl who moves to Oregon to work with her grandfather. He’s a doctor and she knows how to make herbal cures. That’s all I knew when I started writing.
I found my inspirations to build a story from several sources.
The ground trembled beneath a stunted sagebrush shrub. The Toad Queen emerged from her burrow to a changed world. Clouds of smoke hung over the land from a wildfire. The spadefoot toad gazed at this new world through golden slitted eyes. Sand tumbled down her spotted back.
A purple larkspur plant stood near her burrow. Its head of flowers tilted toward the earth, wilted from the blistering heat.
The Toad Queen heard a meadowlark singing nearby. The song stopped abruptly, interrupted by a fit of coughing.
“What happened while I slept in my burrow?” She glanced around at the desert landscape.
After living a life full of leaps and bounds, she settled down in her favorite aspen grove. The bunchgrass waved goodbye. The rabbitbrush shaded her in her final moments. The rosebush provided fruit in celebration of her life. And finally, the aspen covered her in leaves of gold.