tree in corn field

tree in corn field

I am sitting in my office at my desk, which used to be the kitchen table at my parents house – one of those old white enamel things with the red trim around the edges.

My mini-fountain is gurgling away from where it sits on an old stool. I find peace in this sound of water. It makes me feel closer to the outdoors, to nature, to something wild, which makes sitting at a computer bearable.

I am surrounded by books and clutter and computer screens. Many of the books are useful but not pretty. I pull the thesaurus off the shelf when I can’t find the right word. Books of poetry or inspiration, like “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” “Looking for Home,” and “Journal of a Solitude” are flipped through when I can’t find a place to start and need a prompt or a push into beginning. Sometimes copying down a paragraph of someone else’s words loosens up my own.

Some of the books I no longer need or like. They should go.

cornfield in winter

Papers are scattered across my desk and on the small rolling table that sits to my right. They contain information I refer to as I write my book – old letters, photos, journals, and bits of story I’ve written in the past. Are they bogging me down in details? Maybe. But I decide I need to stay there for awhile longer to go back in time and remember.

There is so much I’ve forgotten and not because it was something to forget but because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to know the significance at the time. How often am I doing that again? Am I doing it right now?

I’d love to go through my house, room by room, organizing and culling things to create space for my thoughts, to clear out anything that I felt I had to hold on to, being the one remaining keeper of memories, but now feel like they are holding me to a person and place I don’t want to be anymore. It feels like they keep me from becoming…

But I can’t take the time right now as it would turn into an excuse not to write or to get outside and walk or bicycle. It’s tempting to come up with excuses not to go outside when it looks so dark and cold and unwelcoming from inside the protection and light of my home. The older and more brittle and stiff I get, the harder it is to make myself move. It’s a good thing that I’m stern with myself, knowing what makes for good medicine.

On Saturday, I woke up with a headache that felt like it was going to ruin my whole day but one bike ride outside later, even though I fell on the ice, I returned home and realized that my headache was gone. Miracles are found outdoors.

bicycling on snowy path

Worse than any fall I can have outside, inside I fall into a trap of eternally preparing to do something I want to do.

After I finish cleaning the house…

After my closets are empty of crap…

After my kitchen is organized and the pie tins I never use are gone…

After all my old photos have been scanned and organized onto my computer…

After I have caught up on my filing…

After I lose ten pounds…

After these things are completed, then I can build a real life.

Until I realize, every decision, choice and action becomes my real life and I don’t want to be the person who is remembered as that skinny gal with the clean, organized house. But I also don’t want to be remembered as the woman who left behind a mess for someone else to clean up. There has to be a happy medium.

So that’s what I search for. The stuff that’s most important to me – the writing, photography, giving my animals and relationships attention and care, my music, getting outdoors, and being active – come first. And if there’s time (there often isn’t), I’ll take care of the cleaning and culling.

I hear that there is always enough time.

And I choose to trust that this is true.

downed tree in snow

dog

dog

The second presentation I went to at Midwest Mountaineering’s Outdoor Adventure Expo, was called “Tails to Tales,” presented by Paul Schurke. You can read about the first presentation I went to about Travel and Adventure Writing in my post yesterday.

The description of the class said that Paul Schurke will “share his favorite dog stories and offer tips on crafting your own repertoire of animal tales.” I was looking forward to getting solid tips about how to write better stories about my dogs.

An hour later, I was feeling pretty disappointed as all I’d heard were stories about dogsledding, the history of canine evolvement, and a bit of history on how dogs have been involved in our lives throughout the ages.

But I didn’t realize just how much information I’d walked away with until I started complaining to Steve about the presentation and realized that I was telling him some pretty interesting stories that I’d learned about during the class. I’d actually gotten some great information. Even though I wasn’t told in five easy steps how to craft my own tales, I had learned a few things about what makes a story something memorable and worth repeating.

I heard the story of how sled dogs were used to bring serum from Nenana, Alaska to Nome, to treat an outbreak of diphtheria in January of 1925. This was about a 674 mile trip through very harsh conditions. To save time, a musher named Leonhard Seppala decided to cross the Norton Sound, an inlet of the Bering Sea, where ice often separated from shore and stranded travelers on ice floes. It was 85 degrees below zero, counting the wind chill, and a blizzard had turned visibility to zero. Seppala relied on Togo, his lead dog, to guide them across the ice. Seppala’s team traveled for about 261 miles – double the length that any other team went.

But what happened, as so often occurs in the media, is that the dog who crossed the final fifty-five miles of the trip and brought the serum into Nome, was turned into the hero. This dog’s name was Balto. He was turned into a Hollywood celebrity and you can visit his statue in Central Park. But things turned out okay for Togo. He was loved and cared for by Seppala and sired many pups. Several modern sled dog trainers trace their dogs back to Togo.

I also learned about Turnspit Dogs – dogs bred and used to run in a wheel that looks a lot like a hamster wheel, to turn a roasting spit in kitchen fireplaces. It’s as warped as it sounds, I’m afraid. These dogs were your basic kitchen appliances back in the day.

Paul Schurke owns and runs a place called Wintergreen in Ely, Minnesota that takes people out on dogsledding trips. He uses the Canadian Iniut dog for his teams. They are a smaller sled dog and not as fast as the Husky but they are a very strong pulling dog.

My favorite story that Schurke told was about how he ended up with a dog named Sam. Sam appeared to be a stray dog who was following Schurke’s team as they were crossing the Bering Strait (I think that’s the right place). When one of Schurke’s dogs hurt his paw and was removed from pulling the sled, this stray dog, who had been keeping a safe distance between himself and the dog sledders, gradually slipped into the injured dogs spot with the team. They eventually managed to build enough trust that they were able to harness Sam. They figure out that he must have been lost by another sled team as he was a highly trained and skilled dog that they eventually put into the lead dog position. There is information here about Paul Schurke’s dog sledding experiences with people such as Will Steger and Ann Bancroft.

Despite not being told the five tips for creating a good dog story, I wrote down what I think goes into a good dog tale:

  • Dog heroism – the part dogs play in saving people’s lives, such as in the 911 search and rescues
  • A dog’s normal everyday role in people’s lives – for example, how dogs teach us to live in the moment and start each day fresh and bug us to take them for walks so we get some exercise and fresh air
  • Services dogs stories – from dogs who help someone with a sight loss to dogs who help someone with OCD by stepping in to block them from compulsive behavior
  • Lessons dogs teach us about simplicity, not holding a grudge, forgiveness, and being able to overcome anything from a rough start in life to the challenges of aging.
  • Dog humor – because what dog is not a furry version of the best comedian you’ve ever seen?

Dogs just know how to live so much better than we do it seems. They are miracles in their own rite. It seems like a dog always comes into my life, displaying the very characteristics I most need at that time.

Every dog I’ve ever known has represented an era of change and growth for me that I’m not sure I would have come through quite the same way without them.

dog

bikes in U of M bike rack

bikes in U of M bike rack

This last weekend, Midwest Mountaineering had an Outdoor Adventure Expo. There were sales inside the store (where it was an absolute zoo) and a tent setup where vendors of snow shoes, ski equipment and winter camping gear filled the space. There were also tourism and vacation agencies hawking their services: parks, trails and winter event information: groups trying to stop sulfide mining and other groups like MORC (Minnesota Off-road Cyclists).  Aaannnddd, there were one hour presentations on Saturday and Sunday that took place in a couple buildings on the U of M campus.

For the next few days, I’ll post about some of the presentations I went to. The first workshop I attended  was on “Travel and Adventure Writing” with Shelby Gonzales.

Shelby  had three writing techniques for us to try:

1. Story Matrix

First Shelby had us think of an activity we’ve done or a destination that we were to plug into the top of the matrix. In the left column were questions to answer. The questions help you think of a twist for your story as it brings out what was special about your experience that will make people want to read it. Below is my example.

First time mountain biking at ladies night at Hillside
Tried something new Went mountain biking
Failed at something Couldn’t go more than a few yards without putting a foot down
Unexpected experience Despite inexperience and fear, I also felt very excited, like this is something I can actually do. I was able to do things on the mountain bike I could never do on my townie bike.
Went someplace cool Hillside mountain biking trail has the reputation of being pretty tough and not a beginner course

2. Word Dash

This was a free-writing exercise that I’m pretty used to doing already. We were to take what we’d come up with in the Story Matrix and use the writing prompt Shelby provided.

The rules:

  • Hand doesn’t stop moving until timer dings
  • Stuck? Write the prompt again and again until something comes
  • Don’t think just write

The prompt we were given was: I remember…

I didn’t come up with anything worth repeating so let’s move on to the next exercise.

mountain biking

3. Memory Mining

We were to take an event and use one the following words to mine as much of what that word brought forth as we could. The words were:

  • Hear
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Feel (emotion)
  • Expect
  • Meet

I chose to write about trail riding in Patagonia, Arizona and used the phrase “when I hear”.

  • When I hear the crunching of hooves on the stones and the grit  of a dry wash, I think of the old west. I look up at the dirt walls on the left and right and the rocky cliffs, wondering if anything wild, man or beast, is hiding up there waiting to pounce.
  • When I hear the shale dropping away from under my horse’s feet to the bottom of the hill below, I throw my trust to the horse, who knows how to navigate this world better than I do. (He’s my nieces horse and I’m trusting he’s as smart and talented as she is. )
  • When I hear my horse’s hooves slide and seek solid ground to dig into, I wonder whether we will soon be racing down the hill like “The Man from Snowy River”, minus the snow and the whip and the slow motion that made the movie scene a thrilling and beautiful thing instead of the scrambling panic in the imagination of a Minnesota flatland girl.

horses in Arizona

And here are a few things to remember if you are a photographer, writer or video movie maker:

Don’t let your goal of telling a story mean that you are buried in a notebook, computer, or camera. Don’t let telling a story blind you from living the story.  Be sure to spend as much time looking for real instead of through the lens of your creation.

Remember that writing or photography is a gift to people who haven’t experienced what you are experiencing. It is a way for you to let someone who may never get to do what you are doing know what it might be like if they were right there with you.

Happy Monday! May your week start off  with a whiz bang bundle of peace and happiness.

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