Find My Favorite Books at

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions, Revolutions, and Revelations

As I'm sipping wine and thinking about the changes I want to make in my life in the New Year it occurs to me that I have it pretty good...
I'm living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with a warm apartment to come home to, a cat who greets me, food in the pantry, and piles of books and boxes of craft supplies to keep me entertained. If I can't find anything to watch on the 4 TV channels I can get without cable I pop a movie into the DVD player and enjoy an old favorite. My '99 Bravada gets me to work and back. I like my job at Wilderness Awareness School and my office has a window!

That window is important...I worked the night shift for many years as a nurse's aide at a small Missouri hospital, and then worked for 15 years or so in the storeroom. There weren't any windows in the storeroom. The only natural light that came in was through the back door when trucks came with freight to unload. Those all-too short glimpses of the outdoors came with diesel exhaust. So, I don't have much to complain about. Still, this day is traditionally the one day when we all resolve to do better. With no further ado, here are my New Year's Resolutions, version 2000.8
  • I will get Mom's birthday present in the mail so that it will arrive by Jan. 7th.
  • I will talk to my friends back in Missouri more often, for no reason at all. For a while, we only spoke on the phone if there was bad news to relay. After Cheryl had called me for the 2nd time to tell me of the deaths of other friends, we agreed to phone on Monday evenings. Sometimes she calls me, sometimes I call her, but we do call, just for fun.
  • I will write every day...OK, every other day...every third day, for sure...and I'll be brave about asking people to read my stuff. There's just no point in writing unless someone reads it.
  • I will drink more wine. The glass I'm having tonight is from a 4-pack of single-serve bottles that I bought to celebrate my graduation from WAS - in June. I still have a bottle left.
  • There's no doubt that I'm going to continue to eat ice cream, so I'm going to allow myself to have the good stuff. No guilt allowed. Hot fudge sauce on special occasions.
  • I'm going to stop reading a book if it's not good in the first 3 chapters...there are way too many books to waste time on bad ones.
  • I'm going to take more bubble baths.
  • I will visit the new Cabela's in Lacey,'s dangerous. I could happily spend every penny I ever make in that store. It's the one thing about Kansas City that I have missed... and the barbecue, of course.
  • I will use the fishing license that I bought.
  • I will be grateful every day for the remarkable opportunity I have here in my new life.

Life gets complicated if we let it...and the world keeps turning. It only turns in one direction, so there's no use trying to go back.

See how profound I can be with a little wine?

Happy New Year! Please celebrate sanely.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

So What Got Me On That Airplane, Anyway?

I've been negligent in explaining how I came to be on that airplane in my first blog post. I was interviewing for a Women In The Outdoors position , a job that I'd been pursuing for a couple of years. It was my 2nd interview with them.

Shortly after I was divorced, we started a local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Butler, Missouri. I was elected secretary of our chapter, and eventually spent a year as chapter president. One of my favorite parts was in coordinating a Women In The Outdoors Skills Day at Adrian a few miles to the north.

I'd only attended one such event, in southern Kansas the previous year, and it was the key to my being brave enough to come to Washington later. In fact, that trip of less than a hundred miles was my very first road trip as solo driver. I wanted to go so badly that I taught myself to drive on Highway 71 even though it scared me to death. I'll tell you about that another time.

The important part of today's story is that I began to apply for jobs in the Women In The Outdoors program. After about a year, I was called to go to the national headquarters in Edgefield, South Carolina for an interview. My sister Susan went with me on that trip, and there are tales to tell...having 3 teenagers, she was up to the task of teaching me to drive across country. Our adventures in the South are yet another story, and a prequel to our trip to Washington. If I stop to tell it now, I'll never get on that plane.

The last couple of months in the Residential Program were intense with Scout Camp and the Survival Trip leading to our graduation in early June. And I knew that there was a regional position open in the Women In The Outdoors program. It was for Arkansas/Louisiana, and I knew that my Mom and Susan, who had both moved to Arkansas, would be...annoyed... if I didn't at least apply for it. I did, and then pretty much forgot about it. In our final week as Rezzies, I got a call on my cell phone. They wanted to interview Little Rock...the week after graduation! I didn't have time to drive...I could only see one way to get there, and I didn't like it.

Now here's the cool part...when my fellow Rezzies - my clan- found out about my dilemma, they started talking to me. Todd was the first to ask how I was doing that day. We were down near the Cable Tree among the tall Cedars (Thuja plicata) and the Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) waiting for the others to catch up. By now, I knew I could absolutly trust my clan. I confessed that I was thinking of passing up the interview for my dream job because I was afraid to fly. Todd flies a lot. If he has any scary airplane stories, he did not tell me. Other Rezzies gathered around. Filip, Heather, and Laura were especially encouraging. Not one person came up with a bad flight experience. Every single one told me I could do it, that I'd be great at the job. Every single one of them encouraged me to try.

So, I got on the plane, changed at Ft. Worth, then landed in Little Rock...did the interview, which seemed to go well...and returned to Seattle wishing I didn't have to leave. In 2 days, I had 4 take-offs and 4 landings. And knew that, whatever the result of the interview, I'd passed yet another milestone in one short year. Kingfisher!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Let Me Tell You A Story...

So why am I starting a blog now? Because it's the end of an old year, with a fresh one a calendar page away? Perhaps it's because my 49th birthday is next week? I think its just because I have a story to tell.

Stories have always been important to me...both my parents were readers. Mom read books to me in the evenings after the farm chores were done. She didn't read "little kid's books, either. I still have "Big Red" and "Lassie Come Home" among my treasured volumes. Dad would occasionally let me sit in the floor and look at his "Herter's Professional Guide's Manuel" or his "Missouri Conservationist" magazines. The important thing is that books were important to my parents...the stories became a reward for good behavior, a treat at the end of the day, and a much anticipated birthday or Christmas present. As a child I could entertain myself for hours, making up my own stories, plotting out my life. Imagination was my toy of choice...stories were my way of gateway to the world.

Stories. That's how my first day of class started. I was late...but that's a story for another day. It's the stories that are important here. Gathered in a circle around a fire in the 8-sided shelter called Malao E Chui we told who we were, where we came from, what sort of ecosystem we were most familiar with, and why we'd come to Wilderness Awareness School (WAS). There were a lot of stories around that fire.

It was the first of many circles...the first of many stories. Over the course of the year we became better, more confident story tellers. It took a long time for me to believe that the instructors really wanted to hear what I had to say, and so I'd often make it short and to the point. I could answer direct questions, but didn't elaborate much. I didnt' believe that my story was all that interesting.

It started in grade school, as it almost always does, when teachers didn't often appreciate my sense of the dramatic. Telling stories was akin to telling lies, according to the grownups. They tried to squash any little kid who exhibited the ability or inclination to tell stories or be creative in answering questions.

My ex-husband, hereafter refered to as The Rat B*****d, didn't value stories or writing. His mother once told me that having a short article published in the newspaper didn't make me special. Like many creative people do, I learned to keep my stories to myself.

There were exceptions, of course. Thank God for Mrs. Kerr, my 9th grade English teacher. She praised my writing and even encouraged me to think about becoming a writer. Her belief in my talent has kept a spark alive all these years - one that was blown into flame again at WAS.

Stories are important here. Every class day begins with a circle and with thanksgiving. Often that would mean sharing a story about something we had experienced or seen - "I'm thankful for the Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) that visits my sit spot." Many times we would end the session by sharing The Story of the Day. It might take all of us to tell it, because so often we only know a small part of the story. It's only by hearing the stories of others that we see the big picture. You never know who's story might contain the part that you need to hear. You never know what part of your story someone else might be waiting for.

By telling my story I may help you to understand yours...I might even give you the courage to change the ending of the story that you tell. So come closer...I don't like to yell..but do I have a story for you...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Taking Off...Looking For a Safe Place to Land

The plane lurched and tilted to the right. "We are going down," screamed the shrill voice in my head. On the outside I thought I remained fairly calm. Probably nobody noticed that my right hand pulled up on the armrest as if to right the plane. My left had gone to my neck and my most valuable piece of jewelry. The quarter-size disk of Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia) is just right for use as a worry bead. I've rubbed it shiny with the oils from my skin..

My instructors carved it and 17 more from the branch of a tree found growing near the river. It's strung on Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) cordage they made while waiting out the 4 long nights of our survival trip. It was our final exam. We passed. KINGFISHER! They welcomed us back from the far side of the river with Miso soup, watermelon, chocolate, and the necklaces - riches we hadn't expected.

Interesting...the panic didn't set in. Landing gear! That explained the sudden lurch. We were landing in Seattle. I didn't know it yet, but I was coming safely home.

As the plane continued it's slow tilt and turn to the right I saw Mt. Baker. The last light from the setting sun hit the sound and streamers of gold and red bounced off the water and up to the low lying purple clouds to the west. Sometimes God gives you a movie moment, and I think he expects us to be grateful. "Thank you," I said in a small quiet voice. Mt. Rainer appeared in my window and the ground met us gently. I'd survived another adventure! "And thank you for that," I added.

I was the last person you'd ever expect to have adventures. On February 14, 2004 - three days before what would have been our 25th anniversary - I found myself divorced and with a job that kicked my butt every day. I'd lost the house we'd built just 3 years earlier, and had narrowly avoided being held responsible for the entire financial burden of the breakup. I had bills I couldn't pay, my blood pressure was up, my feet and my shoulder hurt, and I was sure that I was stuck. Helpless...Hopeless...

I hid in the basement of a friend's house during tornado watches. I didn't drive on the highway. I wouldn't fly- it was too dangerous, and I didn't buy the whole concept of flight anyway. Fear was keeping me from having a life. And yet, I desperately wanted to go places, do things - have adventures.

I found the website to Wilderness Awareness School by accident, applied for a scholarship, quit my job and left Missouri to be the oldest "kid" in the 2006-2007 Residential Program. It was the first thing I'd ever done without a plan and a back-up plan. It was the smartest thing I've ever done.

Aside from the challenges of going back to school, I was stuck in a yurt for 3 days by flood, stranded in town by snow, and survived an earthquake -sort of. I built and slept in debris huts and snow shelters. I learned to start a fire with a bow drill, make and use primitve tools, and gather plants for food and medicine. I learned to stand up for my self, trust my intuition, and tell my story.

My friends tell me I was brave to quit my job and move 2000 miles away to start a new life...I don't feel particularly brave. I just knew that if I was going to survive, I had to make some big changes in my life. And I'm not just surviving - I'm thriving.

In this blog, I'm going to share my probably won't be linear. I go off on tangents. It'll be part outdoor adventure, part travelog, part naturalist's notebook, and part... well, I guess we'll see about that. I'll share my best stories, my biggest triumphs, and my worst moments. It's my intention to entertain you, make you laugh, teach you some cool naturalist "stuff", and, sometimes even make you cry. It's about what I've experienced, what I've learned, howI got here, and where I hope to go from here.

I'll reveal my favorite outdoor store (Cabela's), what equipment I bought (snowshoes, sleeping bags, tents, water purifiers, etc.), what I liked, and what didn't work for me. I'll tell you about my favorite books, my best friends, and my biggest challenges. Life is meant to be an adventure...let me tell you about mine.

My Favorite Fiction Authors and Books

  • Suzanne Arruda- the Jade del Cameron mysteries: "The Mark of the Lion" "Stalking Ivory", "The Serpent's Daughter", "The Leopard's Prey" and "The Golden Cheetah"
  • Ken Goddard - "Balefire" and others
  • Stephen White - the Dr. Alan Gregory books are all great. "Kill Me" is my favorite.
  • Harlan Coben - anything he writes is great
  • Elizabeth Peters - Amelia Peabody mysteries

My Favorite Nonfiction Authors and Books

  • "Coyote's Guide to Connecting With Nature" by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown- 2nd edition coming soon!
  • Gavin De Becker - "The Gift of Fear"
  • "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales- the best survival book I've ever read! Not a how-to, its more of a who does,and why.
  • Candice Millard - "The River of Doubt -Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey"
  • Anything that starts with "Peterson's Field Guide To..."
  • Tom Brown, Jr. - "The Tracker" and others
  • Mark Elbroch - "Mammal Tracks and Sign" and "Animal Skulls"