Doesn't matter if you are on vacation or sitting at your desk, even if you don't have a pen in hand or a computer screen to stare at, a writer writes. I found notes and emails I sent to myself after a recent trip to Northern Arizona that tell the story of a trip profound and yet simple. Amid canyons and cactus, blooming wildflowers and cool, no, outright cold temperatures, we soaked up every experience. This newsletter is a reflection of some of the highlights that still sit in my memory, sights, smells, sounds, tastes (an eight inch high lemon meringue pie didn't make the cut), and the feel of sandstone under my fingers. Take a little writing departure with me today. I'd love to share this trip with you.
We spent the last few days of March and first few of April in Northern Arizona. It's a part of the country I'd never seen before and John wanted to revisit with new eyes since he hadn't been there in 30 years. Annie, our daughter, happily came along. When I was about her age, I imagined whitewater rafting the Colorado River. The closest we would get was a 3-hour ride to the banks of the river and the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where hikers and burros can't reach.
Badass western music played on our small bus while Kat, our guide/driver gave us her perspective. She doesn't fit the image of a rough and tumble guide who shoots rapids. Kat comes from Ashfork, AZ. She is one of few people in her town who has electricity considering herself too "bougie" not to have electrical outlets in every room. She and her husband truck in 250 gallon water tanks at a time, because ground water is laced with arsenic, and tapping into the Coconino Aquaphor is beyond their means. She's what you might refer to as 'colorful.' A woman of little means and little education, but she knows this part of the world like the back of her hand.
While Kat's words tumble over me like an old friend, there at the bottom of the canyon some part of me opens up that has been dormant for so long. I want to go to Robbers' Roost and hang out with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. I want to ride through the one horse rump gateway to get into the hideout. I want to feel the trunk of a cottonwood that's suspected to be a hanging tree. I want to hear my father's voice tell me stories like that.
Skies were filled with crystal blue and the errant white of clouds passing by and I see my brother, Jeff's smile in my mind. His forced speech echoes in my head. He would know details like Kat does about the Native Americans who attend dessert camp in sixth grade to learn how to survive scorpion bites, lack of water, and heat.
We linger at the rapids while rafts tie off and unload adventurers along a very muddy Colorado River. Someday, Annie and I agree, that an oars-only rafting trip would be lovely. Today would not be the day though. With so much snow melt and rain upriver it's a dangerous place for two women who know little about this world. That and the fact that we'd be on the river for 28 days.
I put my hand in the fast moving water and my private thoughts of Jeff collide with the beauty of this place. How I wish we had been different when we were young. We might have spent more time together. His spirit is there as I look canyon walls and azure skies. I am overwhelmed with missing him today of all days. Not yesterday when Tim, the waiter, at the South Rim Lodge, made a fool of himself and laughed at his mistakes. Jeff would do that. But this is where I miss him most, at this canyon floor. This is where I'm on my own in my grief. The wind rushes up. I stare at my daughter several feet away, and the feel the ghosts of my dad and Jeff urging me on my own path to wholeness.
We were heading back from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon when Annie flashed her phone in my face and said, "Let's go here." Little did she know, it had been on my list for many years, though I never knew the name of the place: Lower Antelope Canyon. My husband likes to know where he's going, how long it will take to get there. I just want to grab the experience and worry about the details after booking the trip.
The canyon is in the Navajo Nation, just outside of Page, Arizona. From Williams AZ it's four hours. Annie took the wheel ready for the adventure. How can it be that something so beautiful lays beneath what seems to be the dessert floor.
This place needs no introduction, no story. It is perhaps one of the best places I've been and it will continue to speak to me for years to come.
Whippy Dips and Memories
In Seligman, AZ we stopped for an ice cream at a shop plastered with one dollar bills signed by people visiting this place on Route 66. It called to mind the Dairy Queen in my hometown.
I remember a particular summer when I was hungry for something other than Spaghetti Os and La Choy meals I'd fix for my mom and brothers after my mom finished work. I turned 10 that year. Cars cruised the parking lot of the Dairy Queen by night. By day, the lot needed cleaning of paper cups, napkins, hot dog wrappers and, you get the drift.
Deke, the owner pulled into the back of the building everyday around 9 a.m. My friends slept in most days. I never did, wanting to see my mom before she went off to work. So, one day, as Deke drove up with his wife to unload at the back of the white concrete block building, I approached them.
"Do you need the lot cleaned up?" I'd watched for many days as his wife, dark haired and brooding, bent to laboriously pick up the garbage and put it in a shopping bag.
Deke nodded. His wife, her knobby fingers gripping the door, smiled slightly. Deke told me to pick up everything and he'd be out to check on my work. I wasn't sure how he intended to pay me. I'd exhausted our supply of Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping that I sold to the Schneider sisters for a quarter or two.
When the work was complete, cigarette butts and all, I knocked on the metal door. Deke opened it, walked the lot with me, nodding approval. He said, "Go to the window." By this time the shop was open. He said, "order what you want."
I nervously stood behind a kid about my age - 5th or 6th grade. While I waited my turn, I wondered if Deke's wife would ask me for money I didn't have, but when my turn came, she slid the window open, bent near to hear my order.
"A green misty and a footlong."
"Yes, please." I wondered if I was asking too much, if she'd ask for money and how I might explain myself.
The time passed with excruciating slowness until the smiley cup of green syrupy ice and the 12 inch long hot dog smothered in chili and cheese were slid through the window by her arthritic hands. She smiled at me, thanked me, and slid the window shut.
I've often thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Hot dog, Misty, magazines, and later in life, work for food at an organic farm. The legacy of job to job, but never the soul-sucking need to live behind a desk for money, played out in various forms throughout my life. And it started with an idea that a little work, a little muscle could feed me.
The Business of Writing
Things are rolling along with my client list. I'm working through story development edits to a memoir that has merit. Other clients are balancing life and writing, putting their hearts and souls into the work.
Since returning home, I've been busy with a revision of My Love Died with Him, a novel based in the lives of two people who find each other in mid-life. Prior versions have been written in third person, but by delving into the world of the 'I,' the story is shaping up to be far more colorful, given the perspective of this main character.
Gugel Alley Writers Report
We are having so much fun with our writing circle that takes place every Wednesday at 9 a.m. in Roebling Point Books. The group is a fluid cadre of people with a desire to put thoughts and feelings into words. The segment of the meeting where we do what is called a Fast Write has been very beneficial to my work. My story of the Dairy Queen above is a product of that time in the circle.
A magical energy overtakes us and the words flow. Ruminations about our lives, the stories we so want the world to hear, tumble out on to the page. If you live in Greater Cincinnati, please consider joining us. No fee involved, just a willingness to write and support other writers. We meet at 9 a.m. each Wednesday from 9 to 10-ish.
If you live outside of Cincinnati, find your tribe. Find people who will listen and celebrate your words. Give you ideas spawned from their experiences.
Happenings in the Busy Month of May and Beyond
May 13, Northern Kentucky Restoration Weekend, Newport Intermediate School. Workshops will be conducted all day. I'll be presenting a workshop on how and when to make repairs and maintain your old home.
May 20, I celebrate another year of living. I will also be attending my son, Corey's, graduation with his second Masters degree from George Washington University. Can't wait to be back in D.C.
June 2, we will finally intern my dear brother's remains at St. Stephens Cemetery in Northern Kentucky.
June 3, John and I, along with the Bus Driver Man team will participate in the Zero Cancer Walk/Run in Cincinnati to end prostate cancer with a team of supporters. Want to join us, there's still time. Want to donate, here's the link: http://support.zerocancer.org/goto/Team-Bus-Driver-Man
June 3, John and I celebrate 23 years of marriage and conjoining of families. We have so much to be grateful for.
Later this summer, I'll be heading back to Vermont College of Fine Arts for another workshop, soaking up the magic of other writers, instructors, and our words.
Until next time...