Live Write Words

Workshops for Emerging Writers

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Walking the Life Trail

One late morning in mid-December of his second winter he found himself getting bored. He’d already ridden his bike the usual two miles; had played pickleball for two hours; had swept the floors and even washed the front windows. It was still only 11:30. There was nothing written in his day planner for the afternoon or evening. He couldn’t think of any new local sites to explore and wasn’t up to tackling unknown parts of Tucson. Didn’t want to have a beer; one would just lead to another. So he did what he usually did in situations like these–opened a book—not another novel but a local history book, and settled down in the hammock under the giant mesquite in his front yard, his dog settled on top of his legs.

The book elaborated what he’d learned in the Presidio museum. He’d been reading for almost an hour when Rowdy suddenly leaped off to investigate an incoming Fed-Ex truck. The book fell off his lap. When he stretched to reach it, he ended up on the ground. What the hell, he muttered, deciding it was time for an afternoon walk anyway. He’d start at the Resort side of the Anza Trail and return in time to say hello to the Presidio’s director, who had shown him a 1774 map picturing building sites around the fortress. He’d been overjoyed to see his own pink adobe on the map. First, he needed to go inside to pack drinks, a sandwich, and doggy cookies.

Rowdy always knew his way down Burrell Street. Before getting to the Resort they had to pass the old Mexican cemetery with its brightly colored plastic flowers and metal sign that everyone commented on, “Cementary.” Burrell Street used to be the dirt road from Tucson to Sonoran Nogales, and then probably Mexico City, where seventeenth and eighteenth-century soldiers and friars had come north from.

The book he’d been reading about Father Kino claimed the Indians loved the simple man who’d come not just to convert them, but more importantly to improve their quality of life. They appreciated his efforts to keep them from slavery and forced labor at the mines. Maybe also his better ways of planting–like, our walker thought, the rural priest in the 1986 “Mission” movie who taught his natives to enjoy simple songs of joy while out working their fields.

Kino had brought with him horses, sheep, mules, and cattle. The animals proved a mixed blessing for local inhabitants busy with their subsistence farming, since they later became the basis for wide-scale ranching–something that eventually brought wealth to a few but damaged the whole area, including the Santa Cruz River. That was to be a while in the future, however.

Still walking Burrell Street, he figured that Kino must have taken his own walking orders seriously, establishing twenty other missions while walking 75,000 miles throughout the area. But now his thoughts turned to a later Spaniard, the famous soldier he’d just read about who preferred riding to walking.

Juan Baptista de Anza came north shortly after the Tubac Presidio fortress was established. Serving as its commander, he chased fierce Apaches all over Arizona, and was then ordered to mount a thousand-mile expedition to Monterrey, California. Almost immediately he was called back to Tubac, only to be ordered to march once again to California, this time to do something about possible Russian colonization in San Francisco. Then, back home in Arizona, he had to do something about another hostile Indian group, the fearless Comanches—pursuing them all the way to New Mexico and Colorado.

The Presidio moved to Tucson the year after de Anza rode west with his entourage, but later another Spaniard kept a garrison of Pima Indian soldiers near the old fort. They tried to stave off Apache attacks that continued to plague Tubac until Geronimo was captured a century later. Our afternoon walker pictured soldiers taking a day off to shoot a few of the thousand wild turkeys that flocked to the river to drink…plus maybe one of the many wolves that drove them crazy howling all night. Maybe they’d jump into the river for a swim. Back then it was a real river, not just a struggling creek fed by effluent from the Nogales Treatment Center.

For hundreds of centuries a dense mesquite bosque of Arizona walnut, Mexican elder, hackberry and of course mesquite trees bordered both sides of the Santa Cruz flowing north from Mexico. Mesquites probably still predominated when Cabeze de Vasca and Coronado marched through Arizona a little farther east, but by the time of Kino and de Anza, the area had changed into a cottonwood-willow forest. Even as recent as the early twentieth century, some of the Anza cottonwoods grew trunks eight to ten feet across, and like all cottonwoods, were brittle and littered the ground with limbs too thick to be swept downstream by monsoon floods.

The Santa Cruz got mortally wounded in less than half a century after the Anglos started depending on it for mining and cattle. It didn’t die immediately, for it still flowed fast and strong when an Eastern visitor called Tubac the most beautiful spot he’d visited—but he must have been talking about the river area, not the town past the cemetery with its handful of old adobes. Our walker had studied photos of Tubac at the height of its early population in 1865 after the cattle turned the land into a dry desert. No trees could be found until the town’s influx of famous people, artists, and developers started planting them in the 1950s. Well, maybe the mesquites had decided to make a comeback on their own—with the help of mesquite bean pods recycled in cattle poop, or perhaps the new water supply created by septic systems.

He crossed Bridge Street and looked longingly toward the lush Resort grass, tempted to ditch his sandals to run barefoot through what looked like wet, green summer grass. The golf course had been created in the early twentieth century but only recently become a beautiful destination spot. Every time he played one of its three courses he breathed easier and gave thanks for the desert oasis of pure greenery. He’d stopped feeling guilty long ago. Non-golfers could grouse all they wanted about the waste of precious water, but he knew a good part of it seeped back where it belonged—and how many of the grousers complained about the much larger water waste up in Green Valley’s huge pecan groves?

After stopping for a quick beer outside the bar with Rowdy leashed beside him, he got up to cross the Rancho fairway for entrance to the Anza Trail. The Resort owners had wisely chosen to let a dozen beefy cattle graze its fairways next to the river. He wondered how many of his fellow golfers appreciated the bucolic bovine touch even when it occasionally slowed them down.

Now the wilderness part of his walk was to begin—for every time he walked the trail, he pretended he was back in Colorado, Wisconsin, or North Carolina experiencing true wilderness. Better yet, Alaska, where he’d never been and probably never would. Like many older humans, he inhabited several worlds past and present, sometimes getting confused about which he was currently in.

He’d stumbled on the Trail the day after getting settled into his new adobe home in Old Town. That was two and a half years ago, back in July, too hot for most people to go outside walking. Someone had made a swath in the tall grass with a lawn mower, of all things. On both sides everything was green: deep untrammeled green grass, ninety-foot tall cottonwoods bearing light green leaves, an isolated green bamboo stand, dark green bushes, and no doubt lurking somewhere, tiny green frogs. Hopefully not poisonous Sonoran toads or hemlock plants disguised as wild carrots—the most poisonous plant in North America, his book said.

Now, in the middle of December, everything had turned brown. The Trail was grassless dirt. All the shrubs, bushes, and dead flowers wore drab tan, dark or light brown. Half the remaining cottonwood leaves were brown–still beautiful, but very monochromatic. Even the tamarisks, which his book had denounced as invasive exotics that grew into tall “salt cedars” crowding out native vegetation and making the soil salty, had lost their lovely pink plumes and turned into coppery-tan feather bushes.

He would have called the landscape drab except for the memory of what his wife had told him almost forty years ago up on their Colorado mountain top: “Look, it’s all wonderful shades of brown. He showed me—He taught me–to look carefully to see how all the shades are so very different.” She had never been one to talk about her religious experiences, but he’d noticed the way she switched from parroting what she had been taught by a remote minister about an equally remote deity to what she actually experienced with a close Presence.

Rowdy used his nose, not eyes, to experience the place–no doubt indifferent to the particular season, but totally into it. His master tried to let his own nose call forth memories of fall leaves. He couldn’t smell anything until he reached down for a handful of brown leaves to crush next to his nose. That brought back lazy afternoons jumping off roofs into deep piles of leaves or driving through miles of red maples in Wisconsin and North Carolina. Then the smells and heat carried him back to his midlife in Boulder, Colorado where the cottonwoods at the local park lost their leaves earlier in October. He used to run laps around the park and drive to the high mountains to watch quaking aspens turn yellow, gold, and rose during his favorite month, September. Mountain aspens, he remembered, were as thirsty as their bigger cousins six thousand feet lower, but had to go to bed a lot earlier.

The Trail was strangely quiet today. He couldn’t hear any birds, though he knew the birders would be around somewhere. He’d already seen most of the ones they spent hours looking for–vermillion flycatchers, yellow billed cuckoos, orioles, tanagers, phainopeplas, and high-flying black hawks in March. He’d never seen the crazy whistling duck that perches in trees, not to mention mountain lions, coatis, or the elusive jaguar some claimed was still around.

Today he found himself concentrating on the cottonwoods. Half their leaves were brown, the other half remained a beautiful yellow. Apparently, the unusual weather had produced two frosts this winter, a mild one in mid-November followed by a warming spell, and then another colder frost in late December. Maybe the milder frost had killed some leaves, but not ones which hadn’t fully turned. That was his feeble reasoning, but he still couldn’t understand why some trees succumbed early, whereas others right next to them tightly held their bright colors of yellow. One giant that he studied for five minutes quaked and shimmered golden, issuing a strong challenge to January.

The temperature being in the high seventies, it felt more like September than December. He still had a half-mile to go before reaching Bridge Road at the edge of Old Tubac. From this view toward the sun lying low in the sky, the brown leaves scattered on the dirt turned into giant snowflakes, shimmering silver and white until he put his sunglasses back on.

He continued walking slowly south. Before he got to the place where the Santa Cruz winds back to the Trail, he felt something happening inside that brought him to a standstill. He found a giant cottonwood stump to sit on and turned off his mental motor. He even stopped admiring the tall cottonwoods. Stopped looking up to the puffy clouds floating through the blue. For no reason, he just wanted to sit quietly and taste the very ordinary moment. Everything had become overwhelmingly satisfying. More than enough.

I must be experiencing some kind of epiphany, he thought. He sat looking at the end of the log, a goofy smile forming over his face. He didn’t know how long he sat there—an hour or a few minutes—but life was utterly ok. He was ok, was right with the world. Thinking of nothing, just enjoying silence and beauty.

This is what true relationship and love is all about, he thought. With nature, with infinite Mystery, with himself. Sitting quietly without knowing, wanting, or needing to know, he felt bedazzled by absolute freedom.

It wasn’t just the beautiful cottonwoods, mild winter temperature, or pure silence, but simply sitting in some deep and spacious place. Sustained by something else. Being an empty nothing…and everything. He looked down at the ants marching resolutely on a trail of their own to a destination of their own. Another world before his very eyes, a world always there but never understood. He laughed at how unimportant he was to them, this monster from another world, an obstacle to maneuver past on their way to somewhere important to them.

Then he slowly came back to his own world, the world of yellow, brown, and gold cottonwoods in a precious narrow riparian area in the middle of an endless desert stretching far into Mexico.

Rowdy barked saying it was time to go. Time to trod the trail a gentle priest and fearless soldier had trod. To head back to his pink adobe built two and a half centuries ago by Presidio soldiers. Life was certainly ok in this strange place.

 

Biography

BIOGRAPHY
Dr. William C. Stephenson
P.O. Box 132 Tumacacori, AZ, 85640
livewritewordsworkshops@gmail.com
(828)557-2527

Education
B.A. Pomona College, Creative Writing, 1961
M.A. University of California, Berkeley, English Literature, 1963
Ph.D. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, English Literature, 1969

Bibliography
A. Books
The Inward Journey, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973, co-authored.
Five unpublished manuscripts:
“The Blessing and the Curse” (adolescent adventure);
“DevilBush” (genetic engineering mystery);
“Outwatch” (literary novel);
“Red in the Morning” (literary novel/romance);
“Can’t Stop Falling/A Caregiver’s Love Story” (memoir).

B. Articles in Refereed Scholarly Journals
“What Good Are Impulses from a Vernal Wood?” The Long-Term View, Massachusetts School of Law Journal, Vol.3, Fall, 1996;
“A New Type of Nature Writing?” The Midwest Quarterly, Vol.37, H2, Jan. 1995;
“Deep Within the Reader’s Eye with Wallace Stevens,” Wallace Stevens Journal, Winter, 1978;
“The Performing Narrator in Keats’s Poetry,” The Keats-Shelley Journal, Winter, 1977;
“The Mirror and the Lute: Wordsworth’s Fine Art of Poetic Auscultation,” Yearbook of English Studies, VI, Jan., 1976;
“Deliverance from What?” The Georgia Review, XXVII, Spring, 1974;
“The Fall from Innocence in Keats’s Lamia,” Papers on Language and Literature, Winter, 1974;
“Romanticism and Modern Science,” Studies in Relevance: Romantic and Victorian Writers, 1972, Universitat Salzburg, 1973.

C. Popular and Journalistic Writings
Miscellaneous uncollected articles in newspapers and magazines from 1955 to present. I have served as reporter for several neighborhood newspapers and the Progress Bulletin daily newspaper in Pomona, California.

D. Invitational Speeches
“God, Annie Dillard, and Environmental Writing,” Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing conference, Grand Rapids, MI, April, 1996;
“Willa Cather as Pre-Modern Environmentalist,” College English Association convention, New Orleans, LA, March, 1996;
“Hidden Religious Agenda in Nature Writing and Teaching,” Association for Study of Literature and Environment conference, Ft. Collins, CO, June, 1995;
“Wilderness Within and Without: Exploring Spiritual Meanings of Wilderness,” Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, Ashland, WI, March, 1995;
Roundtable participation and panel head, The Wilderness Conference, Weber State University, Ogden, UT, November, 1993;
“Environmental Writing as a Parody of the Judeo-Christian Experience of Wild Nature,” College English Association convention, Pittsburg, PA, March, 1992;
“New Criticism, Newer Criticism, and Wallace Stevens,” Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association convention, Denver, CO, October, 1975;
“Romanticism and Modern Science,” South Central Modern Language Association convention, Tulsa, OK, October, 1972.

Teaching Experience
*Teacher of memoir, novel, poetry workshops while Writer-in-Residence at The Lowe House Project, Tubac, AZ, 2016 to present;
*English Department Head, The Woodlands Christian Academy, Woodlands, TX, 1999-2004;
*Associate Professor of English, Northland College, Ashland, WI, 1990-1996;
*Assistant Professor of English, University of Texas, Austin, TX, 1969-1977;
*Teaching Assistant, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1963-1969.

Other Professional Experience and Achievements
*Created, taught English Advanced Placement course, The Woodlands Christian Academy, Woodlands, TX, 2002-2004.
*Dean of Humanities, Northland College, Ashland, WI, 1992-1994.
*Created three new programs in environmental writing, literature, and interdisciplinary studies at Northland College, Ashland, WI, 1992-95.
*Advisory Board member, The National Wilderness Conference, 1990-1993.
*Started up and managed two private companies, Radiant Mass Fireplaces, and Professional Writing Services, both serving the Colorado Front Range, 1980s.
*As Senior Public Information Officer at the new Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, CO, I managed the country’s national and international exhibits program and created and managed the Renewable Energy Exhibits Program co-sponsored by SERI and the U.S. National Parks. It created and placed exhibits in ten National Parks to be seen by millions throughout the early 1980s. I also wrote all corporate- identity brochures for the Institute from 1979 to 1982.
*Program Director of “Free Indeed” national conference in 1978, sponsored by Lost and Found adolescent drug treatment center, Morrison, CO.
*Member, Editorial Board, Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 1971-1976.
*Listings:
Directory of American Scholars; Directory of International Biography, 1970s.

2018 Workshop Schedule and Fees

WRITING WORKSHOP SCHEDULES and FEES   2018               [For free meetings, see below]

 

January    18, 19  Memoir  Writing workshop    9:00-12:00      $60 or  $35/day

February   23   Memoir,  Novel workshop esp. for beginners  9:00-  2:00  $45

March 14, 15    Poetry workshop    2:00 to 5:00   $60 or $35/day

April  12.13  Finish Your Writing Project   9:00-12:00    $75 or $35/day

 

Discounts given to attendees bringing another participant.

Pre-register at my e-mail site (livewritewordsworkshops@gmail.com) at least two days before. No need to pre-pay; bring payment to meetings at the Lowe House.  Fees include donation to keep afloat the non-profit meeting place.  Address all questions to the e-mail address above or call Bill: (828) 557-2527.

 

FREE WRITING MEETINGS

Creative Writing Group meets weekly or bi-weekly on Thursdays, 4:00-6:00  (this is a continuing small group  for reading and critiquing works in progress).

Poetry Alive meets monthly on the last Sunday 4:30-6:00 (a new public forum for reading and listening without critiquing).

All free meetings are held in the Lowe House.  No registration needed but modest donations are welcomed.

ALSO check out many other relevant offerings at the Lowe House Project website, (lowehouseproject.com).

 

WORKSHOP  DESCRIPTION and ACTIVITIES

Finishing Your Writing Project, (4/14 and 15; 2018)

Are you stuck?  I have been, on two different novels.  Maybe you can help me, or we can all help each other.  I have some good ideas about what we need to do, but can’t always put them into practice.  Physician, heal thyself.  Anyway, these two-day sessions should create enough synergistic flow to help take us through our work.  Some things can’t be done alone…so this workshop will include a lot of reading and critiquing. We’ll start by examining the difference between simple closure and denouement, plus discussing how to move from upswing to downswing on the character/plot/theme arc.  Please bring not only humility and patience to the workshop, but copies of your work.  If you’re too shy to admit you’re having difficulty, come instead to one of the poetry workshops.

 

Golf:  Why Do We Obsess Over the Game?  (to be scheduled with enough interest)

Yes, I obsess over it, and No, I still don’t know why.  But after studying M.Scott Peck’s Golf and the Spirit  and Thomas More’s The Guru of Golf and being encouraged by fellow golfers, I offer this “Playshop” geared to helping us find and give voice to whatever it is that keeps us coming back–braving rain, wind, and cold, not to mention anger, frustration, and disappointment.  Maybe finding answers won’t change our scores, but it might help us enjoy the game even more.  The two writers, at any rate, insist there can be a spiritual as well as physical and emotional component to it.  We’ll play in the morning, talk in the afternoon, then maybe go out for dinner.  Our afternoon talks will be jump-started by selections from the books’ selections that I’ll give you. Originally this workshop was to be a male thing, but I’ve been persuaded females should be allowed to join our insanity.  The $10 fee of this workshop  will go to help support the non-profit Lowe House, where we may hold our afternoon talks over beer or wine.  Needless to say, we will pay our own green fees  (usually $45 at the Tubac Resort, whose fees are often twice that) and organize into appropriate foursomes.

Note:  this “playshop” has been abandoned but could be revived with enough interest.

 

Poetry:  What Oft Was Thought but N’er So Well Expressed.  (3/14 and 15; 2018)

I didn’t start enjoying poetry until after I’d finished my Ph.D. and had started teaching it.  A grad student taught me what it was really all about, and how to write it.  After it stopped being academic and became personal, I fell in love with poetry.  Now I don’t write poems all the time, like Rumi, but when the fit comes on, I can’t stop; I enjoy rewriting and revising poetry as much as prose.  I hope you like poetry and want to get better at it.  Bring some of yours, especially some you’re working on, to the workshop.  During these two days, we’ll study masters as different as Billy Collins, Richard Wilbur, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Mary Oliver, or Robert Frost, learning their techniques like enjambment, internal rhyme, and sprung rhythm.  We’ll practice reading as well as analyzing, and should cover four important things: what makes a good—or bad—poem; how to speak a poem; parsing and understanding poetry; revising a half-decent poem into a memorable poem.

 

Memoir:  Writing from Dark to Light.  (1/18 and 19; 2018)

There will be some exercises here, but this is mainly a learning workshop.  Learning the different features of the six quite different types of memoirs will help you imitate or exploit.  Maybe more importantly, it will teach you what to avoid.  The subtitle, Writing from Dark to Light, applies to only two of the six types–the most common ones.  People engaged in overcoming grief or tragedy may profit most from this workshop, but even those trying to write a simple family memoir can learn here how to organize or find a theme.  The two meetings should help all emerging writers transform their casual journal entries or random boxes of memories into something that traces a curve of self-discovery.  The goal is finding your natural voice and learning the importance of rewriting.  Writers who have already rewritten and revised multiple times might wish to take the workshop on Finishing the Writing Project instead, and those–like me—who fear they’ve overstepped the bounds of a memoir proper may wish to consider the February workshop on the hybrid memoir…but if you’ve collected too many memories to know where to start, or are just having difficulty creating a coherent whole, this may be what you need now.

 

Memoir or Novel: Which Are You Really Writing and Why Does It Matter?

Many writers draw on their own experiences.  All memoir writers try to honestly recreate and understand what happened to them.  Some are writing to learn how life changed them; others, just sharing unusual experiences.  Both kinds of writers wear the t-shirt that says, “It Took Me by Surprise.”  Those who turn their lives into novels wear a different t-shirt that says, “I Make Stuff Up.”  Is it possible to wear two?  I am, and in the process, have learned a lot about the hybrid memoir/novel.  It’s demanding because you need to control different reader expectations.  Which shirt are you wearing—or  both?  If you don’t know, you should.   In this two-day workshop, we will learn how to create and control the different demands of the memoir, the novel, and the hybrid.  The workshop will open with spontaneous writing from prompts—so bring pen and paper (or I-Pad).

 

 

 

 

selections from My Can’t Stop Falling memoir to be published soon

 

Selections from near the beginning and ending of “Can’t Stop Falling/A Caregiver’s Love Story”  to be published this fall.  If you enjoy reading this, please revisit this website in late October of 2017, when I hope to have the memoir available and will be soliciting reviews in exchange for a free copy.

December 1982

Our cabin was situated in the Front Range’s so-called banana belt, but that didn’t mean it escaped serious storms like the famous blizzard of ’82 that blew in on Christmas eve.   It must have fallen all night while we were lost in bed on this our first winter up top. When we opened the front door, our huge Newfoundland jumped out and disappeared.  We followed, cavorting in the fluff that was already three feet deep and coming.  Everywhere we looked the world was covered in white.  We came back in to crank up the stove…not an airtight but just Emily the old-fashioned blue enamel cook stove.  Because the cabin was so small and the thick logs held so much heat, all we had to do was load her after dinner and go to bed.

Christmas morning, alone in the quietly shining wonderland, miles from anywhere.  I didn’t have to run off to work; didn’t have to start building on the big house.  But one of these days, it slowly dawned on me, we’d have to think about going to town for supplies.  I strapped on the snowshoes I’d never learned to use, and Marilyn said she’d have a pile of pancakes waiting when I got back.  Time to check on the damage.

Cuzi tried to follow but got tired of jumping and disappearing.  I got tired of trying to master the stupid snowshoes.  But eventually I made it to the point I was worried about, the place where I’d tried to erect a snow fence that now had blown away or maybe blown under.  For the length of a football field, snow had flown over the top of the treeless ridge to settle six to eight feet deep over the dirt path to our cabin.  No way shovels could help here.  I shook my head and trudged back for pancakes.  We’d worry about what to do later.

Now it was time to open the few gifts under the tree with handmade aluminum ornaments.  It didn’t have lights because our cabin didn’t have electricity…except for a handful of carefully placed tiny bulbs that were precursor to LEDs.  They, plus the dangling kitchen bulb, ran on direct current electricity powered by the photovoltaic panel and batteries.  The pv panel didn’t do much, but we ran the small Honda generator every third day to pump up water and charge the nicad batteries.  We also had candles and an Aladdin lamp powered by kerosene.  The sound of the generator running for forty minutes was about the only sound to break the quiet…except a very rare scream from our resident mountain lion or the chuck-a-chuck of the least weasel who lived under the porch.

Christmas pancakes were tasty, and we sat bundled up on the porch sipping coffee.  It was about 9:00 and all was still.  Suddenly we heard someone whistling.  Singing?  Off in the distance something or someone appeared to be busting through the snow toward our cabin.  Our eyes must be deceiving us; we’d had too much caffeine.  No, it was Santa Claus.  He wasn’t wearing his red suit, just a ski jacket, but he certainly was lugging his big bag of presents over his shoulder.  And his name turned out to be Paul, Marilyn’s son who’d left Denver in the wee hours to share Christmas cheer with us.  How he made it up two miles from his car down below, I never knew.  But here he was, whistling and laughing.

This was the best Christmas of our life.  Paul stayed most of the day and I stopped worrying about the road.  But two days later I had to do something.  I’d dragged my feet getting the snowplow everyone told me I would need since the county refused to plow our roads.  Now even if I had one, it wouldn’t be able to bust through all that snow.  And the snow wouldn’t melt; there was too much shade.  I skied rather than snowshoed down to the main York Gulch road, where friends helped me locate a man with a backhoe who eventually came to relieve me of a mountain of snow as well as $550 that I really didn’t have.  And since it was still December, I still needed to get that snowplow.   Which I did, and learned to use.

 

July, 1984

We’d been living up on the land for four years, even surviving the famous Colorado Blizzard of ‘82.  The small cabin was done, but we were still working on the big house.  All the time managing 2 horses, 80 lop-eared rabbits, 5 ducks and 12 chickens, a dog and cat, and one wild weasel.  We never tried to manage the mountain lion, deer, or elk.
Today we decided to take a break from homesteading to visit the bristlecone pines on Mt. Evans.  They grew half way up the 14,264 foot mountain that we looked toward each morning from our cabin twenty miles away.
The bristlecones turned out to be tall and majestic, not like the scrubby ones at timberline.  But we never got to finish driving the highest paved road in America.  Marilyn suddenly turned to me: “Turn around now!   Something’s wrong! ”
This woman who danced six hours non-stop every Saturday night at Mike’s bar couldn’t be experiencing altitude sickness; we lived at 8,600 feet.
I did turn around, and immediately raced toward the Queen City of the Plains.  I knew Denver better than anyone, having grown up there in the ‘60s.  (Marilyn didn’t, having grown up in Mississippi.)  Before we got to the hospital she turned sheepishly to me: “Maybe it’s a false alarm.”
False alarms I can handle.  We drove to Sim’s Landing, the place for our first date six years ago.  “Hell, we’re still only forty-something,” I told her.  “Doctors are for sissies.”  She smiled.  Then I added, “But thanks for the heads up.  You can never be too careful.”  By the time we got back to the cabin, the problem had disappeared.
Twenty years later I realized Marilyn’s attack had nothing to do with what finally brought her down.  It was probably caused by the gas-fired Servel refrigerator that I hadn’t vented.

October, 2103

Today another visit to Cochran’s Funeral Home.  Hard but necessary.  As usual, tons of paperwork.  For the past year and a half, paperwork and more paperwork. These past two months have been so hard.  Before, I could kid myself.  As you, Marilyn the realist, have always known, I’ve a long history of hiding my head in the sand.   Now I’m slowly facing the fact that you will soon be gone.  I know you love me as desperately as I love you, but you can’t show it and that hurts both of us.  You have to go, and I have to stay.  Why, no one knows.  No matter how hard I object or petition, nothing will change.  You will go.
What’s so hard is seeing you helpless to protest.  The day will come when you will start shutting down.  No, it’s already come.  The first sign I should have seen, when you stopped cooking.  Cottie dated it exactly: she’d come to visit and was watching you stir the soup or stew with difficulty.  The day after Cottie left you told me you couldn’t cook any more, offering no reasons or excuses.   It flabbergasted me so much that I guess I didn’t stop to put two and two together.
When you got into the nursing home you refused to watch television in the activity room.   You refused even in your own private room, with me lying right next to you, watching golf.  You didn’t want to listen to music, and only obliged me when I insisted on wheeling you outside on a sunny day.  You didn’t want to go out for a chocolate sundae–just obliged me. Were you already aware of your gradual shut-down?  Did you know what pleasure you still gave us all when you offered a fleeting smile?  When will the big shut-down come?
Already you don’t want visitors.  But you do want me, I know that for sure.  Inside you there’s room now for only two—or one, as we’ve always said we are.  But will you push me away at night?  Now are you unable to return my kisses, or have you let go of that also?
You sleep more, just as the books say a person does when leaving becomes real.  Words have already lost most of their significance.  Well, all words save the silly love song I sing to you six times every night: “You are my mouser, my wonderful mouser.  I love you madly, I love you so.  You love me too, I know you do.  You are my mouser, my wonderful mouser, I love you so.”
You eat less and less.  At first you tried to eat whatever I cooked, as long as it was cut into small pieces.  Then I made softer stuff, then pureed it—which I knew you didn’t like. Both Mildred and I knew you stuffed food in the back of your mouth.  I was mad at first.  I didn’t know if it was because you didn’t want food, didn’t like it, or couldn’t eat it.
I should have seen you were choosing a new diet.  I should have listened to Mildred telling me that whatever you wanted was ok, even if it was just cottage cheese, bits of peaches, or yogurt.  I kept thinking you needed more to sustain yourself.  I should have guessed you were starting to sustain yourself on some kind of spiritual energy.
You sometimes sleep with your eyes open.  Why?  Do you have one foot in each world?  Is it hard letting go of us, so you have to keep an eye out, or will they just not close properly?  Do you want to leave me too?
Strangely, your blood pressure and pulse remain strong.  This surprises the nurse and your son David, who’s starting to come around more often.  Your facial color remains basically the same, although your face is a lot thinner.  Your high cheekbones, that Indian heritage, are really high now.  You’re as beautiful as ever.
I see that you need more covers these days.  Do you remember back in the nursing home how you’d always throw off the blankets, and sometimes shirts or sweaters?  How you were always too hot, even when I shivered, lying right next to you in the narrow hospital bed?
Please, Mouser, help me survive this shut-down.

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