Monday, October 23, 2017

Elephant talk

I’ve been wondering what the world might be like if human beings were mute.  If none of us had the ability to speak—ever—to anyone. If none of us could communicate with each other by the spoken word because there was no such thing. What a shattering loss. In many ways, yes. But in others, really?

I’m probably doing this wondering because I just finished reading The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. In it the author, a conservationist, writes of his hard-won, intimate relationship with a herd of rogue elephants. He took nine of them into his South African game reserve to save them from being shot.

Slowly, slowly, he began the difficult task of befriending them while preserving their wildness. In the process, he and the elephants discovered ways to communicate with each other. When he was with them, he did use language, which he knew that on one level they could not understand. But it was not his words that began to break down barriers and lessen the animals’ fear of him. It was his tone of voice, its softness, warmth and emotional quality that the elephants responded to.  They came to realize that Anthony cared about them and their welfare and that they were safe in his presence.

The elephants began using their trunks to respond to him—by gently touching him.  After a rough start when the animals escaped their temporary enclosure and went stomping wildly through the bush, they eventually got to the point where they sought out Anthony to interact with him. He describes being covered with “elephant slime” from their touch and loving it. After he’d been around them for a while, he realized that they could communicate with each other through stomach rumblings. The day after he died, they emerged from months in the bush and showed up at his home. On the one-year anniversary of his death, they did the same.

What if, on the local, national and international stage, those in power were unable to speak.? What if they had no verbal tools with which to express themselves—to argue, to insist, to insult? If all they were able to do was to communicate with each other by gentle touch and the rumblings of their intestines.

What if? I was just wondering.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

White Shadow comes to life

It’s been a long time coming, but today my work of historical fiction, White Shadow, Godmother to a Revolution became available on Amazon and will soon be available locally.  It is a story that has been haunting me since I learned about the life of Janet Mondlane during a stay in Mozambique in East Africa more than a decade ago. I first wrote it as non-fiction, then fleshed out some details and converted it to historical fiction.

When I first learned that my daughter and her family were moving to Mozambique, I had to search out a map of Africa to see where it was. It is a beautiful country with 1,500 miles of coastline on the Indian Ocean that lived under Portuguese domination for 500 years. After a decade of armed struggle, the country became independent in 1975.

White Shadow is the story of a life-long love affair that began between a young white woman with a year of high school to complete and a 31-year-old black man with a revolutionary mission.

Fiction does not come easily for me. I learned a whole lot in the course of writing this book and received invaluable help from members of my writers’ group and friends willing to give me feedback.

If you should decide to read it, and if you feel it to be worthwhile, perhaps you would be willing to tell one friend about it.

Here's a few words to give you a flavor of the book:

 She was overcome with the sense that she'd known him in another time, that somehow she was drawing this dark man toward her. Janet fell in love when she heard Eduardo Mondlane speak at a church camp in 1951. The relationship was to define the rest of her life. The agony of racial discrimination, alienation from family, the pain of separation, the fear of betrayal and even death--none of these could derai a love that just is--like the love of a child, a lover, a grandmother--the beginning and the end. With Eduardo she went halfway round the world to fight for the independence of Mozambique. White Shadow is the story of her unsung role in a brutal ten-year war effort with all its victories and defeats, moment of despair and joy. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

A good day for art work

We all knew it was coming, but even so, it wasn't much fun to wake up to a slushy, wet snow on Monday morning. Okay. It's October. It's time. Doesn't mean I'm ready! I bundled up, walked a couple of miles, did a few chores and bundled up again to head downtown to Trimble Court Artisans, a little shop peeking out of an alley that borders Old Town Square in Fort Collins. It's a coop where 50-plus artists share their talents and put in a shift or two on the retail floor each month.

I've been fortunate to be part of this amazing group of artists for several years now. It is my great pleasure to know these potters, painters, wool, wood and glass workers, jewelers, knitters and crocheters, and to watch them change and grow.

For some reason, on this gray, rainy, snowy day, their work seemed more brilliant than usual. I began taking random photos and once I got started it was hard to stop. Trimble Court has been displaying local art work for close to 45 years now. You might think that having a different artist in charge of shop-keeping twice every day would be a recipe for confusion--maybe even disaster. But it's not. That's because a calm, efficient, dedicated manager, herself an artist, keeps us all in line. If something is amiss, she has provided us with written instructions. If all else fails, she's almost always available by phone.
I was a bit soggy by the time I got to the shop today, but no matter. All that beautiful artwork was there, waiting to be admired.

Monday, October 2, 2017

At home on the range

My town is growing fast—a bit too fast for me. Years ago the Colorado State University Bull Farm, just down the road from my house, was replaced by university housing for people, not bulls. And since then more apartments have sprung up in the area and a whole new set of them are on the drawing boards, eliminating a small church, a favorite pizza spot and several other small businesses in the one-time bull farm area.

An adjacent street has become so busy that an underpass now allows walkers, cyclists and skateboarders to cross to and from the CSU campus safely, though traffic is heavy even there and users have to watch out for speeding cyclists and skateboarders around a couple of blind curves in the underpass.

Now it is important to plan extra time for a trip across town or to a neighboring community. Big city folks laugh when we complain about increasing traffic, but it’s way more than we’re used to and we’re having a bit of trouble adjusting.

That’s why, when I was invited to display my handmade notecards and bookmarks at a fundraiser to be held on a ranch outside Nunn, Colorado, I looked forward to the experience. I wasn’t disappointed.

We set off early on a cloudy Saturday afternoon and in less than half an hour of travel north and east onto the Colorado High Plains, we found ourselves on a dirt road surrounded by nothing but sky and dry grass prairie. I breathed a happy sigh. I’m so glad it’s possible to reach this nothingness so quickly, I thought. I’ve always had a thing about seeing lots of sky. Whenever I travel east across the country and the trees begin to close in, I start to feel enclosed.  On the trip home when the sky begins to open up somewhere in Iowa, I’m relieved.

It turns out that the Gillespie-Wagner Ranch isn’t really in Nunn at all.  It’s a dozen or so miles north of the little town that boasted a population of 471 in the 2000 census, but it’s the closest spot around that boasts a post office and is therefore their address.

More than 100 people showed up for “a day at the ranch” to support a non-profit organization that provides funds to help low income people complete end-of-life plans. There was a silent auction, generous pulled-pork, hamburger and all the trimmings meal provided outdoors at long tables where you had a good view of the high country to the west. Nearby, in a three-walled barn, a woodworkers, a potter, a couple of jewelry makers and clothing vendors displayed their wares and donated part of their proceeds to the fund.

I had a chance to wander around the ranch. I saw an impressive rock formation behind the homestead that surely blocks some of the wind, a constant companion on the plains. I watched cattle being herded by border collie sheep dogs and I thought about what it would be like to live out here, literally in the middle of nowhere.

The city folk from Fort Collins and Greeley took in the scenery, satisfied their appetites and opened up their pocketbooks to support rancher Dr. Jan Gillespie-Wagner’s favorite cause.

I came home happy to have spent a few hours out on the Colorado prairie. Photo courtesy of Jeff Berger.