Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writing "Four Wheel Drive"

Back in the winter of 1991 we were deep into the nuke dump fight with the State of New York. One evening in February, I was driving home from Dalton, where I’d been working with Kate and Rick Hollis putting together the Allegany! newsletter of the Concerned Citizens of Allegany County. For much of the way, I followed the Genesee river, travelling south on Route 19 as the river wound its way north in all its icy splendor

I am a transplant, who came to western New York from the Boston area in 1991 to go to the art school in Alfred. The jade green of the winter river and the thought of my family waiting for me in our little stone house on the hill in Rexville made me realize how deep my roots had grown into this part of the world. It was six degrees as I passed through Wellsville. A light snow was falling and darkness was coming on. It came to me that there were only four wheels and two wool sweaters keeping me safe and warm, and I began to write this song . . .

Four Wheel Drive                  
God bless four wheel drive and two wool sweaters
They’ll keep me alive and carry me home
God bless six degrees and a wind that’s hard and bitter
And a warm heart waiting for me at the end of the road

God bless white tail deer and a winding green river
And the black bear asleep somewhere in the ghostly hills
God bless winter storm and the red pines that shiver
And a small gray stone house up there in the Allegany hills

So let the sun shine in the morning and the moon shine in the night
With Allegany watching, she’s gonna be all right
And there’s a feeling driving home tonight that makes me understand
I’ve grown roots into this land

God bless family farms, they are truly the survivors
And the weary arms that haul the winter feed
By the grace of God, may they grace these hills forever
Through the turning of the seasons from the harvest to the seed

When the hills go dark and the home lights are gleaming
And the good dogs bark, and he’s standing in the door
Then I’ll kiss the kids in their beds where they lie dreaming
There’s a blessing in a winter storm and getting home once more

Add: Allegany’s home, coming home tonight
Allegany’s home, gonna be alright
Allegany’s home . . .

I think this was taken in West Almond--and hey! that's Deb Kirsch standing next to me and that little bit of blue hood is the top of Fern's head. We stopped bringing the kids to what they called the "No Dumps" (non-violent actions blocking the siting commission's attempts to access the proposed sites) soon after this, when things started getting tense. After the April first confrontation in Caneadea, where six senior citizens chained themselves to a one-lane bridge and were arrested, Governor Cuomo called a halt, ruling that a radioactive waste dump could not be place in an unwilling community. Good man. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Deeply Inhaling and Exhaling--Reading,Writing, and Cross Country Skiing.

I'm taking a long inhale after submitting the first rewrite of my middle grade novel, Wolfboy, to my editor, Tracey Keevan at Disney*Hyperion. She had so much good input! I work single-mindedly, can't seem to focus on more than one project at once. I live and breathe it 24/7. With this story, about how a boy adopts a wolf pup, which becomes the first dog, I got so deeply into Kai and Uff's story that I began to believe it was true. It is true--in my head. Maybe Tracey will push me deeper with the challenges of creating language usage that sounds ancient without being hokey. Maybe I will find more things to tweak. But it's in a good place right now.

Not being immersed in a writing project makes me feel uneasy. I can work on a rewrite. That always feels safe and satisfying. I'm dying to start something new, but it's time to inhale--and reading is the inhale while writing is the exhale of a writer's life. I want to do a story about a bear. But even growing up in the northeast with a lifelong interest in all things woodsy, I really know very little about bears. Time to read, and think, and live, and dream--believing that the story will come. It will start speaking to me. And then I will start writing it down . .

Meanwhile the snow is fantastic and we cross-country ski every day. The surface is crisscrossed with tracks of deer, coyote, fox, mice . . . Piliated woodpeckers rummage deep into the trees killed by tent caterpillars a few years ago. The porcupine had made himself a deep rut in his habitual crossing place. I keep my eyes open for signs of nesting owls.

We come inside ruddy-cheeked and drenched in sweat, having greeted Toad Hill's resident red-tails, ravens, crows, and sometimes the young eagle. The bird feeder is buzzing as the tide of black hulled sunflower seeds constantly ebbs. It's full daylight when I feed the horses at 5:00 PM now! The other morning I heard the first chickadee's daylight triggered song. I have a stack of books to read in preparation for the conference next weekend, but mostly I'm looking forward to opening Benjamin Kilham's In the Company of Bears, What black Bears Have Taught Me about Intelligence and Intuition.