Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Canyon via Junipers

The problem with the Grand Canyon is that it doesn't look real. And unless you have some wicked fancy macro lens, your camera isn't going to help with that. It didn't take very long for me to realize that all my photos of the canyon were going to look exactly the same. Same rocks. Different angle. Each looking like a romantic painting of a striking landscape.

So! I turned to the local abundance of juniper trees for assistance. They make marvelous models, it turns out. They're so emotive, so friendly, so shockingly versatile, which is how I ended up with a series I'm calling, Juniper in Repose at the Grand Canyon.

First up, the model I like to imagine crept upon the canyon in the dead of night, then awoke to discover how close it had come to falling in, Juniper Startled:

Second, Juniper in Awe:

Third, the Juniper who wished to be a Condor:

Fourth, the Giving Juniper + Tessa:

And finally, Yesterday's Juniper (taken 1,000 feet down in the canyon wall):

There you have it: the Grand Canyon via the life and times of a juniper tree.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The trip of trains and canyons

For years and years, we’ve been talking about making a trip to the Southwestern US to see the Grand Canyon. Partly because Tessa loves the region and partly because I’d never been. So, we decided it was high time we made good on this particular item on the Someday List. We bought train tickets (because what’s an adventure without trains?), booked a package via the Grand Canyon Railway, and took off.

Neither of us has traveled extensively by train in the US, so this was an incredible way to spend 4 and a half days. The trip ended up being as much about the train as it was about the canyon. Let me just break it down by hours because I suspect it will be impressive.

Hours spent on the Southwestern Chief (to/from Williams, AZ): 52
Hours spent on the Grand Canyon Railway (to/from the park): 5
Hours in the park, doing parkly things: 28
Hours in Williams (mostly sleeping and watching outlaw re-enactors): 21
Total trip hours: 106

My take-away? Train travel is beautiful and slow. Perfect for two writers searching for inspiration, but maybe not for obsessive clock-watchers.

We had perfect weather and even though I had my laptop handy, I had a very difficult time prying my eyes away from the changing landscape. We went from the plains, to mountains, to desert – gold to green to rust red.

As a bonus, my bed came with a handy harness that strapped into the ceiling to keep Natalie from falling to the ground in a graceless splat. I felt like an astronaut.

And then there was the canyon. Whoa, that canyon! It wasn’t what I was expecting. I think in my mind, the Grand Canyon was in a barren landscape like Tatooine, with a vicious, toothy maw in the bottom.

But, it is not.

In fact, there was an entire forest around the Southern Rim and shrubs grow all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. Pines that smell like vanilla, and shrubs that look like they’ll cut you if you stray too close.

In any case, the canyon brought out one of the key differences between Tessa and me, and it has something to do with self-preservation.

Bonus points if you can tell me which of the women in this picture is representative of me. HINT: I’m the Sagittarius.

I really wanted to hike down into the canyon and if I’d planned more time and packed better hiking clothes, I’d have hiked all the way to Phantom Ranch to stay the night all the way down at the bottom. As it was, though, we had time to hike down the 1.5 mile trail and back up again. 

This is the point at which the Grand Canyon pulls one over on those of us used to mountains and hills and other things that go up. The canyon trails suck you in. They look easy. They look fun. You’re cruising downhill and looking at the world rising up around you. You’re excited to see what’s ahead, what’s through that next nifty looking tunnel, what’s around that next switchback.

It’s all exciting and wonderful and EASY.

But then, it’s time to go back up. And that’s when things get painful. Not only is the uphill climb interminable and hard, but you’ve already seen the view from the top. THERE IS NOTHING NEW AHEAD OF YOU. It’s not like a mountain hike, where you’ve got the view AND the downhill trek to look forward to. No. It’s all pain and sweat just to get back to the vantage point you’ve already seen. It’s insult to injury, I tell ya, and it’s only by the sheer desire to survive that you reach the top again. 

The Grand Canyon has a dark sense of humor.

But I don’t regret making the hike. What’s a victory without a little pain?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Witches are Women, too

Friday the 13th, perhaps more than any other day of the year, makes me think of my mother.

It's a strange sort of association, and not one she intentionally worked to create. In fact, I think she'd be surprised to learn that every single time the 13th of the month falls on a Friday, I hear her voice singing, "Happy Women are Powerful Day, darling girls!"

I'd be willing to be this occurrence was unique to my house. This is the sort of story that I think captures the essence of my mother.

We didn't always go around calling Friday the 13th Women are Powerful Day. In fact, we probably didn't call it anything at all until I was in elementary school and capable of bringing home scary ideas like viruses. One day, I came home with Friday the 13th in tow - there was one on the horizon and I'd learned they were dire things. I remember explaining to my concerned mother that there was a list of things we needed to avoid: black cats (and we had three!), ladders, the color red, and umbrellas. When she asked me why we needed to be so careful on the 13th, my answer was obviously, "Because of the WITCHES."

"And what," she asked, "do witches do?"

"BAD THINGS." I was horrified that she, a grown adult, was clueless.

Since this was also the time in my life when I discovered a love for books by R. L. Stein and Christopher Pike, I'm sure she was already looking for signs of trouble. I know this to be true because whenever I picked up one of their books, my mother transformed into hag from 'The Princess Bride' and shouted, "Boo! Boo! Booooo!" She'd continue until she ran out of breath, at which point, we'd enter negotiations, which usually ended up with "If you get two MORE books and read them BOTH before that one, then you may get it." 

(Man, I miss that sort of negotiation.)

So! What this meant was that mom was tuned into things like useless fear and degradation of women (yes, witches are women, too). She wasn't going to stand for my blaming all the bad luck of Friday the 13th on a group of women, so she reclaimed it. 

"Natalie," she said. "I'll tell you a secret. Many people are afraid of witches because they were powerful women. Just like you. So, you don't have to be afraid of Friday the 13th. It's not actually bad luck. Not for us. It's our day because we are powerful women."

Well, you can bet I went right out to convert my friends over to this way of thinking (an unsuccessful campaign). I also started looking forward to the 13th because I thought, surely, on one of those days, my magical ability would present itself (still waiting...).

So, Happy Friday 13th, everyone. Live it up. I hope you go out and cross the path of a black cat, walk beneath a ladder, and that you're wearing red. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I don't do memes...except this one

Not long ago, I was tagged by Ruth Lauren Steven (who, by the way, is running a very, very interesting contest on her blog for writers - one that involves agents and queries and pages - go here for all the details) in the Lucky 7 meme. But I was busy and didn't post, and a short time later, was tagged again by Myra McEntire. I'm not usually one for memes. In fact, I never post them because they invariably take me back to grade school and the excruciating pain of hand-written chain letters. However, I've enjoyed seeing this one on the blogs of friends and fellow writers, so I'm dipping into the meme world for just a second to play along.

If you’re tagged, you have to do the following:
  1. Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript 
  2. Go to line 7 
  3. Copy down the next seven lines/sentences as they are – no cheating 
  4. Tag 7 other authors (I've reserved the right to edit. If you want to post, consider yourselves tagged by virtue of stopping by to read my blog.) 
I have two works in progress at the moment, so I asked Twitter to help me decide between options 1 (click) and 2 (click) and they picked the first. The following drafty excerpt is from page 7 of the wip I'm calling WATER for now:

Half a mile below, miles of dusty karst-invested hills swept past. Perfect territory for finding hidden pockets of water in one of the many cave systems, but every last one I passed was as dry as the sky above. I didn’t need the constant reporting of the ship’s radars to know it. The only water I sensed was pumping through the veins of the ship. With the sun already past its zenith, I was looking at yet another night in some cracking valley with who knows what for dinner and a dwindling ration of water. 

I’d already been away from camp for five days. I carried enough drinking water for ten, twelve if I pushed it and was careful. 

/end Lucky 7 meme

Thank you for reading. To show my appreciation, I'm going to save your life. BOOM. You're welcome