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possibilities

Patagonia: Stay Open to the Possibilities

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On a recent vacation to Patagonia, I took a day off from hiking with the friends I’d traveled with to go horseback riding. Who could resist the beauty of the animals, the gaucho culture, or the wide open, expansive landscape?  I’m not an experienced rider, but talked my way into a group that included a marvelous horsewoman from Seattle and a charming Brazilian couple.

This experience was a reminder that you never know when you are going to meet somebody who inspires you, and that role models are everywhere if you just stay open to new possibilities. Carol is in her late fifties and  traveled down to Chile in order to help her son (ex- Facebook) and his wife and their new baby move there.  After settling them in, she started traveling alone – first spending 7 days camping and hiking “The W” in Torres el Paine. Then she came to the lodge where I met her where she’d been on riding excursions for 6 days.  She told me stories of her and a friend riding her three horses 500 miles through the Cascades and into Canada. She told me about her future travel plans in Chile and Argentina.

She also talked about her other grandchildren back in Washington who she’d taught to ride and built tree houses for. After a morning of her wild stories and infectious laughter, I commented “You must have the coolest kids.” A big grin spread across her face and she said, “Well, my grandkids tell me I’m the coolest grandma ever.”

When the gauchos gave the signal, we’d go from a walk to a trot and then to a gallop. I stayed behind Carol and tried to do what she did. Her only words of advice as the horses picked up speed were, “Just don’t fall!!”  It was exhilarating, thrilling, and downright frightening. I loved every minute of that day.  I was grateful to meet Carol, whose sense of adventure and wanderlust inspired me, not to mention her moniker of “coolest grandma ever”.

I love meeting strong, independent women, especially strong women who travel to far off places alone.  Carol is the type of woman who says, “YES!” to life.  I’m smiling right now just thinking about her.  Sadie, a character in my novel, Edenwas an accomplished horsewoman as well.  Maybe if she lived in 2016, she would have been more like Carol….  instead of… well I don’t want to spoil it for you.

As Eden approaches its publication date and gallies are now in hand…  Jeannie is exhilarated, thrilled, and also a little bit frightened…  but she’s holding on tight!

hurricane

Rhode Island Research: The Great Hurricane

Over the course of writing my book, which took many, many years, it would always be sort of cool and sort of weird when the events in the story came into confluence with reality.  For example, working on the Fourth of July scene when it actually was the Fourth of July, or writing about Becca’s journey to the Willows when I myself was traveling by train.  Fiction and reality could get mixed up in a crazy and fun way inside my head and the writing and editing process would take on a special clarity, a certain obviousness (of, course this is the way it happened!)

I write this blog post, having just experienced a spectacular weekend under the glow of the full harvest moon.  On Saturday night we watched the yellow/orange orb rise slowly in the sky.  For the past three days, the high tides have been extremely high and the low tides have been extremely low.  The yellow jackets buzzed around the garden frantically knowing their time was almost up. This morning, the rains came.  The wind might not be blowing, but it is coming down hard and the skies are grey.  I can’t help thinking about Bunny and Becca (characters in my book you will just have to wait for!!), on that afternoon, seventy-eight years ago, this week, when the great Hurricane of 1938 took them by surprise.  The full moon, high tides, and high winds all converged to create tidal waves that destroyed whole towns across the northeast, hitting southern Rhode Island possibly the worst.

Last night as my husband flipped through the channels, waiting for the Red Sox to come on, he accidentally came across a special on Rhode Island PBS about survivors of the hurricane.  It included surprisingly vivid film footage of the storm as well as the destruction in its aftermath.  I was transfixed by how frightening it must have been.  The loss from the storm was tragic, but what I couldn’t help thinking as I watched the black and white film of  waves, bending trees, and homes disappearing into the surf was how scary. How scary to experience what have must felt like the end of the world in 1938 without help on its way and without immediate communication with the outside world. The hurricane scene in my book could have been even more frightening and still would never have been an exaggeration.

And then as if I needed another poke from the universe, when turning to Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart this morning I read:

September 19 – Weather the Storm…. Just as nature plays out her storms, sometimes with violence, sometimes with gray days, sometimes with a gentle cleansing rain, we have storms in our lives, storms in our soul.  Storms are a part of life, part of growth, part of the journey….

Does Melody know what hurricane season is like on the east coast? If not, she certainly knows about scary.  Storms are part of the journey and so is overcoming them.  The most important thing to remember is that storms don’t last forever; they come into our lives and eventually leave.  They are usually tumultuous, but relatively short, and the human spirit has, time and again,  just as it did in the months and years after the ’38 Hurricane,  found the fortitude to rebuild.

 

 

 

Matriarchy

Matriarchy

During my lifetime, the closest thing my family has had to a matriarch was my grandmother, not in the fact that she “ruled” our family but she lived until she was 96, was elegant and stately and was greatly admired by the generations that came after. She was my father’s mother, and come to think of it, she probably was the only one who could influence his thinking with a subtle nod of approval or disapproval.

The first matriarch of the Meister family in my novel, EDEN, is Sadie (Sarah). In the book of Genesis, Sarah, wife of Abraham, was also the first matriarch. Sarah was venerable and beautiful, and it is from her that all Israel is descended. But in true Old Testament fashion, Sarah is also depicted as an imperfect human. It is said that Sarah was a prophetess and knew the way things should play out, but when she insisted Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael to the wilderness, it probably wasn’t her finest hour. One can just imagine her in a jealous snit, putting her foot down with Abraham. The subsequent matriarchs in the book of Genesis are Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah who go on to birth a nation despite their human frailties.

It has always been comforting to me to study Genesis in that it emphasizes that the holiest figures in the Jewish religion are just regular, imperfect, people. And although the book is not without its patriarchs, it is first and foremost a book of matriarchs. The insights of its wives, mothers, and midwives, who often made things happen behind the scenes are responsible for the flourishing of the Jewish people. In addition, the book’s themes of familial struggle, including sibling rivalry, jealousy, and rebelliousness are those that we recognize in our own families today. And although, it is sort of discouraging to think that humans have had the same weaknesses and relationship issues for ages, I find it a consolation.

Patterns in families repeat themselves, in Genesis as well as in real life. The pattern of unplanned pregnancy repeats itself for three generations in the Meister family of my novel. A wise matriarch once said that one shouldn’t be defined by the surprises in her life, but by the way she responds to those surprises. So, possibly, as we evolve as people and as mothers of a people, may we learn from history and try to do a little bit better in our lifetime.