Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Visit to City of Rocks State Park

Have you ever seen a little piece of nature that seems completely different from the area around it? Maybe a fern-filled grotto around a spring in the desert? Or a wildflower meadow in the center of a dense forest? Enchanted places?

Not far from Silver City, New Mexico, we found such a place in City of Rocks State Park. In the middle of a rolling grassy plain, an ancient volcano left behind a core of hard rock that had eroded and weathered into what looks like a city on the hill. 


It's easy to imagine a thriving city, magically turned to stone. Like all cities, it has streets and alleys, windows and doors.

It's nicely landscaped, with wildflowers, 
live oaks, and desert plants.

Rock City has quite a few permanent residents, although they are a little camera shy.

Weathered rocks are a little like cloud formations, stimulating the imagination. If I stare at them for very long, I begin to see things there. Like stone castles…

Giant toadstools,

and petrified monsters.

The best part of this park is that the campsites are nestled right into the rocks, making visitors a part of this enchanted city. And right in the middle, under the wide-open sky, are a small observatory and meeting circle where they offer occasional programs on astronomy.

So, if you ever find yourself in western New Mexico (The Land of Enchantment), you might want to take time to explore this odd little park, and see what enchantments you find there. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Favorite Words

Last month I talked about a few of my favorite words (Collecting Words) but that's only the beginning.  Word collecting is great, because words are not only free, they don't have to be dusted. The ones I like best are words that invoke a special meaning and also dance off the tongue. How about these?


Not a near miss, not even a nice try, but a huge, total, spectacular failure. A fiasco. The debacle might well have been caused by someone's ...


Mischief, or maybe something more nefarious. Secret, dishonest manipulations. And can't you just hear the Irish accent?


Like a blueberry, but a bigger, sweeter, wilder version. In my mind, huckleberries are always connected to a special camping trip to Montana. Also slang for "the man you're looking for." The one who can get the job done. "I'm your huckleberry."

Mosquitos and No-see-ums

Be honest. Don't you feel itchy just hearing the names of the buzzing little biological instruments of torture?


Floating in the air, but it implies that the rise was unexpected, maybe miraculous. 


Lots of these around, always trying to stir up the crowd, to drive a wedge between groups of people. Sometimes it's for a greater good, and sometimes just to make themselves important. Rabble-rabble-rabble. 


The lowdown, the rumor, the truth behind the official story. Did you know this derives from a nautical term for the water cask, so in effect, it has the same meaning as the water cooler does in office slang? 


A big deal that really isn't. Lots of public excitement and confusion, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing all that important. A hullabaloo. 

Your turn. I know I can't be the only one who collects odd words. Share your favorites. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Floating the Kenai

Last week, my husband decided to go fishing, and invited me along. At first I declined, looking forward to a full day of writing. But the weather forecast said it would be a beautiful day, rare in September. The Kenai River draws visitors from all over the world. How could I pass up the opportunity? 

It was the right decision. Just on the drive down, we saw four swans in Potter's Marsh and a couple of dozen belugas in Turnagain Arm. Once we reached the Kenai Peninsula, we had to brake to avoid a bull moose that ran across the road.

The Kenai River itself is beautiful, with just enough glacial silt from feeder creeks to give the river a slightly milky turquoise color. The water ran high, and the fishing wasn't good. My husband only hooked some spent cohos and one small trout. The pair of bald eagles watching him seemed disappointed, too. I guess they were hoping for the castoffs. 

Personally, the lack of fish didn't bother me at all. We already have more fish in the freezer than I care to eat. But it was a perfect float, a reminder of how lucky I am to live in Alaska. And the writing was still waiting the next day. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Dog for All Seasons

In honor of National Dog Day, I'd like to share a few moments from the life of a happy, funny, and loyal companion, Roxy. Roxy likes to play. Always. She's happy to chase a ball, or tug on a rope, or pounce on a laser pointer. She even thinks the reflected sunbeams from her dog-tags are a toy and chases them across the wall.

She thinks every action is an invitation to play, including vacuuming the living room, when she attacks the vacuum cleaner and lifts it from the floor. 

She enjoys watering the garden ...


and shoveling snow ...


and she likes to find the hidden icicles and carry them away to hide them. 
This one was a little more than she could handle.


When we adopted her, we told Roxy she wasn't allowed on 
the couch, but she assured us she was. 

Guess who won that battle.

Happy National Dog Day. I hope you have someone who bring as much joy into your life as Roxy does to mine.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Collecting Words

English is a rich language, mostly because of our habit of plundering words from other languages all over the world. As a writer, I like reaching for just the right word, the word that conveys my meaning exactly. Sometimes it’s illusive, but often the perfect word is right there, waiting.

I love words, playing with them and moving them around. I love collecting interesting words and storing them away for later, like jars of jam. These are a few of of my favorite words. Not that I necessarily use them often, but I love the pictures they paint.

It means to enlighten, to convey the truth, but to me it means so much more. I picture illuminated manuscripts, with rich detail incorporated into the text like the ones at here, at Diana Wilder's blog. To illumine is to bring knowledge that glows with light, like a Raphael painting.


Can’t you just see the dust flying, hear the noisy bickering, and experience all the fuss and bother in this old Scottish word?


Not just a meeting, with a never-ending PowerPoint presentation while participants surreptitiously check their emails, but a gathering where ideas will be discussed and celebrated. I also love the word surreptitious. It sounds so sneaky.

Trademark -State of Wyoming


Long-horned bulls and fearless cowboys. Surefooted horses, American flags, and the smell of livestock. All packed into one little word.


A mucky, boggy, frustrating situation. It's accompanied by the sucking sound my feet make as I struggle to pull them from the mire and make my way to solid ground. "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into."*

First of all, it's fun to say. And the whole idea of a happy accident, a coincidence that leads to something wonderful, is a story in the making.


I won’t just think about it. I’ll contemplate, ruminate on it, chew it over in my mind. This idea isn’t a quick snack; it’s a whole meal. A feast. And I will give it the attention it deserves.

What are some of your favorite words?

*Catchphrase from  Laurel and Hardy

Friday, August 14, 2015


Hospitality: the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.

Summer is the time for visitors, at least here in Alaska. As we’ve been getting the house ready for guests, I’ve been thinking about hospitality.

I’ve been on the receiving end of hospitality countless times, with friends and relatives who share their homes, their meals, and their lives. They’ve been welcoming and generous, but one of my most memorable acts of hospitality was unexpected.

Once upon a time, my husband and I were on a camping vacation in Montana. We set up the tent in a state park campground. The woman in the camping spot next door greeted us and said they'd come to pick wild huckleberries. When I mentioned I'd never tasted a huckleberry, her mouth dropped open in surprise. She ran into their camper calling, "They've never tasted huckleberries!"  and returned with a small box full of what looked like giant blueberries. They tasted like blueberries, too, but more so, sweeter and juicier. Delicious. Sharing her harvest with strangers: a wonderful example of hospitality.

I thought of her many years (and two kids) later, on a family vacation in Hawaii. We picked up a pineapple at the grocery store and hiked to a waterfall. After we swam in the pool under the falls, I cut up the pineapple for a snack. If you've never had fresh, ripe, locally grown pineapple, you can take my word that it's exponentially better than canned. A young couple walked by, smiling at the sight of my kids with pineapple juice running down their chins. When I offered them some fresh pineapple, their faces lit up as if they'd won the lottery.

I like books that offer hospitality. Books that make me feel at home, that invite me to relax and get to know the characters. And when the stories offer an unexpected treat, sharing a little taste of something unique, that’s when I fall in love.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Best Pictures I Never Took

Have you ever had one of those encounters where someone wounds you with a cutting remark, and you’re tongue-tied? You know they’re wrong, that you should be able to defend yourself, but you can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t make it worse. Then later your think of the perfect comeback? I know I have. One of the perks of writing fiction is the ability to use these moments, to rewrite life so that this time, I come out on top. And in my writing, I can capture other missed opportunities.

Photography is a long-time hobby of mine. My father taught me to use a twin-lens reflex camera with manual focus and light settings. It produced a 2 1/4 inch square negative that made developing and printing a breeze. But I missed a lot of shots trying to adjust the focus and aperture/shutter speed on that camera. Besides, the thing was huge, not something you’d carry around casually. Nowadays, the high-quality camera in my cell phone means I can snap a picture whenever something catches my interest, but I still miss some great opportunities.

Chugach Range
I once saw a double rainbow stretched across the Chugach range, but by the time I grabbed a camera, it was gone. Just imagine the photo here, but with green instead of snow and a double rainbow above it. 

One autumn night, a harvest moon had just risen above the almost bare white branches in a grove of birch trees when a raven flew by. For just an instant, the shape of the soaring bird was silhouetted against the golden moon. I still feel a shiver when I remember it.

On a corner I drive by frequently, a man sells moose planters he makes in his workshop. He usually has a half-dozen or so in various sizes displayed on his lawn. One day when I was passing, a real bull moose crossed the road in front of me and stopped to sniff one of the moose planters. Now that would have been a great photo.

There are so many others: the bumblebee on the fuchsia flower, the laughing face of a child on a sled, the glimpse of an old bridge, visible for two seconds from a busy highway. These photo ops will never come again, but it’s okay because I can use them in my writing. I can paint a picture based on what I’ve seen and share it with my readers.

Are there pictures you wish you’d taken? Things you wish you’d said? Will they end up in a story?