Thursday, February 05, 2009

Chapter One Completed

(Photo by my friend, Garret Harrington)

Wild Woman is the true story of a woman betrayed by family and friends; abandoned by those closest to her; broken by hardship and terror. Is it any wonder she escapes into creation to discover the metaphysical world?

Chapter One

Did I
Remember You
When I stood beneath the stars
And counted them one by one;
When at last
My counting was lost
In immeasurable wonder
And awe?

When I was nine years old, traveling with my father in the dark of night over the backroads of Northern California, I had my first encounter with a mountain lion. Its fur was as black as the inside of an abandoned well. Dad called it a panther. But there were no panthers in the Trinity Alps, or so we were told.

This animal was about the size of a full-grown man. It fell off the side of the mountain and landed right in front of our truck. My dog and best friend, Nipper, went wild with barking and lunged at the windshield. Dad stopped our old pickup just in time to avoid running into the lion.

“Stay in the truck, Sandra,” he said.

He didn’t have to say that twice.

With Nipper barking frantically in my ear, I watched as Dad squeezed out of the truck, closed the door with a snap, and walked over toward the crumpled black form, easily visible in the light cast by our headlights.

Panther. Just the sound of the word on my tongue conjured up horrifying stories in my mind of young children being dragged from their beds into the jungle. It didn’t take much imagination to envision the panther grabbing Dad and dragging him into the thick forest leaving Nipper and me alone. I wasn’t sure which would be worse—to see Dad taken off by a crazed panther, or to be left alone to face Bigfoot. One thing I was sure of: that Bigfoot would come, and that Nipper was no match for him.

Dad had just passed the left headlight, causing a big shadow to spread across the road, when the panther sprang to its feet and took off over the side of the mountain. I never saw Dad move so fast. He was around the truck and back in the driver’s seat before the panther’s tail had disappeared into the darkness. Nipper jumped in my lap, pawing at the passenger window and barking madly.

Dad and I talked of little else for days. Everyone thought we were crazy.

“There are no panthers in our woods!” neighbors kept insisting.

But it was hard for them to argue when Dad pointed to me as an eyewitness. I reveled in my high standing for as long as I could. It wasn’t often I received my father’s praise.

I was raised an only child, and the three years we spent on a thousand-acre ranch in Northern California were my happiest. When I turned seven, Dad gave me a snakebite kit and taught me to tell time and direction by the sun. After he and Momma were convinced of my wilderness survival skills, they let me roam through the forest as carefree and fearless as any wild animal. I wasn’t afraid. After all, I had Nipper to watch out for me, unless he was off chasing something else, which was about half the time. (He was part wolf, which meant he had a lot of things to chase.)

We lived miles from the nearest town, and our only electricity came from an old generator we fired up on Saturday afternoons. We used it to run the wringer washing machine during the day and to light the house for company in the evening. The grownups would play cards while we kids pounded each other with feather pillows. During those three wonderful years, that was about the only time you would find me indoors.

Monday, September 5, 2001
Sky Lakes Wilderness, Oregon

I still prefer the outdoors. That’s why I’m here in my secret spot in the Sky Lakes Wilderness in the High Cascades of Southern Oregon. The wind caressing my face feels and smells like the breath of God, sweet and warm, offering an opportunity for intimacy not often found midst the noise and clamor of city streets.

This is the way I always feel when I’m in the wilderness—the spiritual and physical worlds meld into one. I come into the wilderness with questions, yearning to leave my hectic life behind, and to make some sense of it.

Steve Evans, my outfitter boss, and his friend, Mike Kaiser, hauled in a canvas tent, two cots, a camp stove and a mule’s load of food and equipment. I help Steve string up the canvas tent between two trees while my friend, Tresa finds a perfect spot for her pup tent a few stone-throws away. I can barely pick out the shiny green of her tent through the thick growth of timber.

When both men are mounted on their horses and ready to leave, Steve turns to me. “You sure you girls are going to be okay?” he asks.

I break into an enormous smile. “More than okay” I assure him.

Steve used to worry about leaving me out here—a woman alone in the wilderness—but he has long since learned that I am more at home here than anywhere else. I feel safe in the womb of the mountain.

Chapter Two

is a place
reserved for the soul—
leaving hectic clamor behind,
where spiritual and physical meld into one,
and warm wind carries the breath
of God.

Monday, September 10, 2001, 4:00 p.m.
Sky Lakes Wilderness, Oregon

A clash of thunder peels me off my cot. I pick myself up, push back the flap of my canvas wall tent, and peer out. Hard rain pelts my face as I stare into gray fog. An hour ago the sky was perfectly clear. Such an abrupt change of weather is not rare, but it signals danger in the wilderness. I’m miles away from the trailhead with nothing but feet for transportation. With senses fully on alert, I grab my camouflage coat and cowboy hat. Then I brave the rain to take stock of the danger.

Blustery wind stings my eyes. I can feel the hair on my arms standing straight up. That gets my blood roiling. My husband Cat has told me more than once about this strange phenomenon just before lighting strikes. “Get out of the area fast as you can,” he warned, “because you’re too close to its mark.” Remembering his words, I run from the tent and into the forest seconds before a finger of lightning shoots through the darkened sky. I turn to watch as the lightning barely misses the dead snag leaning at a precarious angle over my tent. The immediate clap of thunder is enormous.

Five days ago my friend Tresa climbed the dead snag to hang a US flag. She’s the only other person camping with me this time and I wonder how far away she’s wandered. Transfixed, I stare at red and white stripes whipping angrily in the wind. It’s as if the flag is shaking a fist in the face of God. I consider how close I have just come to the strike of death, and I want to be as far away from that flag as I can.

Another flash of lightning. Another immediate roar. I don’t even have time to begin the slow count of seven to guess the distance. There is no distance. I’m in the center of the storm. I run from the trees and turn circles in a small clearing, thinking about getting seriously scared. Which tree will be the lightning’s next choice?

Stories from my childhood flash through my mind—the couple found dead in their bed after lightning plowed through their window and got them both with one strike, the neighboring farmer who was struck by lightning while sitting on his tractor. Hearing those stories ignited my fear of lightning. Later, when working at Old Dominion University in Virginia, the fear was sealed. Lightning was striking people dead on a regular basis, but it hit too close to home when it struck down Governor Godwin’s son on an exposed beach…the same beach I frequented.

Now, I feel too exposed in the plain of the meadow. Another crash of thunder and a flood of water dumps from the sky, soaking me and gouging rivulets in the hard earth. The air smells like wet grass and mud. A swirling black mass covers the sky. Echoes of thunder reverberate around me. I think about hypothermia.

I catch a flash of iridescent green flapping in the wind. It’s Tresa’s rain poncho. She’s flying across the log that serves as a bridge over the nearby creek. She looks more like some wild animal than a woman, hidden as she is beneath the folds of her enormous poncho.

“We’re in for a storm!” she hollers. I can barely hear her over the rush of wind and clashing thunder. Her eyes burn with the fire of excitement. “This is just great! Let’s head to the bluff.”

“You’re nuts!” I shout, but she doesn’t hear. She’s twirling in the wind, her upturned face shining with wetness. When the next bolt of lightning flashes across the meadow, Tresa doesn’t even flinch. “We can see everything from the there,” she says.

“Yeah, right,” I say. “If we’re not turned into crispy critters.”

But, I grab my rifle and lead the way, hoping Tresa won’t smell the fear that clinches my heart. It’s a strange fear, more like two parts anticipation, one part terror. Like the time two years ago when I strapped myself in a plastic seat and rode my first roller coaster. I was terrified then too, but I kept returning for more. I sat in the rear of the coaster and discovered the thrill of watching the dipping train of boxes in front of me before the inevitable jolt of being pulled along by all the other cars. Then I stood in line to wait for a ride in the very front car and discovered the greatest thrill of all—with nothing but air between me and the pavement below. I couldn’t get enough of it!

I’m hoping that’s the kind of fear I’m experiencing now as Tresa and I tromp through wet huckleberry bushes, skirt the meadow and climb the draw overlooking Lake Ivern. It’s tucked into a small hidden crater with no inlet or outlet. On the far side, a narrow spit of land separates the lake from a 300-foot drop that borders the bluff. Few people come here because it’s far from the other six lakes and at the end of the trail.

“We’re not going out!” I yell over the pounding rain. “We’ll get near as possible without committing suicide.”

Tresa gives me a slow nod, her reluctant sign of agreement. I turn back to the bluff, grateful for the thickness of forest canopy that partially protects us. Howling wind shatters the forest sending loose branches we call widow makers crashing to the ground. Towering pines spin madly, throwing rain-soaked cones in every direction. I stand next to a giant cedar. Its red-planked bark acts as a shield between the errant missiles and me. My cowboy hat also offers a bit of protection should anything fall straight down. I sling my rifle over my shoulder and fold my arms across my chest, hoping to appear calm, perhaps even a bit bored.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to appear braver than I really am. Long ago, when I was a single mom, one day a strange man walked in through the front door of our house without knocking. He sat in an armchair between the door and me, looking nervous and agitated and talking about the isolation of my house and the fact that I had no phone. I forced myself to smile and remain calm while thinking about the hammer on my bedside table in the next room. My children were asleep in their beds. I wondered if I could knock the guy over the head without causing too much uproar. I wondered if I could get to the hammer in time. In the end, my hound dog saved us all by letting out a long plaintive howl.

“Neighbors always call the cops when they hear that,” I said. The stranger was up and out the door. I was right behind him, bolting the latch and gasping for breath.

But playing brave to a stranger is a lot easier than playing brave to a friend.

Tresa is still staring at me, so I swallow and buck up my shoulders. I decide that it’s about time for a little excitement in my life. I can’t believe I was sitting in the tent reading not more than a half hour ago. Where’s the wild in that?

I breathe in the smell of wet earth and ripe huckleberries as we slide down the steep cavern to the lake. I nearly step on a ruffled grouse. The chicken-like bird freezes, willing himself to be invisible. I understand about wishing to be invisible. I spent most of my school years trying to do just that. When I was in sixth grade a gang of boys threw me to the ground and circled over me. I screamed loud and long while my girlfriend ran away, leaving me to my fate. I never spoke to her again, and from that day on I became an invisible girl.

Thinking about the incident now, I’m no longer afraid of the storm. I’d much rather be pitted against the elements than another human. I lead Tresa to the last row of giant firs near the shore of Lake Ivern. From here, we have a clear view of the sheer face of Boston Bluff.

Long ago I dubbed the bluff my favorite spot in the Seven Lakes Basin. I often claw across the narrow ridge to a point where white rock plunges several hundred feet on three sides. I’ve taken Tresa out there twice a day since we have been here, and she’s grown to love it as much as I do. The music of Honeymoon Falls usually creates a wild melody, and off in the distance is the birthplace of the middle fork of the famous Rogue River. The Middle Fork carves a hard left at the bottom of Mudjukewis Mountain, while Ruth, Ethel, and Maude Mountains keep their vigil on the right. The rugged rim of Crater Lake stands in the distance with miles of healthy timber between. The Bluff is usually a sanctuary, a place where I can meet God, but today I keep my distance.

A massive spray of white fog has dropped out of the main bank of dark clouds. It whirls around the rock, creating a shimmering mass of translucent light amidst the storm. Tresa and I stare as the cloud changes shapes and colors. I look at her, wanting to say something, but there’s too much noise to do any kind of talking. The storm is no longer frightening. It’s a light show, complete with sound effects, better than the Fourth of July, and we have front row seats. Tresa must feel the same way, because she nods and smiles at me, and then we turn back to watch the scene.

The cloud keeps changing shapes. A dark mass of an angry demon transforms into an angel of pulsating colored light. The storm-blackened sky forms a backdrop that makes the light appear even brighter; it nearly blinds us with its brilliance. Thunder and the sound of rushing wind add an eerie effect, as if the cloud is an enormous living creature. It glistens and vibrates with unreleased power. If I ever doubted the existence of a Creator, I don’t now. Something totally Other created this spellbinding display.

The cloud hovers over the bluff, swirling like an airborne whirlpool, then it plows straight for us in a powerful force of howling wind.

We brace ourselves for the expected pummeling. I think of the time a hurricane took out an entire row of houses within a mile of my small Virginia apartment. I wonder if this wind will carry Tresa and me away, but there’s no fear in my wondering; part of me yearns to be caught up in the cloud and carried through the skies. I’m intoxicated with wonder.

The cloud hits us with one long swoosh. Tresa and I cling to nearby trees to keep from being carried away. Hail follows, pounding the ground, while thunder and lightning continue their course. The forest canopy provides shelter from the worst of it. Enormous drops of hail bounce straight up from Lake Ivern creating an illusion as if the lake stands a foot higher than the bank. The hail-filled cloud charges like a freight train across the water and over the mountain. The roar of it is strong in our ears…then, suddenly, it is gone.

An awesome stillness follows the hail. The sky is still dark, but all wind has stopped. Lake Ivern lies still and placid, glimmering like an iridescent haven. Not even the twitter of a bird breaks the eerie silence while the forest waits in anticipation.

Tresa and I remain transfixed, our eyes riveted on the bluff. I realize I’ve been holding my breath while staring at a single gnarled tree that stands bravely on the rock. Suddenly, a forked strike of lightning reaches out of the clouds and blasts the far point of the bluff next to the tree—the exact point where we usually stand.

“Yes!” Tresa and I cry out together, each throwing a fist into the air.

Thoughts of Elijah and the whirlwind fill my mind—Moses talking to the burning bush. The shepherd boy, David, writing of God parting the heavens and coming down with dark clouds under his feet. God, himself, talking in the book of Job, Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, “Here we are?”

I envision a laughing Creator, raising his voice to the clouds and covering himself with torrents of rain—a Creator very much in touch with His creation. Tresa and I dance our way out to the upper bluff and stand in full view of Devil’s Peak. A swirling, angry, red sky rises above it, but we are invincible, tucked away as we are in the palm of God’s hand. Our laughter echoes off the bluff, tumbling into the crevice below. The feeling of invincibility stays with us until all light falls from the heavens and we have no choice but to creep through the dark back to camp.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Excerpt from chapter 10--Wild Women!

Here is the promised excerpt about Cobby (see home page) If you haven't read the first chapter of the book, you'll need to scroll to the next entry first.

Our acknowledgement of our limitations
is the only thing that cements them.
—Christy Rein

Spring 1971

The first time I ever stepped into a tavern, I asked for a job. I showed up the next day as the bar maid in training and before the evening was over I was on my own with the instructions, “Handle as many problems as you can on your own. We don’t want the police called any more than necessary.”

Having worked the previous few months as a cocktail waitress at one of the most popular clubs in town, I wasn’t totally green to the types of problems my new boss was talking about. I had witnessed knifings, gang fights, and the total breakdown of one of my fellow waitresses. The difference was that I never had to handle any of those things on my own. There were plenty of bosses over me to take care of them. It also helped that my former boss had an agreement with the local authorities in exchange for an unknown amount of money that our establishment could deal drugs across the counter and be assured the cops would turn a blind eye to it and yet step in quickly to handle any problems beyond our own control. I saw heavy nightsticks used on stubborn skulls on more than one occasion.

I mustered a brave smile as I looked at my new boss sitting at the counter in front of me. Behind him to the left sat an enormous man who would be my first problem. An Indian nursed a bottle of Cold Duck in the corner, he would be my second. I swallowed. “No problem boss. I can handle it.” The words had no sooner left my mouth than the big man thumped his thick glass on the table and hollered for another beer.

“Okay.” The boss pointed with his thumb behind him. “The big guy’s had enough. Go tell him.”

If it weren’t for my three preschool children safely tucked in bed and watched over by a trusted neighbor, I would have flung off my apron and walked out the door. But I desperately needed this job. I straightened my shoulders. My smile was bright when I reached the big man.

I grabbed his empty glass. “How about a wonderful cup of our best coffee instead? It’s on the house.”

A flash of anger crossed his face so fast that I flinched. Then he turned and looked at the counter where the boss sat. The big man’s entire face crinkled into laugh lines. The transformation was incredible. “No problem, pretty thing. I’ll take a cup of that brew if it’s as sweet as you.”

His laughter still filled the tavern when I returned to the bar to get his coffee. The boss shook his head. “Never saw anything like it. No other waitress has ever been able to cut him off.” He reached out his hand. “You got the job if you want it.”

I shook his hand. “Thanks. I want it.”

The boss left the counter and slapped the big man on the back with a friendly laugh before he disappeared out the door, leaving me alone to manage the tavern.

Breathing out a deep sigh, I poured a cup of coffee and headed back to the big man’s table. As soon as I set it down, he stood, placed an enormous hand on the sides of each of my shoulders, squeezed, and lifted me off my feet as though I were no heavier than a small child. He carried me like that, with my feet dangling in the air, all the way back to the bar where he stood me in front of the draft machine. “Pour,” he said.

I poured.

He staggered out the door not long after.

I grabbed a wet cloth and started rubbing the already shiny counter with a vengeance. A law had recently been passed stating that I could be fined for allowing a patron to leave the tavern with enough alcohol in his system to be intoxicated. But even worse was the fact that I could face many years in prison if he hurt someone while driving under the influence. I stared at the counter where my hand pushed the cloth in circles. The very thing that was supposed to help me provide for my children might take me away from them. And how could I live with myself knowing I could have stopped the death of an innocent person?

“You did the right thing.”

I stopped rubbing and looked up. The Indian had moved from the corner to sit on one of the stools at the counter.

“He won’t hurt anyone. He’s a walker.”

“A walker?”

“Yeah. Lives down the road.”

“Now that’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.” I held out a hand. “Name’s Sandy.”

He looked at my hand but didn’t take it. “Cobby here. You gotta lot to learn about this place.”

I dropped my hand. I could bet on his next words. He didn’t disappoint me.

“You don’t belong here.”

I had heard the same thing from several people when I worked as a cocktail waitress. It was that Christianity stuff. I just couldn’t get rid of it. Though it had been nearly ten years since I had given it up, it still had some kind of mark on me that certain people could spot. “It’s a job.” I shrugged. “What can I get for you?”

“Another Cold Duck.”

I held his eyes hard with my own. “You may not think I belong here, but I’ve been around enough to know that most Indians can’t handle Cold Duck. Why not have a draft instead?”

His dark eyes bored into mine, giving nothing away. I was instantly aware of the quiet building. The two of us were alone. Still, I held his stare until he finally smiled and said, “Draft it is.”

From that day on, Cobby became my self-appointed protector. He sat at the same stool at the counter and eyed everyone who came through the door. He was there on his stool the night a tall, good-looking man pushed up to the bar and pointed a long finger at me. Loud enough for every ear in the full tavern to hear, he announced, “That woman is going to be mine.”

Cobby looked at the cocky man, then back at me. I expected him to tell the guy to bug off like he did with every other man who had pulled such a dumb move. Instead, he smiled and ordered him a beer.

Of all the nerve. “Where’s your ID,” I demanded.

“You’re wasting your time,” a customer said. “Cat’s been coming in here for a couple of years.

Cat stood, reached in his jean’s pocket and pulled out his wallet. He flashed me an enormous smile and handed me his identification, but it was his eyes that grabbed me. They were the same blue as a mountain lake just after sunrise and they were full of his smile. “He has sensitive eyes,” I would later tell a girlfriend who was totally disgusted with me for not giving more details. Despite my resolve to ignore the cocky man, I found myself wanting to believe the honesty I thought I saw in his eyes.

Honesty? I read his ID and smirked. “Looky here,” I informed the entire tavern, “You say he’s been coming in for two years, but he just turned twenty-one this year. Joke’s on you.”

Laughter filled the tavern. “Buy him another round,” yelled one of the regulars. “He deserves it.” Everyone thought it was a great joke but me. For a moment, I had been ready to believe this guy was different.

I took my time and waited on other customers before returning Cat’s ID. When I finally did, he took it as a sign of interest. “Name’s Cat,” he said, holding onto my hand as he grabbed the offered ID.

Retrieving my hand, I went back to work. “Why didn’t you cream him?” I whispered to Cobby.

Cobby smiled and sipped his beer. It was interesting that after having appointed himself as my protector, he never once tried to ask me out. He simply wanted to see that no harm came to what he thought was a good girl. His reaction with Cat intrigued me. The tavern calmed as Cat joined the men in a game of pool. He was sitting at a table when I took him his beer. He stood and towered over me like a ponderosa pine. Then he spread his arms out, hands open, “Take me,” he said, “I’m yours.”

I couldn’t think of one word to say. But then, I never really had to. For the next few months, Cat became a regular in the tavern. Seemed he and Cobby had struck up some kind of agreement where they would both stay until all other customers left, then Cobby would say “Goodnight,” and leave me alone with Cat. Soon Cat was taking me out for coffee after work and telling me endless stories. I had never heard a man talk so much. And his stories…I didn’t know whether to believe them or not. Some of his stories seemed far-fetched for a man his age. I was sure I was much wiser at the ancient age of twenty-three. Yet, every story checked out until one fall evening...

----------------------'ll have to wait for the book for the rest of the story!

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. It would be great to have your comments,

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chapter One

See above for rewrite of first chapter.

Left this in order to keep comments.

Thanks very much!!