Through the Trapdoor.

Get ready. Do you want to reach deep inside? Find the areas and themes that make your writing uniquely yours? Try this. Over and over. Random lists of nouns. No editing. Free write. Nouns. Word associations. Just write. Try it. Over and over. Put the lists aside and come back when ever you doubt your own voice. Try it.

 

1.

Tomboy. Dirt. Cows. Boys. Rules. Why? Why? Dad. Bedroom. Mum. Darkness. Waves. Camping. Trucks. Boys. Tools. Yes. Why? Jeans. Scruffy. Dirt. Cows. Patty. Why? Not.

2.

Female. Femme. Butch. Tires. Trucks. Fix it. Talk. Tellings. Beer. Drama. Girls. Pain. Drama. No. Dreams. Nightmares. Outside. Failed. Failed. Why? Dead. Gone.

3.

Rovers. Community. Passion. Talking. Tools. Girls. Boys. Camera. Bodies. Shapes. Lighting. Too much. Details. Seats. Engine. Leafsprings. Bears. Dogs. Family. Friends.

4.

Camping. Woods. Bears. Why? Fire. Food. Quiet. Calm. Sleep. Stevie. Dogs. Gods. Fire. Leaves. Wind. Window. Reading. Writing. Food. Beer. Calm. Quiet. Finally.

5.

Nightmares. Coma. Choices. Decisions. Christmas. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beer. Beer. Beer. Books. Read. Hide. Pubs. Hospitals. Nightmares. Mum.

6.

Camping. Fields. Trees. Decisions. Fires. Food. Camping. Vans. Trucks. Tents. Beetle. Dogs. Cats. Camp. Out. Away. Smiles. Hide. People. Less. More. Me. Me. Found. Peace. Smiles. Hide. Out. Side.

 

 

 

 

Taking Dad To Guatemala in 2005

This is a short piece I wrote years ago but since it’s Father’s Day, I thought I’d share it. I miss him. I miss Mum. Gran. Nan. Viv. My family. Days like this, the pre-made duty filled days are hell on me. Oh well, right? Carry on. Carry on. I am British after all. 

LAST DAYS

BRITISH AIRWAYS offered her tea, milky with sugar. The taste made her relax back into the window seat, knowing that the first thing her mum would do is put the kettle on.

She had found herself telling complete strangers in Antigua, that colonial city where she waited for the trip back to England. In the clothes shop on Sixth avenue, to the west of the central park, she looked through racks of women’s’ trousers and blouses.

“These aren’t the things I know how to buy,’ she was muttering to herself when the lady offered to help. They spoke in Spanish with Louise describing the need for black, for baggy yet formal if possible.

“My dad died.”

The silence though inevitable was not awkward but natural, as the lady looked at Louise and touched her briefly on the shoulder. She understood. Louise said nothing else as the wave of sudden belief shredded the calm she hidden within. Tears came fast, and she took refuge in the dressing room.

Her dad had lived vicariously through her over the last few years. He had researched the places she expressed an interest in visiting, sending long emails full of statistics and anecdotes of the social, political and economic history she would encounter there. Then he sent poems in Spanish as she arrived in Central America, clippings from the Guatemalan national newspapers about the children’s’ plight and poverty. And she wrote weekly of the families she’d talked to, the kids she’d befriended, putting individual names and faces to the facts he would discover for them both.

Antigua is the centre of tourism and Spanish language schools in Guatemala. Louise had learnt a weeks’ worth of grammar before leaving to stay at a smaller village on Lake Atitlan, a few hours away. To be honest, her dad had suggested at least three weeks of school, but Louise was never the scholar her dad is, was…On the Friday at the end of her first week in classes in over fifteen years, her mind crept forward into a game of table tennis, counting and losing over and over to Jose, the teacher.

Antigua is a beautiful city, and when they wrote to each other he mentioned the architecture of the twelfth century, and asked after the three volcanoes surrounding the town of forty thousand. Louise though had found the shoeshine boys and homeless Mayan girls to chat to, juggle with, and play chase around the grassy plazas where tourists and locals alike spent their afternoons. Architecture was not her focus.

Louise had arrived back to Antigua reluctantly drawn from the safe little haven of San Marcos on the lake, stunned and alone. Her dad had died suddenly, unexpectedly. And now she had to fly home, to be there, with her mum, with her brother and his family, see the cousins and aunts and uncles. Her dad had been friend to all, the funny intelligent and compassionate friend they turned to with questions. He fed them with stories and facts and good advice but rarely an easy answer. The thought that he had gone, died, left forever was inescapable yet lingered distant. Numb she sat on the rooftop of Casa Leon’s hostel. Rather out of character she smoked, staring out over the cafes, the narrow cobbled streets, the terracotta plastered adobe homes and private courtyards. Under her unfocused gaze life carried on. Stoned, she still had no appetite beyond memories of Sunday lunches with the family, a ritual she’d hated at the time.

Louise sat alone, in a distant city remembering her brother crying over the phone, telling her that their dad had died in his sleep. A week before. Her knees had given way; she fell to the floor at Stacy’s home, clutching the phone to her ear, not quite knowing what was happening. Mike told her again and again. Then he cried that she was alone without family to hold her, help her. But Stacy stood close, ready for Louise to turn to her, there for her. The baby had been whisked away by Catarina. Pedro had taken off to care for the store. Stacy waited for Louise.

She was not alone, not quite.

On the rooftop, in Antigua she was utterly alone, more than she had ever realised. Daddy’s little girl. The smoke dwindled as she forgot what she was doing, the thoughts of the last letter he’d sent her, about her publishing an article for the first time. His pride and encouragement meant everything to her, particularly today.

Reluctantly yet glad to have another distraction, she took a yellow woven shoulder bag and walked towards the market by the bus station. The streets were busy, well it was a Saturday, and she bumped into an American couple she knew from Panajachel village, at the lake. A quick chat, nothing said of note, Louise didn’t want to tell them, avoided their sympathy unlike at the travel agents earlier, or at the bank, or on the bus with Shane, she had told random people all day until just then. So Louise smiled, made some joke or other and then left to hide in the anonymity of the crowded market.

Tall and fair-haired could she ever be anonymous though? Breathing in the chaos, colours and comforts of this Guatemalan market, Louise found how much she was at home here after four months. She was no longer intimidated by the sensory overload nor frustrated by the languages. The men wore western clothes, trousers and tee shirts, stood and talked to the other vendors. The Mayan women wore traditional dresses of hand-made fabric, all brightly coloured with the designs of their villages. They were normally a bit gruff with the tourists but for once saw something in Louise, and so unusually they reached out to her often, talked as to a regular customer, and gave free extras of avocadoes and bananas. Louise walked, talked, and acted as if nothing had changed. But from now on her life would be defined by this moment. These days alone then the weeks of funeral and mourning with the family in England.

She bought a few gifts for the nieces and nephews from the crafts vendors inside the hall, multi-coloured bracelets and little bags. For her mum it was a different matter.

What do you by someone who just lost their best friend of forty years?

Walking back through the central park Louise sat on a bench, watching sprawling colourful families enjoy the afternoon warmth of springtime. Above her, a cherry blossom tree swung heavy branches saturating the air with memories of their farmhouse in Worcestershire. Those were the times when her mum’s bum would stick out of the overgrown lilac shrubs as she weeded, and dad would always hum to himself as he trimmed the privet hedge near by. She’d hated it at the time.

“Laundry. I must not forget the damn laundry.” She put the book down. It was boring anyway, simply a result of the last minute grabbing of something in English from Stacy’s house on the way out. On the way to catch the boat, to get to the bank, to pay for a ticket, to catch the bus, to get to the city, to buy the ticket, to wait another day, to catch a shuttle bus, to get to the airport, to fly to Dallas, to fly to London, to meet her big brother, and finally to drive home.

Home.

Through the peeling peach plaster of the hotel room Louise listened to an English couple discuss their wedding.

“It’s not a loan, we’ll tell him, it’s a gift because we can’t get married without him, right? Whenever he can, he’s to get a flight to meet us in Honduras, right?” His voice annoyed her, too childish and whiney for a grown man, she thought irritably. Do all British men sound so young? She didn’t remember. It had been twelve years since last living there, and memory was patchy about anything beyond her dad, her mum, and big brother. Every second hit her with a new picture of one day or another when they’d sat around the kitchen table, drinking wine and telling each other stories to make them laugh.

That night in bed when sleep didn’t find her, Louise craved a child. A boy. To call him Tony after her dad. Her body ached with the need for a child of her own. But life had taken her in another direction and there would be no son to remind her of her dad, to fill that void, that desire. She thought of all the kids in her life that light up when they see her. Marley. Freya. Dasen. Freddy. Maria. Thomas. Emily.

“Well, at least I have my little friends,” she said to herself and clutched her old teddy bear.

Time dragged. Two days to wait in an anonymous city, waiting to go home, where she would really feel her dad’s absence from the house, the silences he filled with stories and laughing. Louise packed and unpacked and packed again. Non-stop she fiddled, looked for something, then forgot what in particular, then replaced it all in the green small back pack on the other bed, empty and unused by either friend or lover. Louise wiped the table over and over; her fingers never stopped dancing on the bed. Shoulders tensed and juddered of their own will just as they had after that terrible phone call, when Louise had turned to Stacy and lowered her head sobbing.

During the evening promenade, the orchestra pulled together the wandering tourists and locals and filled the park with rows of wooden seats. Louise found herself drawn in, and ended up sitting next to an old couple and their grandsons.

‘Dolor con suenos de alegria’ means pain with dreams of happiness.

The irony of the musical choice was not lost on her, and she cried again, tired of crying but unable to stop. She listened and cried gentle tears, admiring the stonework of the sixteenth century; the architecture of Spanish colonial times, the arches and pillars, and the fountains reminded her of the family holidays in northern Spain. Age six and learning to swim in Aranda. Eating fresh sardines grilled over the fire in Santander. The huge waves mum dragged her and Mike into squealing with delight.   On Saturday nights, both in Spain and Guatemala people walk and greet each other, sharing ice creams with little children, couples go courting and the shoeshine boys earn whatever they can. Louise stopped one lad to polish her leather boots for the funeral. His hands were blackened and his own shoes were laceless, but his grin reached his eyes as they talked about their families.

Later that night Louise looked around the worn out room, thankful to be going home. To the town she grew up in, to those cousins who tease her. To the uncles and aunts. Family suddenly made sense to her, after all these years apart, she knew she needed them, now more than ever. And they needed her, wanted her to come back, back home.

“I took my dad to Central America. Now he is taking me home.”

…It was time for Louise to go home.

BRITISH AIRWAYS offered her tea, milky with sugar. The taste made her relax back into the window seat, knowing that the first thing her mum would do is put the kettle on.

 

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Living The Dream: 16

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: ONWARDS

Money was flying out faster than I’d hoped or expected what with those nights in motels, a week in Albuquerque, eating out. I worked on my budget while sitting outside on the porch. Angie was at school, one last project that she’s working on in the library. Jonnie was expected to show up later today. Nelson relaxed, fully at home on his blanket, soaking up the sun. I made a decision, a small one, but it was time to move on.

 

“I’m heading south in the morning,” I told them over dinner.

We’d made pizza together, chatting and listening to a local radio station. Their home was toasty and welcoming. I didn’t really want to leave but my restlessness kicked in, and kicked me out. Nothing too comfortable for me, not yet. The ongoing distractions of exploring a new city on foot had revitalized me yet kept me from my purpose: Deciding what was next. What to do about Mark. And the others.

“You’re more than welcome to stay,” Angie offered. “It’s so easy to have you and Nelson around, no trouble at all. In fact, you could stay here for the holidays on your own if you like. I’m going back home for a couple of weeks and it’d be good to know the place wasn’t empty.” She drank some water and offered Nelson a taste of ham from her pizza. “Well, think about it, no pressure.”
“Where are you thinking of going to? Not north I hope. More snow is expected this week, and they say it’s going to be a warm and wet winter.”
“Whatever that means.” I jokingly finished for him. “I don’t know but I like the idea of going across to Arizona, see Jerome and Sedona and that area. It’s probably only a day or two’s drive for us, we stop every hour or so. Anyway, I’d like to keep exploring, camping, daydreaming…”
“ – and deciding?”
“Yes, there is that. I miss the bus as well.”
“But you’re not ready to go back yet?”
Jonnie passed me a glass of wine and we all followed him onto the porch, our nightly routine. “I can understand that. Have you heard from Mark?”
I sipped the malbec and leaned back in an armchair. “Yep, he’s in L.A. having a blast, he said. He even got to play bass for some band one night. They’d had a car accident on the way to the gig and, well, he was in the right place at the right time. It’s a dream come true for him, so I can’t blame him, not really.”

Jonnie brought out the rest of the pizza and picked at a slice as we chatted away companionably. Nelson yawned. Angie petted his head, playing with the long soft ears.

“Well, you have to stay in touch with us, okay? I’ll miss you both. You’re always welcome back. And if you move back to Oliver, we want to come visit, right?”

“Right, I’ll let you know where I end up, we end up, that is. To new beginnings.” I raised my glass to them both with a smile.

“To new friends.”

“To pizza!”

Glasses clinked and Nelson sat up, hoping for food, that’s my happy boy.

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER: SHOW ME THE WAY

 

 

“What the hell? You’re joking right?”

Five DEA agents surrounded Mark. They demanded that he hand over his plants. Mark stood there in his shorts and boots, bare-chested and indignant. A couple of black SUVs blocked our Subaru in the driveway. Helicopters, four of them hovered overhead, passing back and forth as they had all morning. I stood on the porch, holding onto Frida who wouldn’t stop barking and growling when anyone came close.

“Your ID please, sir.” An officer stood in all-black clothes and dark sunglasses and he had a gun. He held out his hand to for the license.

Mark laughed, “Where do you think that might be? I’m practically naked here.” he turned and started walking over to me, when the officer stopped him forcefully.
“No sir, you can wait with me and your wife can fetch both your IDs.” He nodded in my direction.

“Girlfriend,” muttered Mark. He put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “They’re tomatoes,” he muttered under his breath once again.

Two officers followed me to my car and I pulled out our wallets and handed over the documents. One stood next to me silently and the other read them before handing them to his partner. Mark asked why they’d come to harass us.

“We were told your wife –“

“Girlfriend.”

“- had been talking about her pot plants at the coffee shop.”
“Her potted plants.” Mark said, and he looked over at our home. The patio was covered in hanging plants of all kinds. Mint. Toms. Lettuce. Onions. Creeping vines. Geraniums. Wildflowers. You name it, I’d planted it.

The man with my ID passed it back and headed for his boss without a word to me. He had a potbelly big enough to hold a drink if he’d leaned back just another inch or two. I tried not to think about it. I coughed under my breath.
“It’s who we thought.”
Mark smoked in silence. Frida whined. I shook. I wish I had my boots on, I felt vulnerable in flip-flops.

“I’m Detective Anders. Would you take us to your pot plants please Mark.”

The man had cropped gray hair and a belt full of his important toys and symbols. And a gun. He lifted his sunglasses briefly to make meaningful eye contact with Mark, who set off in the direction of the bus. I joined him on the porch. I quickly grabbed my boots and sat down. Mark stood next to our pots.

The officer didn’t move. “Well?”

Mark pointed out two tomato plants at the front door. “That’s all we have.”
The officer didn’t smile one bit but reiterated his request. The take-me-to-your-leader kind of an order. “We spotted some twenty pot plants near by and your home is the closest. I suggest, sir, that you comply with my requests. Take me to your plants.”
Mark sighed in exasperation. “We don’t have any. I don’t even know what you’re talking about, as if we’d grow pot plants on our property. That makes no sense. Neither of us smokes anything but this stuff.” He pulled out the cigarettes from his back pocket and held them out.

Another SUV showed up and drove past the other vehicles across my front yard. He pulled up next to us.

“Is there a problem here, Anders?”
“No sir, we were just taking them to the site. Would you like to come with us?”
“Not at all, I’m staying in the air conditioning. Speed it up though. We have another sighting a mile away.” He closed the window and backed out. Tire tracks everywhere. I’d have to rake this later.

“Come along. You can let your dog loose, Ma’am. My officers aren’t afraid of a little runt like that.”

He strode off without a glance at Frida snapping around his boots. I grabbed my hat and caught up with Mark. We followed them down the arroyo on the right, through the hundred-foot bed of coal dust, and past the burnt-out pinion, the result of a lightening strike was my guess. The midday sun wore me out but I kept up with everyone, all ten or us. Although I hated to admit it, taking that hike was easier than digging in fence posts for the chicken run. I spotted some orange paintbrush-like wildflowers on the southern slope. The ridge took us up and over into a neighboring meadow of cacti and silvery stunted shrubs. We walked over the scrubby grasses, along the riverbed and past trees dead and dying. The entourage stopped next to a clump of junipers. Mark and I looked around us.

“Where are we?” he whispered.

“Please, sir, if you have something to say, say it to the group.”
Were we in high school again? Mark said nothing. I coughed. He snickered. Frida found something and ran off. I heard her digging furiously.

“Stop that dog. She’s tampering with evidence.” They ran after her and someone pulled her out from under a tree by her tail. The poor girl yelped and raced over to Mark, jumping into his arms. She buried her head in his armpit.

“What had you found, girl?” he talked softly to her. She looked up briefly, saw Anders walking over, and whimpered.

“This way please, Ma’am, Sir.”
We looked at each other and followed him into a clearing. A bunch of tall bulky and bright green pot plants lay on the dirt. Pulled out by the roots. Each one was at least four or five feet tall, I’d guess, thick and furry.

“Wow. Those are huge.”
The agents watched us closely. I stepped up to poke one with my foot. “Are there more?”
“Why?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this.” I practically laughed in fascination. I bent down and picked at one. It stank. I picked off a piece and put it to my nose before someone yanked me back.

“That’s enough. Where are the rest?”
“Huh?” I stood up and brushed myself off. “You tell me. You brought us here. This isn’t even our land.”
“Nope, never been out here before, have we Jen? I like it. Is this on our property?” He asked Anders who had a bundle of Xeroxed maps in his hand. Mark went to look and unthinkingly took the top copy. It was of a map of our forty acres and both properties on either side. The road cut through ours in a pretty diagonal, across the two arroyos.

“Isn’t that us?” He held it out to me and I looked over his shoulder, or rather under his shoulder. My finger followed the road, the paths we usually took and found our campsite and the bus, somewhere in the middle. We’d placed it well, apparently. I nodded and handed it back to him. Mark passed it to Anders.

“That’s our place, right? Here’s the road, the bus, our gardens and the boundary where we walk the dog. See?” Mark in his innocence started to walk back the way we’d come.
Two of the officers blocked his path. They kept their hands on their hips.

“Unfortunately, sir, that might be true, but you two live right next to this large collection of illegal plants. We don’t believe you, to be blunt. Now, where are the rest? Someone who grows this many usually has at least another ten or more hidden nearby.”
“Couldn’t your helicopters see any?” I piped up.
Anders stared at me. “No, they didn’t.”
I shrugged and sat in the shade on a huge rock the size of a VW Beetle. Frida tried to join me but she kept slipping off the rocks. She sat at Mark’s feet instead. Anders watched us both carefully.

“Show us the path you use to bring the water out here,” he asked after a while.

“No, you show me.” Mark was getting braver and braver as time went on. I was quite proud of him. “Because there isn’t one and you know it. You know that this isn’t our doing. We’re too effing naïve, aren’t we? Oh, and to add to the equation, we haven’t lived here long enough. You might want to check your records before you try to pin anything on us. I only moved to Oliver, what, two months ago at most.”
Anders looked between Mark and I. He looked down at his paperwork.

“Is that right?”
We both bobbed our heads in agreement. He started to sweat.

“Damn. Who owns this bit? I’m going to get in such deep trouble for messing this up.”

His officers hung back, slowly melting into the trees around us. Frida headed for the freshly dog holes and stuck her face back in them, sighing loudly. I almost felt sorry for Anders. I came to look at the map he held. I recognized the driveway he pointed out as being the nearest. I said nothing.

He folded up his papers and looked around for his men. They’d gone back without him.

“How do we get back from here?”

He turned in a circle, desperately looking for someone to lead the way back. The clearing stood empty but for five dying plants and the rear end of a digging dog.

“We follow the little runt,” said my boyfriend with a sweet smile. “Frida, let’s go home.”

 

“Another pint, Jenny?”
“Hell yeah.”

We stood at the bar surrounded by locals, Dieselhead Danny being one of them. He’d been telling everyone about watching us with the cops and how suddenly they’d all just left, driven off, no charges, and no further searches. Or finds.

“They didn’t get the others,” he announced proudly. He kept buying us drinks. The tavern was pretty empty but it was a Wednesday afternoon. The tourists took over town on the weekends. After we’d found out that little detail, we had adjusted our drinking times suitably, still trying to fit in. Anyway, Danny kept slapping Mark on the back, thanking him for not mentioning the water hauling or anything like that.

“Oh, right, I’d forgotten about that. I just hated the way he called my dog a runt. He pissed me off.” Mark leaned against the stool I was sitting in and gave me a quick kiss on the ear. That third beer was doing wonders for his mood.

We’d got back to the bus with Anders in tow and had made ourselves a cold drink. All three of us sat on the deck and watched as Frida found a rawhide and fell asleep with it under her front paws. One SUV waited for him as he finished his lemonade and apologized in a roundabout way. Finally we were alone again. I got up and raked out the tire tracks. Mark took a sponge bath. Frida napped.

Half an hour later we drove to the tavern, under the watchful eyes of two helicopters. Mark gave them the finger. Frida panted. For once, I drove.

 

Danny wandered outside for a smoke and Mark joined him. I sat there alone for a while, I was glad the day was over. The bartender came over and handed me a pint of cold water.

“You’re looking a little rosy,” he said politely.

I snorted. “I know. It seems to be my New Mexico color, I’m okay, just a little flushed after this morning.”
He laughed out loud and grinned with me, and had no teeth missing. The job must pay better than most.

“Yeah, I heard. That was a close call, you realize that, don’t you?”
“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I need to forget how close a call. Does that happen a lot around here? It was crazy. Do you think the cops even know whose stuff it was? Is?”
“Probably, but I’d forget all about that if you can. At least now, you’ve made a friend for life with Danny. He’ll look out for you for as long as you live near by. He’s as loyal as a puppy if he likes you.”
Once a year apparently the cops come around, hoping to find fields of green. Instead they bust two or three people for having a handful of pot plants. After seeing the five ‘copters and twenty or so ground personnel, SUVs, even a couple of all terrain vehicles, I have to wonder how much that all cost?

As usual, Mark interrupted my deep thoughts.

“There’s a BBQ out on Alaska road on the weekend, and we’ve been invited. Want to go?”
“Sure. Whose?”
Mark grinned. “I don’t remember but here’s the address for us. Dusk onwards, and he said bring beer, instruments, and dogs, not bad eh? Frida’s first party.”
More importantly – it was going to be our first party in Oliver. We’d finally arrived.

 

 

Living The Dream: 14

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

JULY: IN SANTA FE

“What was in it?”

Louisa turned to face me as she picked up a timid husky from out the back of the truck. The sign for the sanctuary was completely hidden by the mud splattered everywhere. I took the leash.

“Not much thankfully. Some cash and my old driver’s license. The rest was just receipts and business cards, that kind of thing.”
“No credit cards?”
“No, Mark keeps those on him. We looked around but didn’t see the guy anywhere. He must have hidden pretty well.”

I stroked the dog’s ears; he was terrified with tail between his legs and shaking like my sheets in the wind. The sound of all that traffic on highway through town filled my head, so loud and insistent it was. I knelt down to talk to the pup at his own height. He smelt my hand and then my arm. He gave me one lick of friendship but the tail remained tucked.

“Did you get the guy’s name? I might know him, by reputation if nothing else.”

Louisa was busy unpacking dog crates, leashes, pamphlets, and she only half listened to my stories of the motel, the night in town, what Mark was up to. In short, she didn’t really care; the dogs were her focus right now. That was why I was here too. To get the dogs homes at the monthly adoption events she put on in Santa Fe.
We walked across the parking lot towards the store and she left me holding three pretty large dogs. I stood there, not knowing what to do with them when a white-haired couple came and started chatting to the dogs by name. Finally they turned to me.

“You must be the new volunteer Louisa told us about. This in my husband, Jim, and I’m Margaret. Or Meg if you like me.”

She had a round soft face, all freshly washed cheeks and sparkling white dentures. She wore clothes of white and pale yellow, perfectly light colors for such a sunny day. No thunderclouds threatened us so far. She held out her hand and I reached to shake it but she took a leash instead. I put my hand down. Meg petted the husky who immediately relaxed and sat at her feet. Jim took one of the other dogs, a chow-chow mix. I was left with a lab retriever youngster. One year old and hyper as all hell, she bounced impatiently, trying to nose me and anyone within reach.

“We usually set up on that bench. We’re close enough to the door that people wander over but we’re not making a nuisance. It’s very good of them to let us come here once a month. I don’t want to annoy them, you know how bad that would be.”

I followed her and settled in for the long haul. Meg talked about doing this very thing for the last six years, once a month, sitting with the dogs and counseling people to make good matches. There are too many dogs homeless in Santa Fe County she explained:    “The Shelter takes in as many as they can, almost six thousand last year. Isn’t that incredible?” Meg chatted away easily.
“Where else do you go?” I asked after a while. I drank some water and ate a protein bar.
“Oh, to the other grocery stores and the mall. We mix it up but we try to keep a schedule. That way people know where to find us. Which is a good thing since Louise doesn’t like to return phone calls.”

Jim laughed and nodded agreement. With sunhats and water bottles, Jim and Meg were ready for the next four hours. Louisa came out with a manager in tow. He stood near us, quite clean and friendly, talking to the dogs but not actually touching any. He kept his hands in his pockets.
“Only three today?”
“No, we have two more in the truck, an old border collie and a Chihuahua mutt. I’m waiting for the other volunteers to get here before I get them out. They’re both friendly so don’t worry. I think we’ll start over at the bench but move closer as the sun comes round if that’s okay?” Louisa tucked in her tee shirt and adjusted her baseball cap.
“Sure, just don’t block my customers.” The manager smiled at us all meaningfully and walked back into the air-conditioning briskly.

At eleven o’clock, my brain was already baking. How did they do this all day long? Louisa got me to help set up the signs and put flags around to catch attention. I wiped her truck a little, just enough to read the name: “Rose’s Rescue.”

I put out a table in the shade but was told to move it. The dogs needed the cool more than us humans. I spread out literature, all about animal overpopulation, the rescue’s mission, and a call for donations. I started to read. It was fascinating to learn how she does it, how she keeps the dogs fed and housed. It’s all about volunteers and sponsors apparently. Mark had dropped me off on a perfect day for this. We’d kept meaning to help the adoption events, but we hadn’t until then. Staying the night in town was the reason to be honest – I was already so close; I had no excuse not to show up. It gave Mark some time alone, which he claimed with glee.

I leaned against the truck and watched the day pass by. Hundreds of folks shopped here, in and out they came, with brown paper bags overflowing, and the donation jar filled quickly. They took flyers and chatted to the dogs.

Jim and Meg both pulled in these complete strangers and engaged them confidently with the dogs, passing the leash, coming to me to get water even though they had bottles near by. Anything to give families time alone with each animal that was the ploy. The lunchtime crowd picked up even more and I was glad when two other regular volunteers came and took on the extra dogs I’d been holding onto. This was one big happy family, and I noticed that all of them kept the public away from Louisa. She held back, she supervised, filled water bowls, walked dogs, and kept to herself. Not a publicity hound so to speak.

A huge bear of a man adopted the chow, both were strong and gentle, and the man was so soft-spoken Louisa had to lean close to talk about the details. I watched as he knelt down and whispered to the dog, who suddenly sat up on his back legs and begged. Louisa laughed and shook her head.

“He approves, I see. Don’t forget to switch the food slowly, and if you have any questions, call and I will try to help. Jenny, can you set him up with the paperwork?”
“Sure,” I passed on the forms and took his information and handed out the vet’s info. The man hugged me and loaded up the chow-chow into his car with a huge smile and a wave. Jim came over just as I was basking in the glow of a successful adoption.
“Can you walk the lab? She’s got too much energy and can’t settle down.” Jim passed me the leash and the pup started bouncing wildly.

“Where to?”
“There’s small park up there a couple of blocks. You could run around there for ten or twenty minutes. That’s probably enough for now. You okay with that? Do you want some water?”
I took a bottle and the dog. Helen was her name. Helen led the way. The roads were pretty busy with afternoon shoppers but Helen didn’t seem too bothered by the traffic coming so close. Across the street from us, a park opened up a couple of blocks length, with huge deciduous trees covering the whole area with shade. It was heaven, with thick green grass, the kind you picture but is rare to find in New Mexico. It was so luscious I stuck my face in it and breathed deeply. It smelt so yummy, better than a smoothie any day. Helen rolled on her back and wagged happily as I scratched her belly. I took off my sandals and walked barefoot. We wandered around, one end to the other. My toes were ecstatic. I missed parks; we’d had a great one in our neighborhood in Olympia. I used to spend my afternoons lying under the trees reading. I almost missed being there, but not quite. I walked us to the benches encircled by dozens of roses, all blooming. It smelt wonderful. Did you know that Tuscany is the name of a rose? They sure do come up with some odd ideas for plants. I broke off one flower and stuck it in my pocket guiltily.

With a dog in hand, I ended up meeting three or four different families and their kids and teenagers, all coming to pet her soft black fury body. She wriggled and played and chased the tennis ball this one little kid had. I sat with that family for ten minutes before they asked about Helen’s story.

“She’s a stray,” I told them. “We don’t have any history on her. Somehow Louisa, who has the rescue our near Oliver, took her in. Want her? I’m meant to be finding her a home today,” I joked.

“Yes, I think we do.”

“Really?”
“Please Mommy. Please Mommy.”
The kid threw himself around Helen’s neck. Helen fell over and started licking every inch of the little boy. He squealed in delight. Mom watched and smiled to herself. She caught my eye and nodded once.

“Oh. Okay. Hmm. I think you’ll need to come to the store and talk to Louisa. I’m not sure how that works.”
“What does she ask?”
I grinned, “I’ve no idea, this is the first time I’ve helped out.”

Back at the store, the others were settling the dogs back in the truck, making sure they all had enough water before driving back to Oliver. Jim folded the table and boxed the papers. Louisa was nowhere to be seen.

Meg pointed to the store. “Shopping for herself. She might as well since she’s in town. Did you need something?”
I introduced Meg to the family with Helen. “She’d like to adopt the pup. What do we do?”

“Did you talk to them about where they live? What their expectations are? Do they have a vet? Other pets?”
I shook my head, “No, we just played together. The dog was great with little Mickey here.”
We both looked down to see Mickey sitting on the floor with the dog laying across his thin lap, her tail wagging slowly as she drifted off. He stroked her over and over, talking to her about his toys at home. The wooden boat, the teddy bears, and the balls.

“Well, that’s a great start.” Meg laughed with the mom. “Don’t worry, we want to make sure it’s a good fit, that’s all. So, can I ask you some questions? Find out more?”

Mickey butted in, “her name’s Helen, Mom, like my best friend at school. We can keep her, right?”

Louisa and I sat on the tailgate as I waited for Mark to show up. The truck was in shade finally, the groceries packed away and three dogs had been adopted. The chow, the lab, and that shy old chi mix all found homes. The collie had fallen asleep in her kennel, tired from all the attention. All in all, Louisa had had a good day in town. She scratched her head and looked back on the husky.

“That’s the one I worry about.”

The husky stared at her. He was curled up in the tightest ball possible and only the odd colored eyes could be seen. He watched us cautiously.

“Nelson’s special. He was so messed up when I took him in that I had to carry him outside to pee. He lay belly to floor constantly. What the hell makes people scare animals like that?” The pain and outrage poured out of her. She shook her head and told me more. “I call him Nelson, because he’s such a nervous Nellie as my English friend called him, it stuck. Nelson’s a good boy, I see it in him. I’m not sure that this is the best place for him but it’s better than living so scared on the streets, isn’t it? Las Cruces was not nice to you, was it?”
I wanted to pet the boy but he’d only just got easy enough to come to me when I wasn’t looking. I’d wait. I’d find him a home, I promised myself: I’d find him a home.

“Next week you can drive in with me if you like, if that makes it easier for you both.”

“Thanks, let me talk to Mark. I think he likes his time to play in town without errands, you know? He should be here in a few minutes.”

We sat in companionable silence, watching traffic and clouds.

“Another storm do you think?”

Louisa breathed in deeply. “Yes, in two hours time, but I doubt it will be as harsh as last night but steady. So make sure your stuff is safe this time.”
“Oh I think we will. But Frida gets terrified, what should we do for her?”

Louisa thought for a moment. “Keep her near one of you at all times. Make her a den to hide under the bed, but where she can still see you, your feet if nothing else. Have you Rescue Remedy? The homeopathic stuff really helps for that kind of thing. I have some in the front of the truck you can take.”
“What do I do with it?”
“In her water, put in twenty drops each day. Or if she’s getting in a bad shaky space, give her a few drops into her mouth. Wrap a tee shirt of Marks tight around her chest. Something that smells of you both, and she’ll feel like she’s being held by one of you. Thundershirts are what they’re called at the stores but I make my own. That’s something you can do for her tonight – get her settled and covered before a storm comes in. Do you keep her inside at night?”

I had to laugh as I tell her that my sex life has taken a back seat as little border terrier claims her space between us both, cuddling one and then the other all night long. We need to send her off for a doggy date for mom and dad to play again.
“Maybe wait until after the storms are done.”
I spotted my family. Mark was headed over with Frida in a new pink harness and puppy sized straw-hat somehow tied on behind her ears. She looked dapper for a dog, although a little uncomfortable. Poor girl spent the day with her dad shopping.

Living The Dream: 11

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: BACON

The bedroom was cozy, with windows facing a small neighborhood park, empty at that time of night. Nelson had his own bed next to mine and he slept soundly. I didn’t. How had I ended up at this home in Albuquerque? It must be the beer. This isn’t like me, to go home with strangers, but I felt safe and relaxed. Unusual to say the least.

When we’d walked back to my truck, they’d offered me a place to stay for a few nights, a chance to unwind after weeks on the road. I followed them and drove up to a small but well lit home nearby. The front yard held a teardrop trailer and an SUV. I pulled in on the left, out of their way hopefully, and let the boy out. The winter sky sparkled above, cold and distant. The lights in Angie’s home drew me in. Jonnie was in the kitchen already, putting on water for tea.

“The room is back there, the one at the end of the hallway. Make yourself at home, Jenny. We usually make tea and hang out on the porch, catching up on the week’s news. You can join us if you like?”
I shook my head and shuffled back to the bedroom. I was settling in my boy when Angie popped her head around the door.

“Your bath is ready. Come on, it’s in here.”
The bath overflowed with bubbles, the windows steamed, and candles flickered on the countertop.

“I thought you’d like a little pampering. Anyway, I’m going to be outside with Jonnie, to see what he’s been up to without me. It’s hard not living together right now, but I need to finish my master’s degree here before I go back south. Oh, blah blah, you don’t need to hear this. Go relax. See you later or not. Coffee’s usually ready early so help yourself. And Nelson can hang out in the back yard, it’s fenced. Good night.”

She closed the door behind her and Nelson’s footsteps followed her down the hallway. The backdoor closed behind the three of them. The house grew quiet.

“We’re off to the Farmer’s Market. Do you want to come with us?” Jonnie finished his second cup of coffee. “It’s pretty amazing at this time of year, what with all the winter treats like raw honey and candy, all wrapped ready for Christmas presents, as well as wreaths made from the local trees. It’s fun. I’ll even buy you a hot cider.” Jonnie stood up from the kitchen table as Angie appeared, pulling on a winter coat and a woolen hat.

“Sure, it’s okay with Nelson though? The one in Santa Fe won’t let him come in.”
Angie nodded and handed me the leash. “No worries, he’ll be fine. I know the manager. You can be my visiting niece and she won’t ask for more than an assurance that he won’t mark everything. Okay Nelson, you’ll behave?”

Nelson fetched his leash, waiting for the slow coach humans at the front door.
Clouds had followed from the North East corner of the state and threatened a snowstorm. I huddled deeper into my jacket. Nelson looked as happy as a raven with a dead mouse. Comfortable and content with the world, he trotted alongside as we walked and talked. Angie led the way through the park and onto more back roads. The sun peeked out occasionally but not often enough to melt the frost on the grass. Nelson sniffed, marked, and sniffed some more. He was a happy boy.

“We thought of buying land down south, near the Gila National Forest but the idea of living without power or baths put us off. I like my comforts,” said Angie with a laugh. “We own a home down by Elephant Butte Reservoir, not that there’s much water these days, but it’s nice to be near a lake, live quietly and still live in a real home, you know. Don’t you miss living in town?”
“We’re only four or so miles outside of Oliver, so it’s not bad. And it’s worth it to me, to live where no one cares what we do or how we do it. I don’t really know how to build to code, or really what that even means, but Mark and I, well, we got to play and make shelters and gardens and all of it without anyone judging us. That can’t be beat.”
Jonnie slowed down to ask about the water and electricity.

“Not that I understand that stuff, I work in the museum down there, cataloguing acquisitions and talking to all the school kids. I like the job, I get to leave at the end of the day and not worry about anyone or anything. Perfect. I go home, make some food, pet the cat, and watch movies. At least, when Angie’s up here.”

She slapped him playfully and linked her arm with his. They chatted away as we walked.

“I don’t know that I could go back to teaching, not yet anyway. You’re right; it’s easier when you don’t have to worry about anyone. The café has been perfect for me, a way to meet the locals, network, and get involved in the community. Mark has had a harder time of meeting people but he’s made some friends, some closer than others. I don’t know if they’re aware why he’s left. I’ll have to tell them I guess, when I go home.”
Angie and Jonnie glanced at each other. “Do you still think of it as home then?”

I nodded, surprised at myself. “Yes. Yes, I guess I do. It’s good to talk about the place, the people. I hadn’t realized how much it suits me there. Or how proud I am of how we learned how to do things for ourselves. It’s kind of amazing really, we used to just accept what we’d been told, you know, by the supposed experts. But then we started to question them and we’d look into things ourselves. I learned a lot.”
The lights changed and we crossed another side road, and found our way through the mass of cars and bicycles parked haphazardly in front of the market.

“If you lose us, Jenny, there’s a café just there, see it? We’ll find you there at noon, okay? Come on; let’s face the mayhem. There’s this family who make the best burritos. You’ve got to try one. And for you, Nelson, bacon?”

He trotted happily, tail high and proud.

Click on the book cover for a link to where you can buy a copy if you want more NOW!

LA for an award? Sure, I’ll go.

It must be an elaborate hoax, right? That my latest book won an award? That I’m being flown to LA tomorrow for a dinner downtown?

I’m packed, I figure even if it is a hoax, I might as well spend the weekend in LA. I haven’t been there in over 25 years, oh shit, that makes me old. Well, is there a big difference between that innocent yet brave kid and my current self? In some ways – no. I write, she wrote, we’re both restless and curious, not satisfied by the mundane but needing to find out other people’s stories and experiences. I’m excited to land in LA early in the morning and have the time to wander around, take the bus to the beach, wander up to Santa Monica to eat fish and chips at the British Pub that I remember.

The first time in LA, I was 22 years old with a backpack, a handful of dollars and one address in Venice Beach. I walked, talked, explored and stayed with a friend I’d met in Germany a year or two before. We’d gone to Freiburg University together, she was a good student, me not so much.

This time, I have a flight, a credit card, a small daypack, and no addresses. I’ll be staying at an Airbnb place near LA Live where we’re having the Awards Dinner. I can walk there and back easily and take the metro in the morning back to the beach before my flight Sunday night. Short and sweet a visit.

Is is hoax? What do I wear? What do I say at the ceremony?
What do I want from the experience? To network and talk to agents and publishers. To find a larger readership. To know that I am a writer after all these years. It’s real. It’s not a hoax.

From the website:

GREAT NORTHWEST BOOK FESTIVAL NAMES “VAN LIFE” FOR TOP HONORS

A woman who decides to hit the road with a van, three animals and her adventurous spirit is the grand prize winner of the 2017 Great Northwest Book Festival, which honors the best books of the late winter/spring.

Author Sarah Leamy’s “Van Life” (CreateSpace)  is the story of a writer who decides that there’s more to living than working retail and yearning for adventure. So it is that she takes two dogs and a cat on a rollicking trip through the back roads of the Northwest, stumbling across rural villages and a microbrewery or three. Her stories of the locals, the scenery and her family of animals are funny, poignant and ultimately a satisfying read for any armchair adventurer who dreams of doing something similar. Leamy and others in the competition will be honored in a private ceremony later this month.

 

Living The Dream: 9

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

DECEMBER: HOW TO

“I’m not sure, to be honest. Mark’s really good at improvising, that made it all a game, you know?” I reached down and petted Nelson’s head, reassuring myself.   “Mark just knew how to look at what we had lying around, and then create from that. He taught me a lot, that’s for sure. I’d not really built anything until we got to the land. I was the dreamer, the researcher, the teacher but he taught me how to play.”
“Your home became an art project then?” Angie sat back and finished her enchiladas. Jonnie was still eating but listening fully. It was good to talk. I hadn’t stopped yet.

“Yeah, I guess so. We had fun; making plans, playing with the materials. I love how our home was so, well, organic I guess. We didn’t really know what we needed until it became obvious. It was all so different to living in the nice little home in Olympia, gardening and watering with the hose, walking to town if we needed to pick up something. This was a whole new world for us. For me.”

I drifted off for a moment, picturing how Mark and I’d created such a home within months.

 

 

 

 

JULY: ART PROJECTS 101

 

 

“Are you sure that’s level, Jenny?”

I stepped back a few feet and looked again. It seemed pretty good to me and told him so. I walked around and checked from all the other angles. Yep, pretty good. I came back to the first post and took up my grip again. Mark let go of the four by four and grabbed his tools. A new cordless drill and a pocket full of screws made the boy so damn happy. He attached a crossbeam to another angled piece of two by four. The posts now stood up on their own. The porch was taking shape.

Impressive.

Next he had me hold more lumber in place as he screwed in the eight footers and tied it all together to make a basic framework for a roof. We’d dug the holes earlier in the day before it all got too hot. No cement but rocks and sand packed in tightly seemed to be enough to keep everything solid. Our plan was to build six uprights and create a frame of two by fours for a shed-like roof. On that we’d simply screw in the old eight foot sheets of corrugated tin that were stacked up near the driveway. Reuse and recycle had become our new mantra. In Santa Fe, Mark had discovered Habitat for Humanity where you could buy lightly used building supplies. It had become a favorite place to visit. Sinks, furniture, plumbing, electrical, you name it, they stocked it. Mark loved coming home from his errands with a box of screws that cost him only a dollar. Or that time he’d bought a kitchen cabinet made of old metal, absolutely rat proof and perfect for his next project. Yep, the homestead was coming along nicely and at a great price.
Mark set up a platform to stand upon by using his dad’s table. He started laying the lumber out for the next stage. I held pieces in place, trying to keep my face out of the direct sun. I didn’t want to look like some of the women around here. Much too wrinkled for my tastes.

“Can you go get some roofing for me?” Mark stood up on the table as he worked. “I’d say we can get this part done today and build the actual platform in the morning. What do you think? Are you up for another hour or so?”
“Sure, let’s get as much done as we can. I’ve still got some energy. I’ll go get you a sheet.” I wandered off down the dirt track and off to the right. Under another bunch of short stumpy trees I found the stack of old tin. I picked up a piece and brought it back to the school bus. I passed it up to him.

“This roof will make all the difference. Can’t you see us sitting on the deck for our morning coffee?” I was excited at seeing our first real building project come together.
Mark grunted as he worked. “Next time get a couple of sheets, okay?”
“Oh, right.”
Back and forth, I carried dirty, somewhat rusty, roofing. I set him up with what he needed, passing screws, tin, bottles of water. He worked. I helped. The roof was done. Nothing moved when I shook the posts. It all held firm.
“Good job.” I congratulated my boyfriend. “What do you need now?”
“A bath? A shower? A pizza and a beer.”
“Okay, let’s see. I have a beer for you. Does that work?”
He jumped back down and stood there admiring our work. He opened a beer and drank a good part of it before answering me. “That’s much better. Thanks. But what do you say to us staying in town tomorrow and getting a motel room?”
“Really? How decadent of us. I’d love it.”
He grinned and sat down in the shade of his new patio. He looked up at new roofing and nodded to himself. His shirt was drenched and his hair lay flat for once. The burnt toast color suited his face nicely. I stayed lobster pink, a rose by any other name.

“How about our goal is for finishing the deck tomorrow, putting across the wood to make some kind of platform, and making sure it won’t move in the wind? It won’t take me too long. I’ll probably be done by lunchtime and we can go to town after that and relax for the night.”
I sat next to him and leaned back. I gave him a short sweet kiss.

“When you do that, if you don’t need me, I want to get the painting done inside. It can air out when we’re away for the night. What do you think?”
“Yep, that works. But more importantly, what’s for dinner? I’m starving.”
I opened the cooler and rummaged around for a second, then pulled out the hot dogs and a pack of whole-wheat buns. Mark grinned.

“I think I need to eat something a bit healthier tomorrow night, but for now, no complaints. Do you need help? I’ll go wash up a bit if that’s okay?”

“Sure, go for it. I’ll make us a fire.”
He wandered off to the car and pulled out a five-gallon container of water. He filled a bucket, found his soap, and striped down to his boxers. He washed. I watched. It was a good evening at the homestead.

 

The night trickled along easily. We had a sweet routine of work, cook, drink, and then daydream. We’d chat about the different ideas for homes, and how could we do it, get a home base by winter? It was dawning on us both that this was a bigger project than imagined. He was growing into the idea of yurts and teepees and stuff like that, each being quick and easy to set up, even if you had to pay more upfront. I wanted us to build with stones taken from around the land, or even better to make adobes and create some funky weirdly shaped dome home. The labor-intensive options didn’t get his enthusiasm for some reason. We were chatting about compromising with a yurt that had straw bales set around the base for extra insulation when we saw flashing lights heading up our driveway.

We both stood up. Visitors? At this time of night?

Mark threw on a couple more logs so we could see what the hell was going on. Three large huge sounding trucks pulled up next to our campsite with their spotlights blinding us but I couldn’t see what was going on. Who were they? I shaded my eyes, unsure as to where to look or talk. A voice from the darkness spoke.

“Do you have a permit for that fire?”

A door opened and in the distance more vehicles rumbled down the driveway. For us?
“What’s going on? What do you mean, a permit?”

Mark walked into the light. I lost sight of him.

I felt naked in my shorts and tee shirt under the bright lights. I never had been one for standing on stage in front of strangers. I wanted the darkness back. I wanted the silence back.
The fire trucks kept their engines running. I moved into the shadows and tried to work out what was going on. Mark was surrounded by some ten firefighters in full gear. Helmets, boots, reflective coats, the lot. Radios beeped and voices bounced off each other.
“Didn’t I meet you the other day?”
I jumped and coughed. Next to me stood the man from the EMT vehicle in the parade.

“No, but I saw you at the Independence Day event. I caught a candy you threw.” I replied in surprise.
“Oh that’s right,” He smiled. He was smaller than I’d pictured, with a bit of a belly stuck out over his pants, and his skin hadn’t tanned like most peoples round here. But he was in uniform, what can I say? I liked uniforms. His dark hair was cut military style, and he had a salt and pepper moustache that didn’t make me laugh out loud. He smiled again. Perfect teeth. That must have cost his parents a fortune.

“I’m Graham. I’m with the Fire Department.”
“Jenny. I’m new to town. Welcome to my home.” and I blushed. It was too dark to tell, thankfully. I wanted to giggle. I stifled another cough instead.

“Have you ever thought to join the department? I could do with some sweet female energy. There.” He stepped closer. Nice aftershave.
“Really? You could? I mean, what do you need? At the department?” I didn’t tell him that I hate blood and can’t stand anything bigger than my campfire. ‘Hot’ scares me. He didn’t scare me. Well, not like that. His green eyes held me captive as he talked about volunteering. I had no idea as to what he said. I watched his mouth. Nice soft lips he had.

I suddenly realized that a couple of men were throwing dirt on our fire. They stood around in a group and with shovels in hand, messed up our very nice new fire-pit. I was  none too impressed.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” I stood between them and the smothered flames.
Mark jumped in and explained to me how there was a countywide ban of open fires. The wild fire risks were too great, he’d been told. In the Jemez Mountains some fifty thousand acres had already burnt up this summer. Everyone was scared. Especially as they were all waiting for the monsoon season to kick in.

“No more fires for us, eh?” He smiled nervously. “And if their boss shows up, we’re in trouble. They’d have to give us a ticket. But since we’re new and haven’t been here long enough to hear about that kind of fire ban, we’re okay this time. The Fire Officer told me it’s a fine if we get caught with another fire. Bummer eh?” He whispered and stared behind me, “Hey, honey, who’s that watching us?”
I turned to see the Graham head back towards the Fire Engines. A couple of men, and I think one woman, walked up to him.

“Hey Chief. Are we done yet?” someone asked him.
“Yes, let’s call it in and go back to Oliver. Did you make sure the fire’s out?”

“Yes sir.”
Graham waved at us both politely and climbed up into the lead vehicle. The other volunteers came and shook our hands first, almost apologetic for disturbing us, and they too left.
We stood in the dark and watched their lights grow smaller and smaller, with no sounds but for an owl to keep us company.

“Bedtime, I guess?”

Awards! Contests! Festivals! 

http://www.greatnorthwestbookfestival.com/

The Great Northwest Book Festival just honored my book VAN LIFE as the Grand Winner of their 2017 contest! I’m thrilled and delighted! They’re covering the cost of the flight out from NM to the awards dinner in LA and even are giving me an appearance fee. Bruce, who wrote to me, wrote: “Congratulations on a fun and page-turning read. Definitely one of the most fun reads I’ve seen in a while.”

http://www.greatnorthwestbookfestival.com/ for a link to their winners’ page.

For me, entering contests and festivals is a chance to find new readers as it’s mostly been word of mouth, going to events, chatting up strangers and handing off books and business cards. The opportunity of a book festival award opens more doors, tells others that my stories are compelling and that self-pubishing works. It does. I’m doing much better for myself these days although I’ll be honest, it’s a small time business, locally focused.

My goal then for this year? To find an agent. To have a chance at getting my books known nationally and internationally – it’s doable since I have a small steady following of readers here in the US and in Europe. I just need to build on that. And I will.

Solo Travels: Tips for women

http://www.fempotential.com/scared-solo-female-traveler/

“Aren’t you scared?”

Just yesterday a friend asked me if I ever got scared camping on my own, travelling on my own. No. I don’t. There’s more to it than that, but simply put, no, camping on my own is where I am happiest and most relaxed. In towns, in cities, surrounded by people, traffic, noise, music, talking for the sake of filling in the silence, no, that is not where I relax.

Last year, I had the honor of being a panelist on a discussion about the art of solo travels. Overland Expo West 2016 had almost 10,000 people all interested in vehicle dependent travels, whether local or worldwide; we all were there to get inspired.

To hear the stories from others who just have the wanderlust in their blood like I do was reassuring for me. I’ve been settled for too long now, and I’m restless again. I have been for the last few years, working towards getting on the road again.

That weekend at Overland Expo, I talked about crossing the States at 22 years old, hitch hiking with a small backpack and no credit cards or money, just following my distracted ideas of what to do next. I talked about riding my 1976 Yamaha XS750 across the Midwest repeatedly even though it would break down every other day, street performing in Guatemala, and driving the high elevation passes in Colorado in a 1973 VW Beetle. I never knew what to expect — these stories are part of me. I lost my two front teeth in Tarancon, Spain. I woke up on a train in Switzerland, not quite sure which country I was in. Hitched to the Munich beer festival. And yes, I travel alone. And I like it.

I admit, I once traveled with someone. It was 1989. Steve joined me in Chicago, a friend from my small hometown. I was walking down the streets in the city, knowing we’d find each other somehow but since neither of us had phones or hotel rooms, it would be a challenge. I walked with my backpack clunking away against my hips when I saw Steve sitting on a bench smoking. I sat down next to him and took his smoke.

We crossed to Maine, New York, Washington; we took trains, hitched, and then stayed at random homes of the families we met along the way. It wore me out. Steve let me make all the decisions. It wore me out. The responsibility. The constant discussions as to what we would eat that night, where we would sleep.

There have been other moments, a week here and there, spent on a road trip with a friend, but nothing as extended as that initial travel with Steve, bless him. Since then, I tend to go off on my own, I’m happier that way.

You see, it’s that on my own, I’m free to follow my nose, or rather the signs that capture my attention. It’s usually the ones that say ‘lake’ or ‘4wd only”, and off I go. I generally have a loose plan, places I’d like to visit if I’m in the area. I set a few goals, for small weeklong trips and for the extended travels. These days with the Internet, I plan a lot more, looking at photos, reading forums, and asking for suggestions. Whether I follow the ideas, that’s another story. I tend to forget to read my own notes.

 

Since I’ve done a bit of everything, backpacking, hitching, motorcycles, busses, trains, VWs, trucks and now a van I’ve learned that I have to be aware of what I bring. Packing has become more complicated nowadays, as two dogs and a cat come with me. I’ve made a short list for this latest configuration, and with the idea in mind that I might have to abandon ship (van) in an emergency, all the necessary items must fit in a small backpack too. I can leave the rest. I have before, in a dead VW bus in the middle of nowhere Missouri. I never did see that red camper again. I miss that van. Oh, well. But it was an adventure…

I love that I can eat what I like and when I like. Frito pie for breakfast? Bacon sandwich before bed? Chocolate? Cheese and crackers? Veggies and eggs? Whatever I like, when I like. It’s wonderful and one of the biggest perks for me.

As a solo traveler, I interact much more with locals. Since they appreciate how trusting I am, it’s always come back to me that these strangers treat me with the same level of trust.

As a twenty-two-year-old, I was hitching through Wisconsin, heading north to catch a ferry across to Michigan. My destination was a tiny village along the small blue highways in the Midwest. A truck pulled over, and two men started chatting to me. Two men and myself as a young woman? I talked to them, the father and son, and they offered a ride, but first they wanted to call ‘Mother’ and ask about dinner. I listened in as one of them chatted away, grinned, and said it was okay with her but I had to agree to come over to meet her! We ended up sharing a meal, they put me in the son’s bedroom, and dropped me off at the ferry in the morning, after introducing me to the Ferry Master. Safe? Yes, I remember them so clearly all these years later.

You see, I’m curious. The people I meet and their stories feed me. I also found that when I first crossed the States alone that many families I met wanted my stories of other states, places, towns, ones they had never visited themselves. My anecdotes of their own country paved the way for their hospitality. It was a trade in a sense. The armchair travelers got to explore their own country through me.

But I have to admit, I’m not very safe. I go places I shouldn’t. No one really knows where I am these days. I follow roads, conversations, and dreams. I have no back-up plans. I take risks. I fly by the seat of my pants and all without a safety net. I like it. Traveling like this wakes me up. Opens me up. To answer the question I started with, have I ever been scared? A couple of times. That’s all. First was when I had to get myself back from the South of France as an eighteen-year-old who’d been fired from her nanny job. I had a passport and a plastic bag of clothes. No money. No credit cards. And this was before cell phones, not that I would have called my parents, I preferred to get back and then tell them. I didn’t like to worry them! Poor buggers. I stowed away on a train, stole food, had a guard try to rape me, smashed him in his privates, and locked myself in a bathroom on the train. That was the first big solo trip and the sense of achievement at the end was incomparable: “I can improvise. I can get out of trouble. I should keep traveling!”

And I have. Looking back, even in the last ten years of ‘settling’, I took a ferry back from Alaska and a salmon cannery down the Canadian coast, camped all over the Southwest, spent three months in the Northwest, took a winter living on communes in North Carolina and Tennessee, rode my motorcycle across Wales and Ireland, studied in San Francisco, and had many other random shorter trips in the States. Not bad, not bad…

In my twenties, I just traveled without thought, it was an addiction, a need. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few months. I settled for a while but that addiction has kicked back in. I built a home, worked, settled and now the last few years, the need to explore new places has taken over.

If you haven’t traveled alone before though, you’d need to ask yourself: Where are you happiest? How do you spend your days? Are you mostly surrounded by friends and co-workers? Or do you work alone? Live alone? What are your social needs in other words? Think about what stresses you out and what makes you relax. For me, time without words, yes, I know, ironic since I’m a writer, but still, empty heads talking at each other wears me out. I like silence. I like mountains. And I like the company of animals more than people. But that’s me…and then after a couple of days alone, I love to sit and chat to friends and strangers alike. I have the energy and desire to hear their stories. To tell mine. To connect. Knowing yourself is one of the amazing benefits of solo travels, you have to take care of yourself and you will. There’s no one else.  Each time, I learn new rhythms and routines that are mine, pure and simple.

Close friends still ask, how do you find meaning when you have no one to share the experiences with? But I do. I write. I photograph. And simply sitting next to a lake in the mountains alone with my dogs, I know that our world is magical, stunningly beautiful whether I am there or not. I am a very small speck in a huge world and that is reassuring to me. I relax.

There is an art to solo traveling and the more I travel alone, the more I appreciate nature and the random conversations with people I meet. I am not afraid. I am open to life and adventures…and after doing this since I was a teenager much to my mum’s horror, I’m getting the hang of it. Finally. The question for me is where next? And when?

To hear more about Sarah Leamy’s solo travels, check out her book, Bring a Chainsaw & Other Stories From My Solo Travels

Solo traveler Sarah Leamy shares why she loves to solo travel and why it doesn't scare her to see the world alone.

 

Living The Dream: Chapter 3

DECEMBER: CAMPING

The sun woke me. Nelson poked his nose under the covers and scooted closer against my shivering sleeping bag clad body. He sniffled contentedly as his warmth seeped through the layers of blankets and I laughed. The sun peeked over the mountain, and steam rose from the lake in front. The frost on the windows shimmered as it faded and dripped. The fire pit beckoned.

“Coming out, Nelson?” I sat up and grabbed the jacket and hunter’s cap. Nelson claimed the pillow instead and wagged his tail. “Okay, okay, you just warm yourself while I make the fire, get the coffee going and fry up some eggs, is that it?”
Thump. Thump. Nelson smiled his doggy smile as I opened the door and climbed out. The only problem with the 4Runner? You can’t open the tailgate from inside. I can live with that though.
Ravens flew overhead, crowing to each other as they swooped and soared in the light breeze. I shivered but poked at the embers. I added some old pinecones, yesterday’s newspaper, and a handful of small sticks. The fire took within minutes. I set the grate over the rocks and prepped the coffee pot. With chores done, I settled back on the tailgate.

I’d woken only the once during the night. Well, Nelson woke me. Another nightmare, I guess. He’d nudged his wet nose in my face until I took a deep breath and woke. Thump. Thump. I recalled reliving my memories of Mark and living in the hills together, walking along the arroyo to the school bus. The overnight solstice party at Andrew’s home with all that live folk music. Louise’s dogs greeting me on my weekly volunteering visit with her rescue. My heart broke to think I could lose all that.
I shook myself free of the images and tied my hair back into a loose ponytail. The coffee pot farted its readiness and I used the jacket sleeve to grab and put it onto the campsite’s concrete table, my new kitchen. I moved aside a crate of canned soups, snacks, teas, and cooking supplies. I poured out a mugful and added cream and honey. My days always start in such comfort if I can help it.

Nelson groaned softly then jumped out and ran down to the lake and drank deeply. Then he peed into the lake.

“Hey, bud, you hungry?”

Nelson bounded up, ears flat and tail wagging, and I passed down a full bowl of kibble. I’m constantly amazed at how much this boy can put away.
“What should we do today, then? Head west? Or simply find somewhere warmer than here? Like Arizona, you think? I wish I hadn’t forgotten the map at that tavern but oh well eh? I can fake it. The truck will take us wherever we want, and in comfort too, right boy?”

Nelson burped and sat down at my feet, staring into the hills around us, as if looking for someone.

“I know, I know, I miss Frida too.” Nelson looked up at me, hearing her name, but his ears drooped and he lay down across my boots unhappily.

In the bus together last summer, Mark had liked to sleep in with the dogs, but not me. Up and out early for me, sitting on the porch, watching the birds cruise the neighborhood, listening for the coyotes in the hills. Grabbing my journal, I wrote a few phrases remembered from the day before, just my passing thoughts, little reminders of sights and sounds on the road, just the two us, a girl and her dog. Those short interactions at the gas stations. The conversation with Salty Dan at the tavern in Farmington, meeting his wife, and talking of books we’ve loved. Finding the cemetery at the end of the national forest road, one that was in memory of firefighters who’d lost their lives protecting a nearby village. The eagle in the ponderosa. The snakeskin on the boulder at the signpost for this campsite. I made notes about Mark too, his comments that still hurt, and the ones I could answer now, too late I know. I carried this book with me, in the jacket, with a notebook of tasks to be taken care of if I decided to stay in Oliver. If I decided to make a go of living alone in the bus in a small community like that. I didn’t yet know, didn’t know if I had it in me. To go back or to see everyone again.

I stood and gulped back the last of the coffee.

“Ready yet, fella? Ready for a walk?”