Tag Archives: father

Haven Winter Series #3

For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. This is the third post, written by Katie Crane and Sharley Bryce.

Haven by Katie Crane

As I remember it, Laura asked us to write two pieces, one fictionalized, one true, in the manner of diary entries written the day the events occurred. After reading our pieces aloud, the group would guess which story was real and which fabricated. At the retreat’s outset, I decided to use as many exercises as possible to write about my father, who had died five years earlier. I still harbor grief about his death, and I figured writing about him might help me process it. Of the two pieces I wrote for this exercise, the first could have occurred but did not. It involved my dad driving in a violent rainstorm trying to disguise his fear of the conditions by telling me a story about one of his life insurance clients who had undergone a sex change. My dad actually had such a client, and he actually did revise umpteen documents to note the change from Dale to Deborah. My dad also drove through his share of rainstorms, and when I was present, he always would try to mask his anxiety by acting calm and distracting us both with a story. But my dad didn’t tell me about Dale/Deborah while simultaneously driving through a rainstorm. Could have happened but didn’t.

My other piece—well, that’s a different matter entirely.

I wrote about my dad’s final night, as my older brother, his wife, my husband and I stood vigil in the hospital. That night was one of the most poignant experiences of my life; I remember it with unparalleled clarity. What struck me most was his sense of acceptance—of his life’s accomplishments or lack thereof, of life itself and thus the necessity of death. My dad always had feared his own mortality, so much so that he’d had a nervous breakdown five years prior at the prospect of radical surgery for his prostate cancer. Yet I believe my dad, by that final evening, had achieved a measure of peace with death. I like to imagine it was because he had two of his four children by his side and possessed a sense that his life, however it had turned out and regardless of his successes or failures, was enough. I will cherish that night for the rest of my days, because it allowed me to see a man formerly plagued by fear—a man I resemble in many respects—achieve peace. It showed me serenity is possible, and that is the greatest gift he ever gave me.

Everyone in the group guessed that the latter story was true.

I was able to realize the meaning of my father’s gift through writing about it at Haven. Haven allowed me to crystallize the experience and turn it into a narrative. Further, it highlighted that by learning to translate one’s experiences into authentic narratives, there is a way to achieve peace and freedom in this lifetime. That, dear Haven, was your gift to me.

Haven by Sharley Bryce

Circling memories come and go of times and places and companions.  One memorable experience came to me recently. To this day, I ponder just how it all got started.   After reading a book I couldn’t put down, but didn’t want to finish either; at the end, I held it in my hands in total reflection. The author, Laura Munson, was pictured, and my sense was that she was someone I already knew.  I think I emailed her to thank her. Some time passed. What stayed with me was how honest the book was. When I decided to attend her writing retreat in Montana, I was filled with the anticipation of meeting someone as honest as I think I am, and finding out how to put real life thoughts into words and down on paper.

Participants’ names and email addresses were sent to us, so, I picked one and wrote her to meet up and arrive together. At the airport, I heard my name and turned, and there was a younger woman with sparkly eyes so happy to meet me!  We went to the grocery store to select snack items.  I wondered if you can tell anything about a person by what snacks they enjoy.  Was I worried I wouldn’t relate to the people?  It wasn’t fear of the unknown as much as it was curiosity about just what the next four days were going to be like, and the reach for myself.

Once at the ranch, after getting settled, there was a unique mix of individuals watching and waiting.  The ambiance was comforting: wood paneled walls, a fireplace, comfortable chairs, a sun porch, and another long narrow room with a wall of windows looking out to a lake, and… a piano!  Amazing smells came out of the kitchen overlooking a tended garden of vegetables, herbs and flowers.  I was struck that my feelings were more of excited anticipation than of expectation.  This was going to be interesting!

The ensuing days were devoted to writing prompts that were timed, sharing around the circle reading aloud to one another what we wrote, and spending time outdoors.  Reading my most heartfelt piece, about loneliness, I looked up to find three women sitting on the floor just near me, quietly weeping.  Little did I know this kind of connection could happen because of something I wrote!

Growing up, I had done lots of horseback riding, but nothing and no one had prepared me for the special experience of being in a field surrounded by horses that had never been ridden.  Unafraid, they would approach and stand, majestic, seemingly grateful for the closeness.  My very first thought was, these are animals, but they are spirited just as we are, and capable of so much love and connection!  Unbridled, they were calm but totally aware of our presence.  Up close, their eyes looked human and their soft nostrils were like velvet!  With a wand in my hand, my chosen horse followed me!  For those amazing minutes we were in tandem, and all was right in our world. Parting with the horses that day was sweet sorrow….

The following day was the next to the last day. By now people knew each other. We would share stories, drink wine,  enjoy healthy food and stand around the piano together. That morning we all went outside to take group pictures.  The weather had turned misty and it seemed fitting for the mood of our departure from this magical place. We took our shoes off each time we came inside.  On the last morning, I went outside for one last look around.  There were all the shoes on the top step, nine pairs of them! Each was different, some of them boots, some of them running shoes, different colors and sizes.  They were just there the way they were left, some upright, some on their sides, still and quiet, waiting for the energy to fill them and move them on.  I was going to miss that energy, that relating to me in my life. And I was going to miss the hearts and souls of the women whose quiet trust and confidence had inspired me in ways I would continue to discover.  Their love of honest expression in words we shared in common, and we shared much more than that.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #16

Such comfort from a front stoop in the snowy woods...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Having experienced much of this entry, I write in tears and thank Laurie Wajda for spreading her father’s light to those who read it here.  Thank you, and blessings to your family.  yrs. Laura

Community: Long Ago by Laurie Wajda

I love to read Laura Munson’s blog.  That’s not a plug, it’s true.  Reading her is like sitting with an old friend, chatting over a hot cup of cocoa. So when I read about her new contest, I was excited to hear from not only her, but others who would submit to her as well.  We’re all of the same breed, I think.  Reading the stories submitted is easy as a cool summer breeze.

I live in the sticks, as we call it.  In the middle of nowhere.  So when I heard the topic was “community” I thought—What would I do with that?—and had no intention of submitting this year.

I just sat back and waited for the others:  Waited to read about people who had others around them, with them, to lean on and comfort them if they so needed, teach them things…  I waited because I didn’t know what community was about, nor did I think I would find myself one any time soon.

And then I got the call.

My father has always been the strongest man I know.  (And, I may add, he’s made of pure love.)  I can’t remember a time he was ever sick—except that once when I was in fifth grade and he had a hernia operation, and had to sleep in the Lazy Boy for a week or so.  Since then, it’s been smooth sailing.  So, last week, when I was riding in the ambulance with him, and the paramedics asked about his medications and other ailments, I had nothing.  They just looked at me, as do the doctors now, like I have two heads.

You see, the paramedics and doctors, they look at him as an eighty-six year old man–one who is sick and frail and can’t get up to pee on his own.  They don’t see the man who was pushing his own lawnmower until it started to snow.  Or the guy who opens and closes his own in ground pool every year, and vacuums it all summer long.  They don’t see the man who served in WWII and then raised five children, helping them fight battles of their own all along the way.  No–they don’t see that at all.  But we do.  His family. His friends.  His community.

Turns out my father had a brain bleed, and has left us all bleeding from our very souls.

Bing.  Bing. Bing…  I sit and listen to the monitors and the buzzers, and the bells, and it’s hard to believe I’m sitting here at all.  We’ve met with doctors who first told us it was  caused by a cancer that has spread throughout his body, through his organs. Then they told us how his case is “puzzling,” that we still have hope because they might not be right at all… It might be an infection, or a blood disease, or benign…. And then he has a brain tumor… And each time they change their story and rip the rug from underneath us, we come together, closer, our little community, and we pray.

As I sit by his bedside, the emails and instant messages pour in on the technology we can all not live without.    Support.  Prayers.  Positive thoughts.  Daily, the texts roll in from old friends who heard, new friends who care, family I haven’t seen in years.  My nephew admits—he never knew he had such a support system behind him until he really needed it.  I concur. And now we know.

Right now, this is our community.  We are our community.  Family.  Friends. Neighbors.  People from Church.  People from Facebook, and Twitter, ones whom I have never laid eyes on are praying. We don’t all live in the same place–some from across the country or the globe.  But we all have the same goal, same thoughts, same prayers.  What brings us all together is love.

We pray for recovery, we pray they are wrong, we pray they will give us a definitive answer so we can fix it. We laugh because he keeps telling us he’s fine, we cry because we know he’s not, and then we pray, each of us in our own way, some more.  Our new little community, born of love.

Frequently in the last week I’ve asked myself–How do you go from sitting and laughing at dinner ten days ago to this?  How does this happen?  Tumultuous emotions. Rollercoaster rides.  Sleep deprivation.  Looking up on the way here the other day, I gave God the finger – how dare He?

And then later in a moment of my own solitude I apologized and asked for forgiveness, and serenity, and love.

My family, we’ve learned in the last ten days, not all things are fixable.  But as the days pass, we’ve learned to lean on each other a little bit more, to rely on each other’s strength that eminently came from our father, our grandpa, our friend.  We know that whatever hits us next, whatever bricks are thrown, we can face it together.

Our family has come together in a way I’ve never seen.  We are one. We have a bond that I’m sure was there but had never solidified.  My father is our core, our backbone.

Taking turns, I wait in the waiting room, waiting to see my daddy, listening to the buzzers and bells drifting in from other rooms: Rooms filled with others like my dad.  And I wonder if they are lucky as us?  Do they have the same support, strength, love, family, friends, neighbors?  Do they have communities behind them, wishing them well?   I hope so.  It would only seem fair.

And, being my father’s daughter, I can only pray they do.

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #11

These boots and my head lamp are my new best friends...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

It is so wonderful to check in every-so-often from my winter dance with a novel I’ve longed to write for years.  And to see how all you beautiful people are creating community here at These Here Hills.  Thank you.  I’ll be back when the red-winged blackbirds tell me it’s time to come out of this creative hybernation.  Enjoy this inspiring piece by Erika Putnam, last year’s contest winner!

Tracks In The Snow,  by Erika Putnam

Snow was gently falling from the late afternoon sky. Desert sage surrounded me in almost every direction.  It was a slow mile hike from the truck to the top of this ridge where I was now crouched down behind a rock.  My fingers were starting to get cold.   I was wearing three shirts and a down Patagonia pullover underneath my camouflage woolies to keep out the New Year’s Day chill.  About three feet to my left my dad was peaking over another boulder scouring the brush for life. Suddenly, the wailing began.  It was a shrill, frightening sound of death.  It shrieked, it screeched, it unraveled my insides.  Oh, how I wanted it to stop.  There was a bullet in the chamber and I was ready to fire.

Since early morning we had been driving the back roads looking for cat tracks in the snow.  We were lucky there was new snowfall.  It made it easier to catch a fresh trail.  My dad had arranged for a buddy to be on call with his dogs just in case we found a fresh track.  I have done some tracking with my dad over the years, but not for cougar. This was new and I needed some coaching.  “They have huge paws and you can’t mistake their tracks” my dad said.  For the first few miles of driving I stopped at almost every paw print to ask “how about this one”?  I quickly got the hang of recognizing the abundant coyote and jack rabbit tracks.  He continued to reassure me “you will know it when you see it, they are huge”.

Turns out you have to cover a lot of territory to uncover a fresh cat track.  At the point the rabbit tracks got thick across the road my dad decided we should temporarily abandon the lion hunt and call in coyotes.   We would perch at the top of a hill, hiding behind some sagebrush or a rock and then dad would sneak over and set up a noisemaking contraption about twenty feet away.  This technical hunting devise is the shape of a large flashlight with a bunch of knobs and digital readouts on the side with an attached wagging piece of cloth that looks like a Daniel Boone hat.  I referred to it as “that damned Foxtracker noise making son of a bitch”.  My dad is seventy two years old and frankly he doesn’t hear well. I had to wonder if he had any idea how obnoxious that thing sounded?   He just played it loud and clear for the whole valley to hear.   He says it works and the yotes come running if you let it scream long enough.  Evidently, they come running so fast that sometimes they almost run right over the top of you. When he talks about shooting coyotes with a shotgun he gets to chuckling and giggling and is just so pleased with himself.  He says the look of surprise on their faces when they realize they have been suckered is hilarious.  It must be funny because he just laughs and laughs.  Not a sick, mean laugh but more of school boy victory laugh.

Since this was my first tracking adventure in the snow and we were just driving around looking out the window and talking I started asking questions.   I asked “how much do you get for a coyote pelt”?  “Fifteen dollars” he replied.  He goes on to tell me it takes him thirty minutes to skin one but the guy down at the trapping shop can do it in five.  I find out a bobcat is worth eight hundred to twelve hundred dollars.  “Ooooooh” I say, “where can we find one of those?” Then I find out there is another scream setting on the “son of a bitch call” that we can use to call bobcats.  Dad tells me a wolf pelt is worth two hundred to five hundred dollars and that the Fish and Game report shows over sixty kills this year within two hours of here.  I keep asking questions and he enjoys sharing his hunting knowledge with me.

Farm and ranch real estate has been my father’s occupation but he loves the outdoors and has been an avid outdoorsman, hunter and a hunting guide.  He loves wild sheep the most. There is a small population of wild sheep within an hour’s drive of his ranch.  There is a problem with the cougars killing the wild sheep and the population is in danger.  For him, cougar hunting is sport but he also has a real concern for conserving the wild sheep populations.

I enjoy his knowledge of the hunt and I know that he has so many stories in him that I haven’t heard.  I wish I knew more.  I am afraid that I won’t remember them.  I am afraid of not knowing this man completely in the time we have left together. For an old guy, my dad is fit, healthy and can do some yoga moves I haven’t mastered yet.  I have no reason to worry about his health but I am keenly aware that our time together may not be as long as I would like it to be.  I want to treasure the time we have together and if this is how I get him, one on one, then, a hunting we will go.  That’s the title of a song he used to sing to my little sister and me when we were young.  “A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go, we’ll catch a fox and put-him-in-a-box …and then we’ll let him go”.

On this New Year’s Day I could be taking down Christmas decorations and putting memories in red and green totes.  Instead, I am patiently sitting in the snow in the freezing cold with my father listening to the scream of a dying rabbit call hoping to get run over by a coyote. I am hoping to see delight in my father’s face.  I am hoping to become and rank among one of the hunting stories he tells to his friends when they stand around their campfires.

This hunting might not be for everyone.  Sometimes I am not sure that it’s for me.  Together my dad and I have hunted bear, caribou, deer, moose, pheasant, ducks, and geese.  When I was ten we were hunting ducks and stumbled upon a porcupine high in a tree. He wanted me to shoot it.  So, I did.  It was the first thing I killed.  I just wanted to tell it I was sorry.  And, in some way I was proud.   Hunting can be a mixed bag of emotions for a girl. It took me a while to understand that hunting is not about killing.  My father had to teach me that.  It’s about making memories and being together in circumstances and places that are unpredictable, thrilling and sometimes discouraging.  It’s how you weather the hunt together.  It’s how you show regard and reverence when you do make a kill and when you don’t.  Truth be known, I have come to love the thrill of the hunt just like him.

I sense sweet winter stillness between the bawling dying rabbit calls.  There is no movement anywhere and I can see my breath.  I have on a camouflage head net and I can barely see out because this is the garb you wear hiding from yotes.  It is the official disguise.  When we hunt I do whatever my dad tells me to do.  I am an independent forty four year old woman but in the field I let my independence go.

I feel protected with my dad.  He has guided me through a lot of unfamiliar territory.  Every step I take with him on a hunting trip I feel like I am being guided.  I entrust him with my safety and I succumb to following.  Following, in many respects, is not my nature but in the great outdoors with him I enjoy this dynamic.  It fills me with humility and pride at the same time.  He has been my hunting guide and my life’s guide, whether we take a trophy or not.

Sitting with him in this quiet closeness I am present to life’s seasons, including ours.   I notice that he tells some stories twice. I notice that he is more patient with life and I notice that he is gentle.   In the stillness without the world chirping in my ear I can take in the quiet.  I can take in the day and I have time to notice the beauty of small details like the rust colored lichen on the bottom
of the sagebrush.  I notice the seriousness of this hunt for my dad. And, I notice when he lets out a disappointing “ugh” when the coyotes don’t run to our call.  I think to myself how much he wants this hunt to be a success. He wants me to think he is a “good guide” and he wants us to take home a story about today.  Perhaps, a story about tracking down a cat with his daughter. Sunset was on its way and signaled us to call it a day.  It’s hard to give up when you’ve been skunked.  But we were out of daylight and couldn’t stay for another “ten minutes”. We threw our guns over our shoulders and headed the mile back to the truck.  There was just the sound of the top layer of snow crunching beneath my clunky snow boots as I walked ahead of my dad.   I began to worry about getting my truck stuck on our way out.  With each step I was taking back on the cares of the world.  It was my turn to guide my dad safely home.  And then, suddenly, I just turned around and said “I love you dad”.  I walked back and gave him a big hug.  Gun to gun, camo to camo.  We might not have found cat tracks, but because of him, in more ways than one, I still believe I will know it when I see it.  And when I find it I sure hope is with me to hunt it down.

 

 

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Fourth of July Blues

(for Dad)

Who are you on the Fourth of July? Pyromaniac? Misty-eyed, singing along with a military choir? Are you throwing candy from a firetruck in a parade? Clapping for ah-ooo-gah and politicians you’ve never heard of and senior citizens who fought in wars before you were born and kids on bikes with red white and blue streamers in their spokes? Are you in a sundress, catching fireflies on a golf course, a Dixieland jazz band in the distance? Drinking your first beer on a beach with a boy a few yards away from a band of laughing suntanned grownups eating fried chicken? Are you lying on your back on an old football blanket gazing up at the firework finale, wishing it wasn’t about to be all over?

Where are you now? Are you getting ready to make the myth come true in fireworks and potato salad, hoisting that flag, setting that picnic table, tapping that keg, digging up some John Phillip Sousa?

Or are you like me: a child inside a grown-up, missing her father like crazy. Missing his sunburned forehead and this dry thick hand holding yours extra hard when the fireworks are like chandeliers in the humid midwestern sky. Maybe his breath smells a little like gin. Maybe he whispers into your ear, “I’m a sucker for the Fourth of July.” Maybe you don’t want to be a grown up. Maybe you just want to be a kid, at home, in the midwest. Maybe you cry on the 4th of July. Dread it, even. Maybe no parade is ever the same without your dad. Maybe sometimes we write to cry because we need to cry. Maybe we can cry through a parade and a firework display and no one will notice for our sunglasses and then the dark night. Maybe holidays without the ones we shared them with as kids don’t have to be happy. And we can call it good. Maybe the poppies popping in the garden are all the fireworks we need.

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