April 2023 Story Sparks

On Easter morning while Rupert and I walked beside desert walls lined with bougainvillea, a large blue heron whooshed its wings above us landing on a palm tree frond. He looked precarious on such a slender strand. I guess the heron trusted not in the frond but in his own wings should he prove too heavy.

It took me back to a blue heron who nested in our airplane hangar at the ranch. It used to fly out unexpectedly swooping over my head making me gasp as it dragged its legs against the sky on its flight to the John Day River. Our encounter always caused a pause in whatever I was doing, reminding me to take note of the small treasures offered in a chaotic world, telling me that I was connected to more than purpose. That’s what happened on Easter morning for me too: I lifted my eyes from a puppy learning to “stop, sit” whenever I halted, to instead saying “yes” to what was above. Surely that is a metaphor for living in these times. It brings to mind the Psalmist words to “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s the “be still” part I don’t often pay attention to, always “Doing something.” That heron took me to a moment of awe, and then to saying yes to stillness.

Saying “yes” is not often easy. Not only “yes” to stillness but to accepting gifts from others. Next month we will move back to Central Oregon (we’ll keep our seasonal California coach in a 55 and older community). In May, we’ll be living in Redmond where I first lived when I came to Oregon in 1974. Full circle. We haven’t physically seen the home but accepted the kindness of friends who visited with the real estate agents to check it out, noted the fenced back yard for Rupie’s antics, and the solidness of the place just five years old, on a cul-de-sac. They even met the neighbors and rated them A plus. Then they set about finding a guest room bed for us as we’d sent the one we had back to Minnesota. They’ll also go in and set up shelving in the garage once the painting is finished.

Then another “yes” though not at first. My niece and her family where we are storing our Oregon furniture while we decided whether to move permanently to California or not, offered to set up the Redmond house for us. Unpack the boxes. Put dishes in the cupboards. “Oh, no, that would be too much!” That’s what I told her. Secretly I worried that their offer was too generous. It would use up their day off. And they’d see my underwear.

Jerry’s daughter said “It’s easier setting up someone else’s house rather than your own. You don’t have to ask at every item, ‘where should this go?’ Or ‘why did we keep this?’” Of course we’d have to search for things once we arrived but that could be like looking for Easter eggs, surprised by the discoveries. But I still wavered. Letting someone do something for us like that felt decadent. I mean I have time. I could do it myself. A friend said “They think you’re old and unpacking would be too much.” So I need to say no, to prove that I’m capable of closing up our California home, driving nearly 1000 miles, looking after Jerry, training a puppy, unpacking a household and preparing for a presentation in Aurora.

But then a heron’s flight. “Be still.” And perhaps say “yes” to offers of kindness. Don’t go back and forth with yes or no. Let your acceptance be a gift to others who want to do something for you. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” Matthew 5:37 tells us if we’re followers of scripture. Stress lies in the in-between.

And so on May 1st, while we are packing suitcases in California, the College H.U.N.K.S With a Truck will deliver our stuff to our new household. Relatives and friends will set about making sure when we arrive a week later that there’ll be a bed made up, dishes in the cupboard, toilet paper on the rolls. And I’ll have a lesson in acceptance and the importance of being still. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Risking Failure
I’m risking failure when I told my film agent — at her request — that I’d try to write a screenplay for The Healing of Natalie Curtis. Just the computer program is intimidating! But it’s been energizing to work on Acts and Scenes and find the nuggets of a story I truly loved researching and writing. Then as confirmation first a writer friend called to say she’d been working on a screenplay and directed me to some resources. And another sign that Natalie should still be in my life: I received an amazing letter from a descendant who has become the family keeper of the story. He sent not only kind words but photos of family artifacts and ephemera (I love that word! — meaning parts of an historical record that are not documents or maps). I could read letters Natalie wrote, that George her brother wrote, too, see a family Chinese bowl, look at the great nephew’s library of books related to the amazing life of Natalie Curtis. We’ve been writing back and forth. I’ve encouraged him to write his memoir as he is a wonderful narrator of his story and Natalie’s place within it.

Will anything come of my writing efforts? I have no idea. But as Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” It may not be success in writing at all but somewhere else. I’m looking through a new lens after all these years. No matter where you are today, I hope you will consider picking back up even in the midst of disappointment and yes, stepping over the possibility of failure.

Letitia Carson Legacy Project Update
Wonderful events are happening for the ongoing telling of Letitia Carson’s story. She’s the African-American woman who in the 1850s won two law suits in Oregon at a time when people of color were not allowed to even testify against a white person. Just recently an elementary school in Corvallis renamed their  to the Letitia Carson Elementary School. It’s a fabulous story. My version is in A Light in the Wilderness.

You have a chance to advance that story as the Letitia Carson Legacy Project is working toward. That non-profit has now been included in the Oregon State University’s global giving day, April 26. Called Damproudday.org it’s a traditional event lasting 24 hours. Alumni are the biggest givers — those Beavers. That’s OSU’s mascot. But you can contribute too. Resources will support the traveling exhibit, continuing the archeological dig at the site of her homestead, and continued outreach to schools and the community creating “a culture of Belonging, Collaboration and Innovation.” Any amount will help. For more information visit www.damproudday.org. And don’t forget to read the book!

May 13 – 11:00 am – Old Aurora. Colony, Aurora, OR. This is year 20 that many of you have joined with me for the day-before-Mother’s Day event. Emma Geisy was an amazing woman who helped build a Utopian community in Oregon after experiencing failure and loss in Washington Territory. She’s an inspirational soul that I’ll be talking about. There’ll be a light lunch, a presentation about gardens and a tour of the herb garden at the colony and a book signing. See www.auroracolony.org for details of time and costs for this fund-raising event. Treat your mom (or daughter and son) to a day in beautiful Aurora. Hopefully both Jerry and Rupert will join me.

May 21, 2:00 pm – Linn County Historical Society, Lakeside Center of Mennonite Village, 2180 54th Ave, SE, Albany, OR. An event about the Mother of Oregon, Tabitha Moffat Brown. Stafford Hazlett, a descendant, will join me with fabulous details of the famous rather disastrous trip as 66 year-old Tabitha in 1846 took the fatal Applegate cutoff that nearly took her and her family’s lives. I chronicled her story in This Road We Traveled, a book that inspired a Gresham watercolor society to paint their versions of that story. Talk about using stepping stones of failure to rise to a different kind of success, Tabitha is the poster child for perseverance and kindness in a time of trial. This is a free event. Come early to get a good seat.

June 17, 1:00 pm – Book signing at Chaparral Books, 5210 S Corbett Ave., Portland, OR 97239. I love this bookstore in a neighborhood with leafy trees providing shade, their roots raising the sidewalks in places. The store is full of history books so of course I love it! But many other titles too, old and new. Since the date is Father’s Day, I’ll be reading a bit about fathers, especially the relationship between Mollie Ronan and her father in Beneath the Bending Skies.

Word Whisperings
Cornelia Fort WAFS Pilot: Her Life for her Country
by Sarah Bryan Rickman
Flight to Destiny Press, Colorado Springs, CO.

A long-time writer friend who is passionate about women pilots in the WWII era has penned this fine book. Here’s the blurb I wrote for her back cover. “Cornelia Fort is how biography should be written. Present, putting the reader in the cockpit. Authentic, with descendant intimacies and remembrances. Historical, steeped in the author’s depth of knowledge of women pilots, the WAFS and WWII. Ms. Rickman brings a literary style to this story-telling taking this stellar woman’s life out of obscurity and into the realm of inspiration. This is what patriotism looks like. A fabulous piece of writing.” It’s just coming out. The opening scenes will grab you. Even if I wasn’t a pilot, this book would please. It’s accessible for young adult readers too, age twelve and up. I read a quote recently from a man lamenting young people’s lack of understanding of history. He said he mentioned “Pearl Harbor” to this college graduate he was talking to who asked, “Who’s Pearl?” After this book, they’ll know.

As I write this, it is International Day for Human Space honoring the date of the first human flight into space made in 1957 by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

His journey and those since with a moon landing held the highest risks. The Artemis project taking four people back to the moon has it’s risk too. Their courage inspires. These journeys are a far cry from bird flights onto palm trees. And yet birds continue to inspire us. At least they inspire me and thousands of others who are bird aficionados, bird counters and bird watchers. It’s something small children, pets and the elderly can do.

During COVID, my friend had a bird feeder placed outside her husband’s nursing home window where he could see life flitting and fluttering and singing even while he remained in isolation. Rupert alerts to to bird chatter when we walk making me pay attention too. Some anonymous person wrote that “birds are our last, best connection to a natural world otherwise receding. They’re the most vivid and widespread representatives of the earth as it was before people arrived on it.” They make us be still. And if you have time to watch this short video, they sometimes give us reason to set aside our fears of failure, of powerlessness and woe and allow action and kindness to take flight in daily life. May you stand in awe at least once this month and then tell me all about it.

Warmly, Jane

P.S. I often get requests from those wishing a book list of my titles. Incidentally, Wikipedia has some errors. Visit my Bibliography webpage for the real scoop.