July 2023 Story Sparks
Often in the mornings when I walk with Rupert I hear a single engine plane overhead taking lessons. I’m pretty sure it’s a student pilot because the plane runs patterns for landings and other aviation activities just like I did when I flew out of the same Roberts Field in Redmond in the 80s getting my license. I recognize which runway the little craft approaches by the wind and altitude; the slips and stalls. I remember getting to the field by 6:00 am to have an hour and a half before finishing and driving to work as the director of the mental health clinic thirty minutes away. I was never more engaged in anything than when I was flying — at least not until writing consumed me. No other worry entered my brain while I did my best to keep my craft soaring. My first instructor described flying as “hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer panic.” I was never bored. Panic was much more familiar.
One of the maneuvers I hear often overhead that always causes a pause in my walk is the sudden sound of engine idling, when the throttle’s pulled back and I know they (I am putting an instructor in the plane, too) are practicing stalls.
I always hated that practice. Though prepared for it, the engine noise change was always unexpected and carried with it a tinge of fear. What if the plane couldn’t regain its power? What if it wasn’t a practice but the real thing? What if my preparation wasn’t enough? What if the instructor had a heart attack and I had to land this thing without him!
In reality, it was preparation that saved me and would have if I’d been piloting in a real stall as Jerry was some years later. Some things (as with parenting) can not be prevented, but they can be prepared for. I’m now convinced much of living is in the preparation.
I learned the rules of stalls. Don’t panic. Dip the nose slightly to gain airspeed — if you have enough altitude. Don’t look back or try to return to the airport, especially if the stall happens on take-off. Look ahead. Find a suitable place to land. (Think Chelsea “Scully” Sullenberger of the Hudson River landing). Take a deep breath and do what you practiced.
To my instructor, I’d point out the field/road I thought I could make and land at and the instructor would nod, maybe point to another, closer. One drops quickly in the sky with no power. And then the glorious pushing in of the throttle and the engine roars to life from idle and we are on our way again. Upward. I hear it every morning when that stall occurs followed by a silence and then the rise again of power. “Good job!” I send my silent pilot praise. “Good job.”
Today as I write this, I’m thinking about stalls and how the rules apply in life. I’ve prepared as best I can for this uncertain time of change. I keep learning. Try not to panic. I may not have been here before (You’re only your age once!) but here I am. What is, is. Take a little dip to gather breath and altitude. “Inspiration” after all means “the act of breathing in.” Don’t look back. Later, it’ll be ok to remember how you managed well. But in the moment, look ahead. The landing field’s before you, not behind. “Be still and know that I am God” a comforting Psalm that covers what you’ve left behind and promises inspiration for the future.
If you’re in a stall today, look ahead, then push the throttle in and get back to soaring. In reality, there is always an instructor with you in the cockpit.
Rupert our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel turned one this month on July5th. That means he experienced his first July 4th Celebration. Despite firecrackers and explosions going off for hours, he didn’t seem to mind! No thunder shirts, no anti-anxiety pills. He watched the Capital Fourth celebration on PBS with us and slept well the night before his birthday. Well, he does dislike puppets on the screen and always barks at that little Colonguard figure that walks beside others who’ve had their colon test. (Maybe we watch too much tv for the pup to have a figure he dislikes?) Anyway, we are happy, happy with our canine known in the neighborhood as Rupie. Just keeping you all updated on this puppy adventure we embarked upon! Oh, and the week before Jerry turned 93!
Libraries and A Change of Schedule
For those of you I hoped to connect with in person in my hometown of Mondovi, Wi on July 19th, I apologize. I won’t be there to teach the class nor to speak on behalf of the new library in the early stages of having bids opened for a longed-for building, now in sight. Mondovi is a small town in western Wisconsin just south of Eau Claire. But it’s had a city library inside an old brick building for many years. I got my first library card there when I was four. I remember my mom helping me choose picture books and “word books” piled like a haphazard smokestack on a counter above my eyes. I remember sitting on the floor with a book beneath that counter while my mom “checked out” whatever that meant. With pride and dignity — these were precious books afterall — I carried a few to our car and my mom carried the rest. She might even have had some of her own. A world beyond our small diary farm had just opened up — as anyone who frequents libraries already knows.
My modern library contacts were gracious about my postponing the July trip. I’ll try again next year when its hoped the new library will be built and Jerry might feel more up to flying. The new Mondovi library is due in part to a generous donation of a local resident, someone who must like books too.
I love libraries in general. A great many readers have found my books through their local libraries. I once heard from a new fan from Missouri who said he was looking for a Stephen King novel he hadn’t read yet at his library. He’d read all on the shelf and then noticed a book with my name next to it. He fanned the pages, read a paragraph or two and decided it was worth “checking out.” He’d read them all since then. It must have been a small library though for my books to be placed in general fiction alphabetically. I love that!
One of the oldest libraries in the world was the one at Alexandria, Egypt, at the cross roads of the world then. People had to turn in their papyri scrolls for scribes to copy while they visited the city. They’d receive them back when they left but meanwhile, the collection at Alexandria grew under the Ptolemy Dynasty to an estimated 400,000 scrolls. Until it didn’t. First, the intellectuals were purged, men who had measured the circumference of the earth or put poems into lines. The head librarian resigned and exiled himself to Cyprus (Wikipedia tells me). In 48 BC, Julius Caesar accidentally burned part of the library. Then in 391 AD it was ordered destroyed by a fractious leader but by then it had dwindled to a mere gathering place for philosophers. What remained though was the sign over the entrance reading “The Place for the Work of the Soul.”
I love that modern libraries have rooms for lectures and discussions, sometimes concerts and performances. They often provide computers for those not able to access the world (or job hunts) from their homes without broadband. There are special places for kids programs and it’s the place where we humans can find ideas we might otherwise never encounter on shelves we pause at, pull out a tome and fan the pages until we’re hooked. If you don’t have a local library, consider starting one. (Or starting one of those little library exchange boxes I see on my daily walks). And if you do have a public library, consider supporting it. Supposedly one of the greatest periods of decline at the Alexandria library was during the Roman period whose administration failed to fund the library. And we all know what happened to the Roman Empire. Maybe not caring about the library foretold the end of that story too.
July 19 -1:00pm, Redmond Senior Center, 325 NW Dogwood, Redmond Oregon. Instead of being in Mondovi, I will be speaking on Resilience to Redmond Seniors. Free and all welcome.
August 26 – 5:00pm – Sunriver Books and Music, Sunriver Village Building 25C. Sunriver OR 97707. I will talk about my latest book Beneath the Bending Skies and tell a few stories about other titles as well at this very supportive independent bookstore.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
Last year I joined a book group sponsored by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. They’d read one of my titles A Light in the Wilderness, and had invited me to visit with them about it. I did and found the conversations fun and enlightened and welcoming. So I joined. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize and is one of the titles on our reading list. All of them have been fascinating reads but this novel based on the author’s grandfather is not only informative but profoundly moving. Erdrich’s grandfather was the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also on the Chippewa Council trying to understand the new policy of “emancipation” being discussed by the Federal Government that would terminate the status of Indian people in 1953, negating treaties signed “for as long as the grasses shall grow and the rivers run.” (The mention of Chippewa brought back my home region of Wisconsin where the word Chippewa names a town, river and basketball team my Mondovi High School used to play against). “Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated by memorable characters forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature.” That’s part of the press publication blurb and in this instance it’s right on. Funny yet deeply moving. I feel pretty fortunate that my first experience with a book group has led me to this truly fine novel. I hope you enjoy it too.
It’s always good to check on your surroundings, at least that’s what safety experts tell us. When walking to our cars at grocery stores or attending a concert, it’s good to notice who is meandering nearby or who you’re sitting near. At airports, unattended luggage is a big thing to be aware of but so is acknowledging who sits next to you on the plane. “They say” it reduces anxiety for flying to make eye contact with who’s beside you or across the aisle. If you’re piloting a single engine plane, noticing those possible landing fields can be pretty critical. I people-watch in waiting rooms which it seems is a big part of our social life these days. You might remember my delight in one of Jerry’s doctor’s offices at being told I had the body of a dancer. At another, a woman tried to fill out a new patient form while her phone kept telling her “I don’t know who you are.” We all got a laugh out of that. The new patient did too saying that she wasn’t sure herself.
Yesterday at Jerry’s eye doctor I checked him in then did my usual scan. To my delight, a woman sat reading one of my books. I decided I’d ask her how she liked it. If she said “It’s terrible. I don’t know why I’m reading this thing” I’d say something innocuous like “It’s really hard to find a good book these days, isn’t it?” If she said she liked it, I’d introduce myself. Which I did. We had a delightful conversation about the character (Emma Giesy of Aurora fame) and I was blessed with hearing someone say how much she enjoyed a number of my books.
So check your surroundings, not just for safety but you might discover as I did that a little joy awaits — in a waiting room, the airport or even walking past a little neighborhood library where you might find your next perfect book to read. Those moments can keep you inspired, flying higher than when you started out and get you through the stalls.
See you next month!
Doctor’s office waiting room photo: Creator: SolStock | Credit: Getty Images | Copyright: SolStock