A Farewell to Words?

by Mary Frances Erler

I have suspected for a long time that blogs are going the way of landline phones, snail-mail, and even email.  The popular media are now based largely on pictures.  (After all, one picture is worth a thousand words.) And soundbytes.  Instagram, Snapchat, and others are beginning to leave even Facebook in the dust.

It’s ironic to me that one of the first books I wrote, Peaks at the Edge of the World: Finding the Light, begun in the early 1970s but not published until the Twenty-first Century, was a sci-fi story based a thousand years in the future, when written words had become obsolete.  Books, representing “Old Ways” were banned.  Even learning to read the written word was forbidden.  I admit the seed of my idea was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451.

So I find myself, as the coordinator of Montana Women Writers blogposts for the past year and a half, offering up our final blog.  Our farewell to words, at least in this medium.  Though as authors who work almost with daily with words, we hope that this is not a total farewell.

In my first book, there were still a hidden minority who kept illegal books, and shared them with their children as well as they could.  I have a feeling some of us will become one of those “reading renegades.” 

The Truth Behind the Fictionalized Memoir

by Mary Frances Erler

For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to understand the difference between autobiographical fiction and fictionalized memoir.  It seems to me that it’s mostly a matter of how much the author reveals of his or her personal life.  With this is mind, I’ve been laboring on a memoir for the past few years, but to “protect the innocent” I have changed names, settings, and sequences of events.  I guess that means it is a fictionalized memoir.

However, in the interest of being an advocate for mental health, I have realized I need to share my true story, so here it is.

Yes, according to the calendar it’s spring, but all of us in Northwest Montana know that real spring is still a month or more away.  Winter is often a difficult time for people who suffer from depression.  I’m no exception.  For most of my life I tried to hide this behind a shield of pretense, but that took a heavy toll on my physical and mental health.  I was afraid of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Things really took a nosedive in 2003 with menopause, as anxiety and chronic migraines were added to the mix.  In 2005, after trying herbal remedies for years (St. John’s Wort, Feverfew, Black Cohosh, to name a few), and one antidepressant (Zoloft) that made me violently ill, I finally agreed with my doctor to try Lexapro, and it did help.

But new stresses piled on due to family issues, such as caring for my mother who had Alzheimer’s.  By 2013, I was getting suicidal.  Fortunately, I was directed to an excellent counselor, once I swallowed my pride and admitted I needed help.  It has taken me another eight years to realize (admit?) that having a place where I can let go and truly be myself, where I can say what I really think and feel, is just as important to my treatment as the meds are.

I’m fortunate to be living in a century when some of the stigmas attached to mental illness are lessening and there are treatments available to people like me.  Every person is unique, though, so finding the right combination of treatments can be a long journey.  It has been for me.

As I’ve gone through this, I feel that now is the time to be open and share where I’ve been, hoping this will help someone else out there.

No, the book isn’t published yet.  It still needs to simmer a bit longer.  But I feel the journey is finally reaching some light ahead–at the end of the tunnel.

A Gentleman’s Sport

Photo by Laura Thomas

Sailing is a gentleman’s sport I heard, yet as the time drew near to board the craft, the fear and trepidation mounted. See, I’m a land lover, and while I like the water, it scares me. Sailing had been something I’ve wanted to do, but the fear griped me nonetheless. I climbed aboard to not only overcome my fears, but to stretch my wings, and go on a new adventure.

 Watching the crew work, to put this elegant sailboat out onto the waters, seeing what it takes to make it possible to sail. The captain directing, the crew work in unison, shifting sails to catch the wind. I know nothing of the happenings and feel a bit out of place, like a fish out of water. The sails are heaved to the heavens, catching the winds, moving the boat across the waters of the lake. For as I learned, sailing is as close to walking on water as you can get.

 The day was warm with a good wind, not hot, nor cold, perfect for a day to sail. The captain gives me the rudder–me a land lover–full control of the direction we take, oh the precision, the sensitivity to my guidance. As I guide, I feel elegance in this contrivance, a sense of calmness comes over me. I relax and as I take in the views, I see that this body of water is surrounded by mountains, and the shore line is dotted with homes.

The Captain always directing his crew on the best position of the sail, catching the optimal amount of wind, the breath of the craft. The crew then works the lines, working in unison to move, shift the sails making the boat heel over, as the captain gives orders for tacking, or jibing. As the wind catches the sails the boat is skimming the surface, flying over the top of the waters with an ease. Moving with the whims of the wind, allowing the sails to pull the boat through the waters A peaceful feeling the wind in my face, as it is brushing across the waters, forming ripples of waves that crash against the boat, almost like the sound of breaking glass in my ears. This is the only sound I hear out on the waters, there’s is stillness to the air, a quiet sound.

Looking up to the top of the mast, I watch the sky being swept with the sails; the clouds seem to be keeping pace with the boat. In this sky, the sun is circled by a rainbow, a sun dog I learned it’s called an omen of change, a sight to take your breath away and keep it.

 The waters heave as the winds move across the top, telling the sailors there is a good wind to catch the sails. Stay away from the smooth surfaces of the waters, for in them there is no wind, I am told. I hear the easy chatter of the people on board, they are relaxed and at ease, with each other and the boat.

 From the other side of the lake, another sail boat appears. A race! Each craft playing a cat and mouse game to see who is going to outwit the other. With strategic movements, fluid in motion, precision at its finest. A gentleman’s sport, for really there is no loser that day, it was all in fun and a bit of competition. Let’s raise the spinnaker sail, a question the captain is all too glad to answer, yes with a gleam and a smile. This sail is similar to a half balloon, come sit under it, a billowing motion, catching the wind to pull the craft. This lifts the craft up even higher out of the waters picking up speed, and a sudden rush of wind and adrenaline come upon me. The captain shouts “We won!” and smiles as his boat, the easy winner, pulls ahead–a victory.

 As we are ending our day, (oh what a day), the captain asked me, “Well what did you think?” I smiled and said “I loved it, I would love to come out on the waters again.” I think that made his day, for he also had a big smile.

A Silent Hunter

by Laura Thomas

A large, grey-blue bird is a silent hunter as it moves through the reeds. It can become  a statue when it stands with neck stretched out, hunting on the banks of the water’s edge. This elusive bird is as shy as it is quiet; in fact you may only see it after it has taken flight. Its huge wings, five foot in length and large body with its long legs trailing out behind it, make it seem as if you’re seeing a pre-historic bird, but in reality you are seeing a Blue Heron.

 My husband and I enjoy going out to Murphy Lake, near our home, for we never know what we will see there. On this particular day, as we were sitting near the water’s edge, with a camera in hand. My husband leaned over and whispered to me, “Look, Honey, a heron is in the cattails. Do you see it?”  “Ooh yes”, I said. And at first all we could see was the beck of the heron as it slowly, silently moved through the cattails. Then its head came into view. It saw us and stopped, watching for any danger, ever vigilant. The heron was watching us as closely as we were watching it. I could hear the camera shutter clicking busily as my husband took pictures. Then suddenly the heron was out in the open and it raised both of its wings as it readied for flight. I was spellbound as I watched this magnificent bird take flight. “Did you get that picture?” I ask. “Yes, I believe I did”, my husband said, as he took one last picture of the heron as it flew away.

We decided to come back the next day, wondering if we’d be so lucky as to see the Heron again.  Our second trip was not a disappointment. We found the heron already hunting, standing on the bank. This time the heron wasn’t as shy, as it seemed to know we meant it no harm. We watched as this magnificent bird, slowly, almost impperceptively, stretched its long graceful neck, out over the water. And then it froze, in place like a statue waiting for a fish to come close. The bird stood for some time, in this position just waiting for its breakfast, but with no luck. The heron then decided to wade out into the water, to see if the hunting would be any better. We watched this heron, realizing we were seeing something not often witnessed. When the heron finally left, we also left our observation spot and I decided I wanted to know more about these birds.  Here’s what I found:

Blue Herons have a subtle blue grey plumage. They are a tall elegant bird, standing 3.5 to 4.5 feet tall, with a wing span of 5.5 to 6.5 feet, but despite their large size they only weigh between 5 and 6 pounds. They have long curving necks and long dark legs. In flight they fold their neck back over their shoulders, thereby allowing the five foot plus wings to take deep, lazy beats, with their legs straight out behind them. The heron is found foraging along rivers, lakes and marshes, and sometimes will be seen in fields and wet meadows. They build their nests in trees, ranging from flimsy to elaborate, and add to their nests every year, which can be up to four feet in diameter. Both sexes are similar in color, except at breeding season when the male’s colors are more vibrant and plumes of feathers streak from his crown and his throat. A pair in turn will incubate eggs for about 28 days and each care for the young for up to 60 days.  These great birds are common throughout the U.S. Rocky Mountains. It was a pleasure to be able to observe this great bid in action and to watch it in its environment as it was hunting. An experience we will remember for a long time.

May Book News

Mary Frances Erler announces the acceptance for publication of her next fiction book, “Lauren’s Dark Passage” — a tale of hope and despair amid the unexpected twists and turns of modern life. Lauren at age 30 has been devastated when her husband announces he is leaving her for a man. She flees with her two children to Colorado, where no one knows her. Soon she finds a job at a local nuclear power plant, and finds herself attracted to a married coworker. Is this the beginning of a change in her life? Or is something even darker looming on her horizon?

Erler’s book will be released by First Steps Publishing in spring 2023.

For information on this and other books she has published, she can be reached at mferler@peaksandbeyond.com