Worthy to be Remembered

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By Karen Wills

For many years, when our extended family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, I elicited groans, especially from the younger crowd, by insisting no one eat until I read a section of William Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims’ first winter in what he called, “the desert wilderness.” I did so because I felt, and still do, that we should acknowledge not just the Puritans’ capacity to give thanks, but their character and endurance. 

     William Bradford, who sailed on the Mayflower and became the second governor of Plymouth Plantation, began a journal in 1620. He did much more than merely document events; he showed the fiber of his companions. Here, in part, is his account of the misery of their first winter in America.

     “So as there died sometimes two or three a day in the foresaid time, that of one hundred and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these, in times of most distress, there was but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard to their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them…all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, a rare example and worthy to be remembered. Two of these were Mister William Brewster…and Miles Standish, their captain and military commander… And what I have said of these I may say of many others who died in this general visitation, and others yet living, that whilst they had health, yea, or any strength continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recompense is with the Lord.”

Thank you, William Bradford.

     What historical figure or figures are you thankful for?

     

 

Almost Pioneers

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Contributed by Karen Wills

My mother, Evelyn Wills, wrote the following true account of her family’s move from their farm in North Dakota to Montana during the Great Depression. I’m so glad she left this memory, and I’m so proud of my grandparents. They exemplified Hemingway’s definition of  courage as “grace under pressure.”  

This first appeared in The Montana Journal January-February 1997.

Almost Pioneers 

Our western North Dakota farm family was hard hit by the Great Depression. Dad could repair any kind of machinery, but neighbors who needed him couldn’t pay. When my ten-year-old sister fell ill with appendicitis, my parents sold the kitchen table and chairs to pay doctor bills.

Then, in 1928 when I was nine, my oldest uncle left Tolley, North Dakota, in desperation. Miraculously, he found work with the Big West Oil Company on the high plains near Shelby, Montana. He sent word of the oil boom, and my parents decided to follow him west.

Dad cut down the sides of our Model T so the front seat could be folded back into a bed for the four of us on the 400-mile journey. He had $11.00. Of course, this was long before credit cards, and our bank had closed its doors.

My mother suffered from a fierce migraine during every mile on the dusty, rutted road to the unknown West. But my sister and I, dressed in knickers sewn by a neighboring farm woman as a good-bye gift, loved the adventure.montana here we come  We had crayons and paper and considered signs fair game for additional coloring. At night we camped with other displaced travelers, cooking suppers over little fires whose colors matched the blazing sunsets reflected in the broad Missouri River.

Unfortunately, when the time came to sleep, the curtains lowered over the Model T’s windows did a poor job of keeping away thirsty mosquitoes.

Our faithful auto did succeed at a tortoise-and-hare act as we were passed several times on the trip by a man in a shiny new touring car. He’d race ahead, stop for unknown reasons, then hurry on, passing us again. When we arrived in time to share the same campground for the third night in a row, the frustrated driver finally walked over, kicked our tire and sputtered, “What the hell kind of car is this?”

At the Big West Camp, a line of buildings on the vast prairie, the Company provided our own place—a former cook house. I remember the big stove. 

By the time blooming cactus and other wild flowers softened the fields next spring, we had moved to a normal house, but drilling for oil was so close that my mother didn’t hang out the wash for fear it would be splattered from a gusher. kitties in a basket

On hot days, we took needlework outside to the shade of the company coal house, where a cool breeze always seemed to rise from the foundation.

The Company promoted Dad, and the strain of poverty vanished. Pictures of Mama taken then show a sort of time reversal. She appears younger in each new photograph.

By having the faith and courage to pack their children into a Model T and venture west from one sort of country to another during the drought-ridden depression, my parents achieved a secure living. However, for the rest of his life, Dad kept his savings under the mattress.

 

September Book News

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What does September mean to you?

 

 

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LESLIE BUDEWITZ Back to school? Corduroy pants? New plaid shirts? That’s September in Montana, along with leaf-lined drives through Glacier National Park, apples ripening, and the moon dropping a little further south in the sky as it shines on star-lit nights.

All mysteries.pngAnd the Montana Book Festival in Missoula, Sept 12-15, in a variety of locations downtown. Friday, Sept 13, at 3:00, I’ll be discussing Recipe Writing as Storytelling: Braiding Instruction and Narrative While Serving Your Audience, with moderator Sara Bir, a cookbook author, chef, and teacher, Greg Patent, a delightfully entertaining cookbook author and columnist from Missoula, and Seabring Davis of Bozeman, a magazine editor and author who writes about the Montana food scene. I’ll bring the perspective of a novelist who writes about food. Sounds delish, doesn’t it?

And there will be cookies. I promise! 

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29th Annual Flathead River Writers Conference  September 14th and 15th at FVCC

Take time out from your writing to join a lively group of writers gathering each year to learn from experts, talk about craft, publication options and how to present yourself. This year’s theme is ADVENTURES IN WRITING.

See website www.authorsoftheflathead.org for conference details where you can register and pay dues. For dues paid members of Authors of the Flathead, we offer the opportunity to show your books on a slideshow loop that runs during the conference even if you are unable to attend. We hope you can join us. Capacity is 100. There are a few seats remaining.

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Betty Kuffel

 

Announcing the publication of Fatal Feast  on August 30th, a biological thriller set in Montana. I began researching the topic 30 years ago with the outbreak of mad cow disease in Great Britain. Prion disease is an infectious protein currently epidemic in wildlife in Montana, in twenty-five U.S. states and in Canada. This book will be of particular interest to beef eaters and hunters.

Brilliant young researcher Dr. Callie Archer vows to find a cure for an aggressive prion variant of mad cow disease that killed her father. Like unstoppable super-bugs, the deadly proteins infect livestock and wild game threatening world food supplies. Unknowing humans who eat infected meat become paranoid, violent and die horrible deaths.

Federal authorities isolate Dr. Archer’s primate research project at an NIH high-risk laboratory in the mountains of Montana for protection from radical animal rights activists. While she risks her life to stop the catastrophic disease that could prove fatal to millions, a sexist director, sabotaging cohort, and a handsome rancher obstruct her progress.

Dr. Archer closes in on a cure, but murderous activists penetrate her lab, steal infected animals, and nearly kill her. As the disease spreads in ranching and hunting country, authorities suppress public information to save the country from economic disaster.

Callie’s promising treatment may be the only hope to prevent a world-wide pandemic. With forces against her mounting, can she save mankind and herself?

Fatal Feast is available as an e-book and paperback. I would love to have you write an honest review on Amazon.

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The newest novel by Karen Wills, All Too Human, will be released September 18th and will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and local book stores.

all too human book cover 2karens sept book news blurb

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I’m happy to announce that book two, Stalking Midas, of my romantic suspense thriller series is now available on Amazon in both Kindle format and paperback.

After book one, Instrument of the Devil, courageous heroine Tawny Lindholm is back and she’s in big trouble. Her demanding (but sexy) new boss, attorney Tillman Rosenbaum, sends her to investigate his estranged father, Moe, a victim of elder fraud. When Tawny gets in the way of a charming con woman stalking her prey, watch out. stalking midas by debbie burkeBecause this predator has killed before and each time is easier.

 

If you’d like to check out Stalking Midas, here are the links: Kindle    Paperback

 

Hope you have as much fun reading them as I do writing them!

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Burial and Other Literary Plots

By Karen Wills

Respecting the last wishes of the dying, our cultural norms surrounding the preparation and disposal of the dead, the circumstances that determine what is possible…all of these may become part of our literary endeavors. They show much of how we want to depict our characters and their feelings and attitudes.

This can be done in poetry, too. Robinson Jeffers wrote the following after the death of his beloved wife, Una.

poem of death

But what about working the handling of the dead into mythology or fiction? In Homer’s Iliad, civilization itself takes a step forward. Achilles, grieving for his friend who’s been killed by the Trojan warrior Hector, slays Hector. He then drags Hector on the beach before the great Priam, the dead man’s grieving father. But in the end, compassion and respect overtake Achilles vengeful madness. He returns Hector’s remains to  Priam as a gesture of pity and honor in a time of incivility.

Let’s journey from the realms of Troy to the American West and the love of mortal men, close as brothers: Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, the former Texas Rangers of Larry McMurtry’s classic Lonesome Dove. lonesome doveWhen Augustus lies dying of a gangrenous wound in a town in Montana, he makes an outlandish request of his friend. He wants Call to take his body back to Texas and bury him in a pecan grove where he’d once courted Clara, the love of his life.

Gus tells his friend that he is assigning him this task, a Herculean one in violent frontier days of primitive travel, in order to bestow the gift of one last great adventure. It is a sign of the unbending, proud, Call’s loyalty to Gus that he does fulfill the last wish of his longtime friend.

Set in more modern times we have Unsheltered, UnshelteredBarbara Kingsolver’s novel of lives of ordinary people in economically and socially precarious times. The protagonist, Willa, is beset by family and financial insecurity. She struggles to take care of everyone in her family, including her husband’s Greek immigrant father, Nick, a man of rigid, racist views. With her daughter, Tig’s, help she cares for him as he is dying. Then there is the matter of his ashes. He wanted to be buried in the Greek section of a lovely local cemetery. The problem is the cost of a plot there. They do what others have done before them in real life. (I know of at least one instance.) They bury him in secret where he wished to be laid to rest.

As authors, we should remember that death and dying are inevitable in real life, so can be great sources of drama in fiction. Everyone dies. Sympathetic characters are those who behave as readers would have their loved ones do. They behave with compassion and respect. The best try to follow the last wishes of their loved ones.

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Arbor Day Connections

By Karen Wills

Climate change thrusts us into a heightened awareness of nature. Oceans, lakes, meadows and trees are the living matrix of which we are a part.  Trees in particular have figured in much fiction and nonfiction of late. Of course, poets have long written about and concerned themselves with trees. overstory treesAmerican poet Robinson Jeffers planted about 2,000 seedlings on his sea cliff property near Carmel, California in the first half of the 1900s.

There is a kinship of us humans to trees. Tree deprivation became as real for me when we lived on the Alaskan tundra as it was for settlers living on the virgin prairies of America. I loved the big, empty tundra with its miles of tiny wild cotton, but trees have always meant shelter, the promise of something to lean against, and shade in the glare of summer. I missed them.

In a recent blog on my website I quoted from Joanna L. Stratton’s, Pioneer Women, which tells of a woman whose husband took her along on a journey to bring home wood. She’d not seen a tree for two years. “…when they arrived at Little River, she put her arms around a tree and hugged it until she was hysterical.”

That reminded me of when we lived on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. We explored the countryside, often peering into abandoned settlers’ houses. One was a stone cottage with a small grotto beside it sheltered by trees. The woman who pioneered there had walked nearly ½ mile each way every day carrying buckets of water to keep her seedlings growing. They flourished. She is gone, but her trees remain, providing homes for birds, being natural wind instruments, and soothing the prairie with their sighing leaves and branches.

An insightful novel about those who plant, nurture, and preserve not just trees, but whole forests, is The Overstory by Richard Powers–winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. One of its most interesting characters is a Vietnam veteran who finds his purpose in life replanting clear-cut, logged-out areas for a living. But he learns that replanting rows of trees earns his corporate employer permission to clear cut more and more forests at a greater profit. That knowledge drives the veteran to desperate, reckless acts.

Another character in The Overstory is Patricia Westerford who devotes her academic and personal life to the study of forests. According to Patricia, everything that happens in nature happens for a purpose. “The environment is alive—a fluid, changing web of purposeful lives dependent on each other.” She also concludes, “We’ve been shaped by forests for longer than we’ve been homo sapiens.”

To return to Jeffers, in his poem “Ghost” he imagines himself as a spirit revisiting the new owner of his former property.  He has the following exchange with the startled man:

“I see you have played hell
With the trees that I planted.” “There has to be room for people,” he
answers. “My God,” he says, “
That still!”

This Arbor Day, enjoy the forests if you can, plant a tree if you’re able, and take a deep breath. Feel your connection to the earth of which you are still a part.