BEARS SCARE ME

I don’t like snakes. Spiders get squashed if they dare come around me, but bears?  Bears scare the heck out of me.

When I lived alone in a wilderness cabin, hiking was a daily pleasure.  One day, I tried a different path, going off up a mountain side and angling back into a gorgeous meadow filled with wildflowers.

And there was a scary rumbling, a warning of danger, go no further, there may be monsters.  I tried several times to wade through the head-high grass to see what was on the other side. Each time the noise filled my head, and I turned back.  I could feel something watching me, making shivers race up my spine.  Finally, I gave up and made my way home.

I think a mother bear was probably telling me to go away or she’d get me.  Never did see that bear, but I saw lots of tracks on those hikes, bear poop, too.

On one of those hot summer days, I also saw a herd of caribou.  I’m not kidding, they were truly caribou, about fifteen of them, trotting down the Montana wilderness road at a stately pace.  I think they had come from Canada, checking out their southern neighbor to see if they’d like living here.  They must have decided it wasn’t to their liking. I never saw them again.

Nan McKenzie, April 2017

Bigfoot

MY WRITING HISTORY

By Nan McKenzie

 

In 1946, I started to teach myself to type on Dad’s old black Underwood upright.  Took me a long time, but I began to get an idea of how things worked.

In 1953, when I was eleven, I decided that being a writer was the best thing that could happen in my life.  Problem was, I didn’t know how to write, hadn’t had any big adventures to report, and was lost as to what to do.

By that point in my life, I’d read probably two thousand or more books, but didn’t have the discerning talent to tell what was good and what was drivel.

I tried, really, but couldn’t make any of my stories come out and make sense, not to mention that my grammar skills were pretty shaky.

Fast forward about thirty-five years, to when I was attending FVCC, while it was still located in downtown Kalispell.  I wrote for class assignments, and for fun, but still wasn’t polished enough, or had enough knowledge to get myself published.  I had set out to have adventures, and boy howdy, I had Adventures!  Now I had something to write about, but still no way to publish.

After I quit going to classes and was living alone in Whitefish, a phone call came one day.  One of my advisors was calling from FVCC.  She asked if I would be willing to teach a writing class for the college, maybe to older people.  I started to cry and said, “I have taught real estate on a college level, but don’t think you folks could use me, since I don’t have a degree.”  I wanted to do this more than anything at that point in my life.

She assured me that I didn’t need a degree, that they weren’t giving credits for my classes.  I leaped at the chance because I’d always enjoyed teaching.  So was born “Writing Your Memories”, a class I taught in Kalispell and Bigfork for a couple years.  Through this class, I met wonderful, interesting older people who had amazing stories to tell.  A man named Pat had walked from Woods Bay south of Bigfork into Kalispell every day for work, rain or shine, 25 miles each way.  And, if lucky, made two dollars a day.  Can you imagine?

A woman named Fran had lived all over the world, following her husband who had worked for the National Cartographers, making maps of hidden pockets.  Her stories were fascinating, especially the ones about wild elephants in must.  My aunt Elizabeth, a former teacher, wrote of how she had started and taught two Montessori schools, still being taught today by my cousin in Oregon.

When people would arrive to see what my class was about, they’d tell me that they didn’t know how to spell, didn’t know how to structure a story.  I asked them if they could drive a car, and they all had said yes.  So I said, “You don’t have to know how to work on the engine to make the car go—I’m the word mechanic and will do the heavy lifting.  Just write your memories and together we’ll clean up the prose.”

I came to care for those folks, and I think they liked me, too.  Our twice-weekly meeting became a fun time, eagerly looked forward to by all, me especially.  My writing skills were honed in that class while I edited and suggested and encouraged my pupils.

When the time came to write Twin Peril, then Bigfoot, I was polished enough to make a go of it, and now the second book in that series, Bigfoot Returns, may be a bit better than the first.  I always learn by doing, and bless my computer that helps me with spelling, punctuation and making sense of the story.  It’s a far cry from whacking one key at a time on an old Underwood.

March 6, 2017

Books by Nan

Ski Montana

NOT MUCH OF A SKIER

by Nan McKenzie

Many years ago, my former husband RJ, my 17-year-old son Curt, and I were in Big Sky, Montana for a ski weekend.  When we went outside Saturday morning, it was 35 below zero ski-liftand the wind was blowing.  A thermometer at the bottom of ski lift said it was 20 below on top.  We decided to go home.  However, the truck was too cold to start, so we sat around awhile, waiting for something interesting to happen.  A wrecker was supposed to come help start the truck, but the people said it could be hours.

A while later, I noticed that the temperature on top was now at 2 degrees below zero, still 35 below at the bottom.  I grabbed Curt and said, “Let’s go skiing.  We’ll get warm while we ski.”

That’s a fallacy, you just get colder, especially riding an open chair lift to the top, but the sun was out now, and we could pretend it was a perfect day for skiing.  RJ had to wait for the wrecker to come, and he didn’t care as much for skiing as Curt and I did.

I’m not much of a skier, too much arthritis, but I’m game.  Curt and I discovered a whole hill covered with moguls, and my short skis were amazing as we roared along to the bottom, rocking and rolling over the bumps on the hill.  Curt was always in front, always hollering, “Come on, Mom!”  We’d slide to the bottom and I knew for sure that I was too cold to ride that bugger again, but I’d head for the lift and ride it to the top.  We skied for hours, Curt and I, and yelled in exhilaration and fun.

RJ finally stopped us at the chair lift, saying the truck was running and we should go, 180 miles from home.  “One more,” we both shouted, and since he wasn’t there at the lift when we reached bottom again, we took advantage and made it six more runs.

One of my best-ever days, bar none.  We grinned all the way home, Curt and I, and shivered for at least 100 miles, with wet feet, pants, and sore knees.

Not much of a skier, but I’m game.

Happy Skiing,

Nan

Christmas Memories

christmas-tree

by Nan McKenzie

The greatest excitement to date in my young life was waking up Christmas morning impossibly early, and having to wait until Mom and Dad were up.  Dad lit the fireplace, turned on the tree lights and started coffee.  My two sisters Faye and Sue (Kona wasn’t born yet.) made sure we were all warm enough in our pajamas and wrapped with blankets.  We all three shared a bed, very uncomfortable because I was the smallest and the most picked-upon.  In the winter, the blankets that touched the outside wall froze to the wood.

Finally, Dad opened the bedroom door and we would rush out, racing to the tree to see what Santa had brought.  One year, we all received sleds, magical, big wooden ones with heavy metal steering guides on the front.  Another year, a small saddle was sitting on the back of a chair, a beautiful light tan one that just needed a horse to be complete.  I’d been agitating for a horse for a long time, and just knew that one would be forthcoming in the spring.  Misty did come, but I was supposed to “share” her with Sue, who wouldn’t give up the reins often.  And my saddle had disappeared by then, no doubt lost in a late night poker game, probably the same way it was won.

Dad went off to Alaska about then, looking for gold, but working for the railroad.  The deal was, he was supposed to send money back to us, but that didn’t happen, and we were very broke for a couple winters.  I became tired of eating elk meat and venison, but was glad Mom was such a good shot.

Mom did come up with some old wooden skis from somewhere, probably six-and-a-half feet tall, and weighing about fifteen pounds.  There is a still a picture downstairs at the Summit House on Big Mountain, showing me reaching for the rope tow.  I had on a too-big, long wool coat, blue jeans and just shoes with galoshes, but I was thrilled to be a genuine skier.  The rope tow would shred a pair of heavy gloves in a day, but I didn’t care, just as I didn’t care that I had to eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch while everyone else bought hamburgers.  It was two dollars to ski, and fifty cents for the ski bus each way.  Don’t know how Mom managed to scare up the money, but she did.

I remember the terrible cold, often twenty and more below zero for days at a time.  I’d come in from goofing around outside our house and my hair would be frozen, my nostrils frozen shut, my eyelashes heavy with frost.  The clunky galoshes would fill with snow and rub rings around my ankles, but I never wanted to come in when Mom would holler it was time for dinner.

It was the best of times, the worst of times, which Dickens said in A Tale of Two Cities, the book that made me cry buckets when I read the end.   But the memories have stayed with me, and softened through the years.  Now I wish I could sit in the living room and watch the snow plop into the lake once again.

Nan McKenzie, December 10, 2016

AN AUTUMN LOVE AFFAIR

fall-on-the-flathead-river-polebridge-montana[3]by Nan McKenzie

I love the fall, everything about it. My huge golden tree in front of the house, the smaller dark red maple next to it, the fat bushes in front of the porch that turn red to welcome cold weather. Summer is difficult for me, ‘cause I don’t do well in the heat, so when the nights and mornings are cooler, and a brisk walk in the early morning brings the sun up and turns my cheeks red, life is very good.

Sometimes there is snow dusting the tops of the mountains all around, and bears wander closer to town, looking for food to tide them over the winter. The cold mornings bring a promise of something new, something exciting that’s about to happen (not just snow, something else). I have more energy, sleep better, get more things done around the house.

Writing on my latest novels seems more effortless, with a little excitement that the coming finish brings. I look forward to the winter, the snow, the smell of new snow in the air, my boots crunching along. The studded tires sing of possibilities, talking to me from the bottom of my van.

My oldest great-granddaughter’s name is Autumn Mist, perfect for her, a lovely dark redhead, hazel eyes, getting taller by the minute. Both my kids were born in September, and I’ve always told them that my best gift to them was being smart enough to have them born in September, just a year and three weeks apart.

Gotta’ go take a walk in the cool afternoon now, a gift to myself.

Nan McKenzie, Autumn, September 21, 2016