Go Simple, Go Solo, Go Now

I’ve just finished reading a great little book called Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland. This is what it’s about:

In a tale remarkable for its unselfconscious self-reliance and acute natural observation, the author begins with her decision, at age 60, to undertake a solo, summerlong voyage along the southeast coast of Alaska in an inflatable kayak. Paddling North is a compilation of Sutherland’s first two (of over 20) such annual trips and her day-by-day travels through the Inside Passage from Ketchikan to Skagway. With maps, illustrations and the author’s recipes.

This book, while not meant to be a “self help” book by any means, was a real kick in the ass. A single passage from it sums up how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m not going to piss and moan because I’ve got it pretty good and really have very little to complain about. I’m just going to share the passage:

I didn’t need to “get away.” I needed to “get to.” To simplicity. I wanted to be lean and hard and sun-browned and kind. Instead I felt fat and soft and white and mean.

Hell yeah. No more feeling sorry for myself. No more fat, no more being soft, no more pale indoor pallor, no more thinking mean thoughts. Time to “get to” before it’s too late.

Fall, Glorious Fall

We have had, presumably, a magnificent fall this year. The problem is that most of it was hidden by smoke from all the forest fires in the area that closed out the summer. It sucks to have it so warm, but with air that scorches the lungs and makes the eyes water. With the drop in temperature and some rain (after something like 50 straight days without it), however, it’s finally cleared up. This is what fall in Montana is supposed to look like; Julia and I headed south of here a few miles to get some angling in on the Bitterroot River in the midst of a gorgeous Thursday.

It’s been just a little over a year since we took up the sport with any kind of seriousness, and had a great time doing it whenever we could all summer. We didn’t catch many fish (oh, the thrill when it does happen!), but that doesn’t really matter. I love to get outside and hike, but fishing is something else. It’s a great way to get right down close to the world around you, and I can’t get enough of that.

That spec in the sky in the preceding image? That’s a LARGE bald eagle, catching the thermals and floating up and up into the sky. There was also a martin I watched running on the opposite bank of the river, where Julia was. I pointed it out to her. Shortly after, it literally ran right over the top of her feet and continued on its way. Just yesterday we also saw several ducks, some deer, and a big pheasant.

There is a beaver dam near another of our favorite spots, and we’ve seen the beaver several times. One night as darkness fell I could hear it upriver a short distance, its teeth gnawing at a fallen tree. Julia was nearby, wading in the water, casting and casting. Fish were rising, taking bugs off the surface of the river, sometimes with loud splashes. An osprey flew overhead with a piercing cry. I couldn’t have been more content.

Much as I like the cold, though, I realized that mid-October may be just a tinge late in the year to be chest deep in a Montana river wearing just shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals. I could only endure it for 10-15 minutes at a time, then I’d have to retreat to thigh depth. Time for some waders, I guess, because I’m damn sure not ready to call it a year yet.


The Wisdom of Lansdale

Writer Joe R. Lansdale is pretty active on Facebook. He was posting some writing-related updates today via his Facebook page that I thought were excellent. Here’s the first one:

Although I have written under some awful circumstances, I think most writers write well when they are doing well. A good solid job that provided time to write is a blessing. I worked as a janitor for years, and it was a job I didn’t take home with me. It was solid but non-demanding work once you understood it, and it allowed me to put beans on the table while I wrote. Finally the money I was making from writing was as good as the money I was making from being a janitor, and when I quit being a janitor it didn’t take long before I was making much more writing full time. I kept my janitor notebooks for years though, fearing I might have to go back to work cleaning toilets and buffing floors.

I like hearing about the paths different writers take to reach success. Unfortunately, I think some use it as an excuse to try and show how quirky or eclectic they are. That’s fine, everyone is entitled to identify themselves however they want. But guys like Lansdale, or James Lee Burke, or Larry Brown . . . these guys often walked in the shoes they put their characters in. Same with Louise Erdrich; maybe Louise in particular. I often wish I had the kind of day job where, if I wasn’t there doing it, or if I went on vacation, didn’t leave me with a pile of accumulated backlog to handle when I return. Taking time off can be the most stressful part of it, frankly.

Anyway, more from Lansdale, concerning the kind of writing one chooses to do. This bit really hits close to home, considering my own reflections from a couple days ago:

There’s another side to this. Writers who put down profound work because they can’t do it or don’t want to do it. Do what you like, and do it as well as you can. Most profound stories didn’t start out to be profound. They started out to be told. I AM LEGEND was written because Richard Matheson wanted to write it, and may have had bills to pay…Bet he did. But it is also profound in a sneak up on you kind of way. I think when we hesitate to write something we want to, and we’re looking over our shoulder thinking what the critics will say, we’re being insecure about our work, not about depths or shallownees. I’m not suggesting anyone write shit, but just write the story they want to tell. You never know where it will lead. Fuck genre. Fuck Universities. Write.

And, finally,

One point I was trying to make is I don’t believe any of us know what an audience wants, and the best kind of writing is the kind where you create your own audience. If we knew what everyone wanted to read we would all hit it out of the park everytime. A good work may only be read by a few people, or it can be a runaway sensation. A bad work can do the same thing; bad in the sense that it may lack many literary values, but somehow speaks to people. So, in the end, all we have is writing for ourselves.

What great stuff, especially coming from a guy who is a phenomenal writer, and has made his territory the fringes of what is considered by the corduroy crowd as “important” writing. I’ve read a number of his short stories, one or two essays, and have his The Complete Drive-In, though I haven’t read it. I’ve also been meaning to grab his latest, Edge of Dark Water, which from what I’ve heard is fantastic. I’ll be moving all that up the TBR pile, you can count on it. . . .


Urban Wildlife; or, Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Reason #30.06)

We live on kind of the South/Central edge of town, I’d say, about as far south as you can dig a basement without being one of those swanky South Hills residents, but in town nonetheless. And these brazen bastards, who have been leaving their leavings all over the yard all year, aren’t even bothering to wait until nightfall anymore.

The real reason we can’t keep feed in the bird feeders
The reason we can’t keep a decent garden

I won’t describe the profanity-laced tirade Julia was unleashing in this fella’s general direction while we were watching him out our window when I took these around midday. We need to prepare for them better next year, if only to not have her dragging me all over the yard, jabbing a finger at bitten-off tulips and plants, and spitting, “Deer.” Another one. “Deer!” And another. “Fucking deer!”