Outtakes #8 – A Place of Her Own

Returning to my Outtakes series, this post includes another scene slashed from the Oregon Trail chapter of A Place of Her Own, except that a few lines of it were salvaged for a scene that did make the cut. Although there’s some excitement here you may enjoy, I snipped this because I didn’t feel I had an adequate picture of the scene in my mind, and I still needed to trim more words to reach the target word count. This gave me 415. Clip…..

469.diorama oxen & wagonThe photo was taken at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, Oregon, one of the fine dioramas inside the center, which gives an authentic impression of that dusty trail.


Martha stumbled over the rocky road, Nora in one hand, Louisa in the other arm. The wagons jolted, wheels bumping over the rocks. Alkali dust covered everything. Garrett’s growing hair and beard looked white, matted with the white dust. He stopped the oxen and Martha stood where she was, covering her mouth in hopes of drawing clean air, but it didn’t work. Garrett poured water from his pouch onto a cloth, and wiped it over the noses of the oxen, cleaning off a little of the dust.

The animals nodded their massive heads, as if to thank him, and one nuzzled him a little. Old Bob loved to be stroked under his chin, and Garrett obliged for a moment. Zack raised his dust-smudged nose and snorted. He started forward, pushing past Garrett. The loose cattle caught whatever scent Zack smelled and moved ahead with the same urgency, passing Martha and the girls like a stream dividing around three stones.

She heard Garrett’s frantic voice. “Stop them! Don’t let them drink the water. It’s alkali. Stop them!”

“Come on,” Martha said to Nora, dragging her along.

The wagon held back the oxen from going faster than Martha on the rocky path, even with Nora in tow. She contemplated putting the children in the moving wagon, but what if the oxen tipped it over in their frenzy? Careful not to trip on a rock, she ran on. The loose cattle were all ahead now. Larry galloped up, then Newt, hooting and shouting, trying to turn them back. Martha worked her way around the outer edge until she was above the sickly looking water hole. She put the children on a big rock and climbed up after them. The cattle wouldn’t come up here, but she could yell at them from this high place.

She waved her arms and yelled as loud as she could, and the girls did the same, their high-pitched shrieks as loud as her shouts. Garrett was at the water, driving the poor creatures back. So thirsty. So desperate for water. But the alkali water could kill them in a matter of hours. The trail along here was littered with the bones of oxen and fresher dead beasts–along with discarded trunks and furniture . . . and another human grave.

A chill raked Martha despite the heat.

She yelled again, wanting to cry out her own despair, embracing the excuse, until finally the men turned the cattle and managed to move them on.


Portraits of a Century Farm ~ Where Wild Meets Tamed

A herd of Roosevelt elk ranges across the Century Farm my great-great-grandmother Martha bought in 1868. We usually see them in the wilder places of this family farm, on the hill closer to the backcountry timberland where they can duck and hide. But yesterday they visited the orchard along the river, and my son-in-law Robin Loznak had his big camera in hand. With one of his shots I’ve added this post for our series, “Portraits of a Century Farm,” which combines Robin’s exquisite photography with some poetic words from me. Through these portraits we honor Martha’s legacy, with a nod to my book A Place of Her Own that tells her story. See more of Robin’s photos from this encounter on his blog.

web-elk-4(2)Where Wild Meets Tamed

We tame the land, a legacy
From ancestors trekking mighty miles
To stake their hopes in places wild,
Where soils lay rich
Beside washing rivers
Far from home.

And here we stand
In the old orchard,
Tamed in careful rows,
Timeworn trees whispering memories
Of sweet harvests.

Yet in this place
The wild
Walks in,
Claims its home,
Our home now too.

Where wild meets tamed,
We live together,
While sentinels
Of wild’s past


Friend’s Book Launch

My friend, A. Lynn Ash, launched her second book Sunday, Vagabonda: Solo Camper Out West, a memoir of her travels camping alone through the western US. Lynn and I belong to a small group of writers, mostly from the Eugene area, an offshoot of the Mid-Valley Willamette Writers. We get together for mutual support and the occasional critique. And several of us traveled together to the Women Writing the West Conference in early October. See “Conference Across the Mountains.”

An enthusiastic crowd came out to Lynn’s launch party at the lovely home of Vic and Linda Martin in Eugene.

Lynn read a short segment describing a stormy evening in the mountains with only a nosy bear for company. She seemed dubious about the bear’s intentions, and left us with a cliffhanger.

A happy Lynn shows off the cover of Vagabonda  as she prepares to sign more books. She took the cover photo herself on one of her solo treks. That’s her shadow in the lower left corner. And she has more travel photos inside.

Lynn signs another book and shows a bit of appreciation for cover and book designer Seho Chon.

Lynn’s first book, The Route From Cultus Lake, led the reader on earlier jaunts across the country, while Vagabonda continues her travels, with details gleaned from the extensive journals she kept en route.

With the gift of her background in geography and years as a birder, she shares her adventures with depth and humor.

In naming the book, she saw herself as a female vagabond, thus Vagabonda.

I feel honored that she asked me to do the back jacket blurb.

Congratulations, Lynn, on launching your new book. A big day for a writer. Cheers!


Outtakes #7 – A Place of Her Own

Continuing the Outtakes of words cut from A Place of Her Own before publication, we come to this short segment, which is an extension of the Oregon Trail scene that ends at the upper third of page 115. Martha knows she’s pregnant by this time, but she isn’t sure Garrett knows. Although I kept a few of these words, I clipped this description of lowering a wagon down a steep hill because there’s another more powerful scene of lowering a wagon down the longer, steeper Laurel Hill on pages 121-122. Also, before visiting the site I didn’t have a clear picture of the setting in mind and decided I’d better leave the scene out. More words cut. Word count dropping, dropping. Clip…..

520.Windlass HillWindlass Hill, the site of this scene, may not look so high or so steep, unless you think of getting a covered wagon down it. I took this photo on our 2014 family trip backtracking the Oregon Trail following the release of the book.


The higher [Martha] climbed, the more she could see the incredible landscape around them. . . . Garrett caught up with her just as she reached the top, and she stood aside to let him lead. He didn’t say anything. He said little these days that didn’t have to be said, as if the words might drain his energy and he had to save it all for the daily ordeals. She felt something of that herself. She could scarcely catch breath to breathe, let alone use it to talk.

She plodded after him across the high tableland, until the beaten wagon tracks seemed to lead right off into the sky ahead. Garrett stopped the wagon at the edge of the rim, and she hurried to his side. Her heart lunged when she looked down. The land dropped away in front of them in a long, steep bank. Surely he didn’t plan to go down here. But wide scraped tracks led right down the slope to a tree-filled hollow at the bottom.

Garrett unhitched the oxen and began to tie heavy ropes around the wagon’s axles. Larry brought her the children and went to help him. They locked the back wheels by sticking a pole through the spokes from one wheel to the other. Newt held the oxen until Garrett looped the ropes around their yokes. Then with the oxen behind, holding the wagon from falling, the men slowly let out the rope and lowered the cloth-topped vessel down the sandy incline. Martha didn’t think she breathed once until it settled, rocking a little, on the valley floor. But she must have.

“Let’s get down and get on our way,” Garrett said.

Larry motioned for Newt. “We’ll bring the cattle.”

“Help us with the girls first,” Garrett said, “and lead the oxen down. I’d better give Martha a hand.”

When he reached toward her, she took his hand, thankful for his firm grip as they scrambled down the bluff. Did he know the treasure she held inside her? She hadn’t spoken of it yet. Could he tell? If he’d marked the days and noticed her lack of monthlies, maybe he knew. But he hadn’t touched her in that way for so long, how would he? Every night they fell into bed exhausted. Maybe he remembered from before. Maybe he read it in her, the way he read other things of nature.

As soon as he had the oxen hitched again and heard the boys bringing the cattle, he started out once more. Martha had thought they might rest awhile in the pretty hollow, but they had a few hours of daylight. With the girls back in the wagon, she started after him, every step sending up a wave of pain, from her feet feeling every rock through the thinning soles of her boots, up into her ankles and knees.


517.ash hollow bluffAsh Hollow lay near Windlass Hill, but farther than I imagined when I wrote the scene, and clearly a more rugged drop from the high tableland. Water in the lovely Ash Hollow became known as a source of the dreaded cholera that ravaged emigrants trekking west. The Maupins were lucky to be spared this deadly disease.


Conference Across the Mountains

Three friends from my Eugene writing group trekked east with me this weekend for some western flavor at a Women Writing the West conference at the Eagle Crest Resort near Redmond, Oregon.

780.Erin.meThe highlight for me was meeting my editor Erin Turner. Erin, shown with me at right, is the Editorial Director of TwoDot Books, the Globe Pequot imprint for A Place of Her Own and for my next book as well, The Shifting Winds.

Here we are after the Saturday lunch in front of a Pendleton blanket displayed for the evening’s raffle.

It was great meeting Erin face to face and having a chance to sit down and talk with her about the upcoming book and just to chat. She’s a wonderful editor. I feel like a very lucky writer.

At th783.Molly.mee book signing Saturday evening I had the pleasure of sitting next to Molly Gloss, keynote speaker for the conference, bestselling author of Falling from Horses.

Molly’s many awards include the Oregon Book Award, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and the PEN West Fiction Prize. Molly also wrote Jump-Off Creek, The Dazzle of Day, Wild Life, and The Hearts of Horses.

784.condoMy friends and I rented a condo at the resort for the weekend, a lovely place nestled among the tall junipers, a bit apart from the conference center, so quiet only the delightful twitter of birds surrounded us. We each had a room of our own in the two-story building. We decided we could live there if we took a notion. At right is a glimpse inside.

786.ladies.at.doorAnd at the front door of our condo, below, my good friends and fellow travelers show a little attitude at the end of an intense weekend of workshops, networking, bookselling, and fun. From left to right: Elizabeth King, Lynn Ash, and Carol Brownson.


We are ready to head west again for home, inspired to do great things with our next big writing projects.





Outtakes #6 – A Place of Her Own

This post concludes the opening scene cut from the Oregon Trail chapter of A Place of Her Own, picking up where last week’s post left off and showing one more setback in Martha’s dreams of an idyllic life with Garrett. Martha has just led her eldest brother Ambrose out to the shed where the family’s wagon awaits the long journey west, the cloth cover not yet attached. As noted for Outtakes #5, the scene is divided into two parts due to its length–more than 1,900 words total, the cutting of which helped me in my struggle to reduce the word count for this book. Clip….

464.two wagons





Martha tells her brother about the wagon Garrett built and all that she must do to have it ready for their trip west.

Photo taken by the author at the Interpretive Center at Baker City, Oregon.





Oregon Trail Preparations – Part II

Opening the shed door, she pulled it wide so the sun would cast a light on their prairie ship. The long narrow wagon bed was made of sturdy planks, but not heavy. “It’s tough wood,” she said. “But light enough the oxen can pull it over rough ground, and the yokes are light too.”

He ran his fingers across the joints. “Your husband does fine work.”

A glow flushed her cheeks at his compliment. “He’s particular about it.”

Wooden bows curved up from the wagon bed, ready for the cloth cover. “I have the cover almost done,” she said. “It’ll be two layers, a tougher linen for outside, softer muslin inside.” She showed him her calloused fingers. “It’s not easy to run stitches through that linen. I’ll be glad when it’s done. I’m making pockets on the inside to put things in. There’s so much to carry, but we can’t make it too heavy.”

He nodded. “Lots to think about.”

“Oh yes. Thoughts come to me, even in the night. I have to remember every little thing, this thing and another, and how I’m going to pack it so it’s safe. Ambrose, a person can die out there if they don’t have just what they need.”

“I suppose.”

“I still have to get the food ready and bags to hold it all.” She ticked off the list in her mind–hams and bacon, cheese, rice, coffee, tea, beans, flour, cornmeal, crackers, hard biscuits, lard, dried apples and peaches and prunes. They’d take cows with them and make butter on the way, maybe a couple of chickens in a crate. They’d need pickles to protect them from scurvy on the plains where they’d have no fresh fruits or vegetables. Garrett would bring in game.

She went on. “Besides the food, we need medicines–a box of physic pills, castor oil, peppermint, whiskey.” She also had clothes to make. A new flannel dress, some jeans pants for Garrett. New stockings to knit. More yarn for knitting on the trail. Dresses all cut out for the girls and some muslin shirts for Garrett, ready to pick up and sew when she had a spare moment along the way. Sarah Catherine and her mother had helped. It was good Sarah and young Perry would be staying with their mother.

Ambrose chuckled. “I can see your mind working now. You’ll be all right, Martha. A lot of people are going, and if they can make it you can. You have a good mind.” He rubbed a hand over the wagon’s smooth joints. “And your husband is–well, let’s say if I was going into the wilderness, I’d be happy to be in his company.”

She lifted her chin and glanced out the shed door. “He is a frontiersman, all right. You should see him in his buckskins when he goes out hunting, carrying that long rifle. I don’t remember a time he ever came home empty-handed.”

“You’ll be glad for that out on the prairies.”

Sugar nickered, and Martha went outside to see who she was talking to. The mare stood with head high, ears sharply forward, looking toward the big house. The distant sound of baying hounds echoed through the trees. Riders emerged. Garrett and the boys. Already. “They must have worked things out pretty fast.”

When the three came closer, she frowned. Garrett wasn’t riding with his usual flowing grace. He looked tight, out of rhythm with the horse. Galloping up to the cabin, he pulled his horse up short and swung to the ground, jaw clenched, eyes hard. Without looking at Martha, he led the animal straight to the shed and began unsaddling.

She hurried to his side. “What wrong?”

He kept his eyes on the cinch he was undoing, and his voice rasped with anger. “I’m not going anywhere with that bunch. We aren’t going this year.”

Martha looked at the new wagon, then back at her husband. “What do you mean?”

“Larry and Newt–they’re gonna go this year–just horseback, maybe take a packhorse, maybe not.”

Martha had been working so hard, hurrying to get it all done. She felt as if she’d been running across the grass and tripped on an unseen stone and the ground had come up to hit her in the face. Aware of her brothers walking up behind with their own horses, she turned to see if either of them could make sense of this for her.

Larry spoke before she could ask. “We’ll check out Oregon and let you know what we find.”

“But . . . but what happened with the Ray County company?”

“There were . . .” Larry shrugged. “. . . disagreements.”

“Can’t we find another company?” Martha’s voice rose. “We’ve done so much work to get ready, and with–”

Garrett cut her off. “Then we’ll be good and ready next year.” He gave the horse a rubdown, pulled some hay down from the loft of the shed and piled it on the ground, then stomped away, retreating into the house.

Martha stood staring after him, trying to take in what he’d said. She’d been uncertain about this trip in the first place, wondering about the timing, among so many other doubts. Louisa was a baby. It wouldn’t be easy with a baby as well as a toddler. Nora wouldn’t be three until September. And there was his pa’s estate. How could Garrett leave before that was settled? But when he insisted they would do the trip this year, she’d nursed her own wanderlust and actually developed a growing excitement about it. Now they were just going to drop the plan?

Larry put a hand on her shoulder. “It wouldn’t be good for Garrett to go with that company. They’re a persnickety bunch, all full of dos and don’ts, and you know how Garrett is.”

Newt let out a soft laugh. “I thought he was going to hit that guy when he–”

“Newt.” Larry’s sharp voice stopped his brother.

Martha pinched her brow, lifting her hands. “But can’t we find another company? Can’t we go over to St. Joseph or Independence–one of those jumping off places–like other folks do? Ray County isn’t far, and Garrett thought it’d be good to travel with folks from home, but other people go to those towns and find companies there.”

Larry shook his head, looking at the ground between them. “He seems to have his mind set. Besides, he says he’d better stay on account of the estate. It isn’t quite done yet.”

“The estate?” Martha said. “I asked him about that before and he shrugged it off. Now it’s important? Why? Because he’s mad at somebody?”

Larry’s eyes began to smile. “That’s about it.”