Outtakes #11 – A Place of Her Own

This post comes from an opening for another of my personal chapters for A Place of Her Own, a segment describing Wildcat Canyon, a remarkable cleft on the mountain. The chapter title was “The Death of Dreams.” The scene leads into a discussion of divorce, some of which was retained in an Interlude. But most of this was cut. Clip…..

Wet-Oregon-06On our walk through Wildcat Canyon, my son-in-law, Robin Loznak, captured a stunning image of this exquisite mushroom goblet, as it drank up the rain.


The canyon, November 2010. A canyon could close in on you, give you a sense of entrapment. It could be a place of danger, haunted by cougars and rattlesnakes and unnamed fears. As I walked through Wildcat Canyon, the deepest cleft on the property, I felt a mix of unease and adventure. I was here. I accepted the challenge. A bristling sensation crossed my flesh, as if alerting me to every element around me.

Drips of rain filtered through the canopy of trees, the thick evergreen boughs offering some cover against the shower that surprised us. Lured out on this November morning by a feeble sun after days of rain, my son-in-law and I had decided to take this walk today. A light drizzle started before we even reached the Tree Farm Road up to the west hills pasture, and by the time we approached the mouth of the canyon, rain had begun to fall in earnest. We were glad for the tree cover and hoped the shower would soon pass.

Our two dogs hurried ahead, oblivious to the weather. I had asked Robin to go with me into the canyon, believing it one place Martha would surely want to explore. Her sons would, as Robin and my grandson Alex did when they learned of the place soon after they moved here. With recent cougar sightings in the area, I wasn’t comfortable going alone. The dogs would help scare off big predators, but another person would help too. Robin was happy to come along. He brought his big camera, ready to get some good nature photos.

We tramped uphill along the old logging road that cut through the canyon, not much more than a trail now, overgrown with grass and brambles, fungi scattered over the spongy ground. Unusual mushrooms, like orange goblets, lifted their heads as if to gather nectar pouring from branches above.

Towering Douglas firs helped dim the scattered light reaching this narrow gash in the earth. A high rock wall loomed on our left, just beyond the deepest cut below the road. I tipped my head back to see the top of the wall, up to the twisted trees lining the upper edge. The yawning mouth of a small cave opened deep in the rock near the top. Jagged ledges and holes marked the entire cliff face. Places for predators to hide? Ferns draped from the rock wall and covered the canyon floor, where moss carpeted rocks, tree trunks, stumps.

We scrambled down to the base, nearer the cliff. Should we? We found game trails. Cougar? Or just deer, the cougar’s favorite food? Would we surprise something we wouldn’t want to stir? No cougar would be unaware of our presence as we stomped through brush, snapping twigs, the dogs dashing from one curiosity to the next.

The overhead boughs could no longer hold back the rain that began to pour steadily, drenching us and everything around us. I pressed through the waist-high ferns, clinging to their giant wet fronds to keep from falling on the steep slope strewn with fallen branches, logs and rocks. A thick mulch covered the earth, the debris of ages. I couldn’t see a game trail anymore. As I plowed forward, I tried to imagine traipsing through this in long skirts.

Brambles tripped me. How like life. I could feel Martha’s sense of entrapment, her desperation, as she plunged through her own canyon of challenge. Divorce. It had seemed a foreign word to me. Something other people did. Yet how much worse for Martha in her day. Although not unknown in 1860, especially in the West, divorce was still rare. How could she do it? But how could she not?

I had asked myself the same questions. Shaking my head, I walked on, thinking about her. Why did she stay with him as long as she did?


Outtakes #10 – A Place of Her Own

This Outtake comes from one of my personal chapters in A Place of Her Own, a segment leading to a Tribute to My Father that I’ve already used for a post. The scene describes a day my daughter Carisa and I walked up my father’s mountain and found ourselves in bear country. Most of my scenes were cut to focus on Martha’s story, including this and the tribute, but maybe you’ll enjoy this, and if you haven’t seen the tribute, you can visit that here. Clip…..

Bear-TrailcamRobin Loznak caught one of our bears with his trail-cam one night in October last year, a nice black bear posing for its portrait on the mountain. I prefer to see them this way.


The west hills, September 2010. The golden grass stood so high the dogs couldn’t see their way. One a yellow lab, the other a black lab mix, they weren’t small dogs, but the grass came well over their heads. Heavy rains last spring had produced rich forage for the cows this year, and they hadn’t been on this pasture lately, making our walk difficult, except for a few beaten trails. Deer probably. Maybe elk. Or bear.

The scent of rain filled the air now, and a soft sprinkle started again after scattered morning showers. My daughter Carisa and I tromped through the thick, damp growth behind the dogs. I wanted to check out the most recent timber planting to see how it was doing, and I wanted to check out this part of the farm, wondering if Martha had done the same in her first year here.

When I was a kid we called this pasture Horse Heaven Hills. I didn’t know why the name. Maybe because the grass grew so sweet here, the animals experienced the place as their own heaven? It always seemed a bit sublime to me. For a long time I planned to build my house over here, but when my dad cut the timber that would have circled behind the house, I began to look elsewhere.

Turning, I could see how the pasture meandered up the hill in steps and ridges, down to the bluff on one side, up to Wildcat Canyon above–a deep slice into the forested ridgetop. The land was more rugged on this side of the property than the softer ridge where my house sat. A middle ridge ran between this and my house, beyond our view now.

While I found hills and hollows in the parts of Missouri and Illinois where Martha lived and traveled, there was nothing you could call a mountain, nothing to prepare her for the terrible mountains of the West she had to cross, nothing to prepare her even for the hills of her own farm. This wasn’t anything like the rugged crests of the Rockies or Cascades. I doubted it was technically a mountain, though I hadn’t found a clear definition of the term. This rose about eight hundred fifty feet from the valley floor to the top. But to my dad this hill on our farm was always the mountain. His mountain. Maybe that was because Martha saw it as a mountain and the designation continued with the family. Hills to her would be like the gentle rises in Missouri and Illinois. The farm’s elevated land of sharp slopes and sweeping ridges was in her eyes a mountain. Before my dad, Martha’s mountain.

Dipping under a hot wire to reach our newest timber planting, Carisa and I found new firs growing well despite competition. We approached a mound of blackberry vines crouched on the land like a huge thorny web, and took advantage of its better part. Something had cleared the way into the bush. We had a little snack of the delicious berries. Then I saw a pile of scat full of berry seeds. Big scat. “What’s this?” I asked. We peered closer. Goose bumps rose on my skin. “It doesn’t look fresh.”

We stood taller and looked around. A bear had been here, a large one, but not recently. With all our noise and our two dogs, it probably wouldn’t come back now. We shrugged and happily continued our snack.

Photo by Robin Loznak And of course there’s this all-time favorite Robin Loznak photo of other wildlife on the family farm, one of several photos included in A Place of Her Own. The Roosevelt elk herd ranges across the mountain, and on rare occasions even slips down to the river bottom.


Outtakes #9 – A Place of Her Own

This Outtake reveals another short bit taken from the end of an Oregon Trail scene at the top of p. 124 in A Place of Her Own. The Maupins have survived the precipitous drop down Laurel Hill and have just come into the rich prairies west of the Cascade foothills. The cut is just 176 words, but words are words. And I desperately needed to take more out. At least it gave me more in one fell swoop than the single filler words I snipped throughout the manuscript. Clip…..

The photo above, by Robin Loznak, appears in A Place of Her Own, illustrating Douglas Firs on the family farm. Similar trees of this species would have been growing in the area depicted in this scene, though no doubt larger than these. Pioneers trekking into what is now the State of Oregon found Doug firs some 300 feet tall. Two or three men could lie head-to-foot across the diameter of a stump from one of these giants that might have been as much as 800 years old.


Near evening a cabin appeared, nestled against a grove of firs at the edge of a broad meadow. The scent of a hearth fire reached Martha’s nose, and she took a long, satisfying breath of it. People began spilling out the cabin door, running toward the wayworn travelers. A man reached them first. He lifted his hat and rubbed a hand across his thin, curly hair. “Welcome to Oregon.”

A united but somewhat ragged thank you answered him back.

He introduced himself and his wife, who came up behind him, and Garrett introduced the family. The woman went straight to Martha and gripped both her hands. “My dear, what a journey for you. When are you due?”


The woman smiled and nodded. “Oh, you’ll be settled by then. Come sit a spell and have some supper with us.”

“That’s so nice of you,” Martha said. “You must see a lot of travelers, living here.”

The woman laughed. “We do, and we love it. We all took that trip, God bless us, and we all understand.”

468.diorama mother & childThis photo taken at the Interpretive Center in Baker, Oregon, shows a part of the continuing diorama depicting a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. The woman makes me think of Martha and her little Nora, oldest of her two at the time. My heart tightens as I imagine the strain of traveling that perilous trail with such a precious, vulnerable child. Another even tinier. A third on the way. What a thrill to know in this short Outtake that they have almost made it through. Of course, Martha would have been full in her pregnancy by then.


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.


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.


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.”


Outtakes #5 – A Place of Her Own

The following is part of a scene that originally opened the Oregon Trail chapter of A Place of Her Own, and now becomes a part of this Outtakes series of scenes cut from the book. The segment shows Martha with her oldest brother Ambrose, who moved from Illinois to Missouri sometime before the 1850 census. It’s a pleasant scene and tells about the preparations for that amazing trek west to Oregon. But altogether it’s over 1,900 words, and it didn’t move the story sufficiently to hold its place. This was the cut that convinced me I could actually trim the book by the necessary 22,000 words. Yay! Clip…..

Note: I’m dividing the scene into Part I and Part II because it’s so long.

464.two wagons


Garrett built a wagon like this for their family, and Martha sewed the cover.

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


Oregon Trail Preparations – Part I

Ray County, Missouri, April 1849. Their small Missouri cabin echoed with quiet as Martha sat next to her oldest brother Ambrose before the low fire. Only the steady whisk of the rockers sounded above the soft snap of coals as Ambrose leaned back in Martha’s rocking chair and moved slowly back and forth, while she perched on the edge of a stool and poked at the fire. The homey scent of the hearth wafted through the room.

Garrett had left for town with Larry and Newt, while Ambrose stayed behind with her. “They didn’t need me,” Ambrose said. “I thought this was a good chance to visit with you.”

Garrett and the boys went to talk with some folks who were trying to put together a company from Ray County to travel together to Oregon. Martha was glad Ambrose rode over from Carroll County with the younger two. Although she regretted Doc didn’t join them, she appreciated a chance to spend time with her oldest brother.

Larry and Newt had come to Missouri early this spring, still full of excitement about Oregon. A veritable land of milk and honey, to hear them tell it. Garrett wanted to sell the Missouri place and get on his way. But it wasn’t that easy.

Ambrose and his wife Polly had finally moved to Missouri the year before and lived with their family in the cabin Simpson built for himself on Doc’s second forty over in Carroll County. Oregon fever hadn’t quite hit Doc or Ambrose, but Martha had trouble imagining her next step west without Doc.

Garrett had been working on him. “The future’s in Oregon, Doc. Too many people in Missouri.”

“Well, there’s California.”

Last December when President Polk confirmed rumors about gold in California, Martha had seen the sudden glint in Garrett’s eyes, as if reflecting a bit of that gold.

“Not the best place for families, though,” Doc had said.

Now, glancing at their new baby Louisa in her cradle, born that very month of December, Martha remembered wondering if Garrett might just go without her and the girls. But his talk still focused on Oregon.

She smiled at Ambrose. A soft-spoken man, he exuded a kind of self-assurance that put her at ease, a trace of gray in his beard and hair giving him a distinguished look. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said, meaning it more than she knew how to say. He’d been like a pa to her these last few months, now that their own pa was gone. Heaving a sigh, she stood and looked out the gleaming glass window of her cabin to the pasture where her mare Sugar grazed, Howard’s gift. “I wish I could have been there when Pa went. And Ma, so soon after. Do you think they ever forgave me?”

“They loved you.”

A heavy band seemed to tighten across her chest. “I know, but did they forgive me?”

She turned to see her brother’s gentle expression, the warmth in his eyes, the slightest curve of his lips as he spoke. “It’s hard to say with them. You know they never said a lot about things like that. But you can’t change it now, Martha.”

She looked out at Sugar again. “No.”

“I’ve no doubt Doc thought he was in the right to give your consent. Pa did tell him he had full responsibility for you. I heard him. Now, Pa may not have thought through what that could mean, but he said it.” Ambrose got up and came to her, setting a tender hand on her shoulder. “It isn’t easy to get through life without some trials with those you love. But when it’s done and you can’t do any more about it you can’t dwell on the trials–just the love. Somehow I think they understand now.”

Martha batted her eyes, moist with tears. “You boys all scattered soon after, didn’t you? You came here, now Larry and Newt.”

“And Simpson followed Stephen to Scott County. I don’t know what Ben will do.”

Lifting her shoulders high, then dropping them, Martha turned and grasped Ambrose’s arm. “Let me show you what we’ve done to get ready for Oregon. It’s going to be an amazing trip, Ambrose. I wish you’d think about it.”

He laughed, a hand on his soft beard. “I’ll think about it, but I hear they need a Justice of the Peace in Carroll County, and I think I’ll give that a try for now.”

“Justice of the Peace?” She smiled. “You’d be good at that. Come on outside. I’ll show you the wagon.” She tiptoed over to where the girls were napping–Louisa in the cradle, Nora on the small mat beside. Sleeping soundly. Nodding to Ambrose, she slipped out of the cabin to lead him to the shed out back, leaving the cabin door open so she could hear if the girls woke. “They should sleep awhile longer. Come see. We’ve done a lot of work already.”

Part II next week…


Outtakes #4 – A Place of Her Own

Today’s post continues my series of scenes that were cut from the book A Place of Her Own before its publication. In each of the scenes from my point of view I always started at a particular special place on the farm, where my thoughts would lead me to Martha and her situation. Then I would open Martha’s next chapter in the same location with her remembering back to her story. The editor found this too contrived, which it was. We changed that format. But I still like some of the descriptions of the places, like this one, and I believe my traipsing across the farm to these places, and thinking of Martha at each one, helped me get closer to her, even if many of those descriptions were cut. Clip…..

Janet and William


My kids’ good old dog William resting with me on the bluff.

Photo by Robin Loznak



The bluff, September 2010. I hopped onto the outcropping of large flat boulders overlooking a steep drop to the valley floor. Moss formed a patchy carpet on the stones, tufts of grass filling the crevices. I smiled. The bluff brought back memories of games my sister, Nancy, and I used to play. We would lie down at the edge of the overhang and keep watch on happenings below, filling our minds with imagined danger and excitement.

My daughter Carisa, with me today, stepped up beside me. An entire summer had passed since last I wandered the hills and fields of the farm seeking special places Martha might have walked in order to know this new land of hers.

Now it was fall. The first fall rains had come, but it was supposed to be clearing again, heading into the usual warm Indian summer. Dark gray clouds boiled overhead with a few bits of blue offering promise. Our coats still felt damp from the shower that caught us on our way here. I thought about Martha and the wanderlust that brought her to this place–her husband’s, but probably hers as well. What kind of danger and excitement did she face?

The soft, moist air wrapped around us as we stood on this hillside overlook, screened by the oak and myrtle trees that enclosed the bluff, giving it a pleasant feeling of seclusion, as if we could see out but might be comfortably hidden from any watchers outside. A young twisted oak stood directly out from the rimrock, offering glimpses between its branches of the lower fields and the wide green river flowing gently past. A grassy bench of land swept up from the bluff to the right, while a bank rose sharply behind, adding to our sense of enclosure.

In years past my sister and I used to take a trail to get here, a narrow animal trail that bit into an almost perpendicular hillside on our left. This time Carisa and I had taken the newer, easier route from the other direction, coming up a steep logging road, the Tree Farm Road, where a sign on the gate marked our designation as a certified Tree Farm.

In fact, before I could start the rough draft of this book I had to stop and write a new timber management plan and have the operation reviewed in order to be certified as my father had been. More than once, farm needs would pull me away from this story focused on the farm.

Did Martha come up here? Did she stand on these mossy rocks and contemplate the journey of her life that brought her to this lovely wilderness so terribly far from home? Whatever happened to her parents, Thomas and Maxy Poindexter? I doubt she ever saw them after that trip to Illinois for the birth of Leonora, a birthplace recorded by multiple census records that let me know Martha made the trip to have the child there. . . .

Questions haunted me as I plunged forward with this project. With other books, I’d often had the eerie feeling that stories were coming to me from somewhere–or someone–outside myself. I would set up a framework and ideas would flood in. That feeling hit much stronger this time, as if the messenger were closer to me. I wished whoever was sending these messages would refrain from flooding me with them at four in the morning. But I knew well that state of openness on the edge of sleep before the doubts of an awakened mind rose, letting the stuff of dream and spirit enter in.


Outtakes # 3 – A Place of Her Own

In the third outtake from Martha’s story, A Place of Her Own, the scene takes place at the end of Chapter 5, “Home and War,” showing Martha’s visit back in Illinois with her parents. It’s the good-bye scene with the parents, which I found had many similarities with the greeting scene for that visit, the wording so alike I was struggling to show the difference, then realized I could simply summarize the scene at the beginning of the next chapter and cut 559 more words. And no more struggling over pesky words that wouldn’t come together for me. So, clip…..

Book cover - A Place of Her Own


The horse and rider at right will look familiar to folks who’ve seen the book jacket of A Place of Her Own. I pulled this out of the old photo on the cover. It shows Martha and Garrett’s eldest son Cap outside Martha’s house at the farm, and I put it here to reflect an image. In my research I found no photo of Garrett, although military records and family legend describe him well enough that I can easily imagine him resembling Cap. And both men were known to be excellent horsemen. As Martha rides away with Garrett in the scene below, I draw from this image to envision him.


Garrett could not be held back more than a day and Martha had to face the wrenching pain of separation again, this time with her family, who’d grown even more dear to her during this visit. After tearful good-byes all around to her siblings and their families, she walked with Garrett down the little trail to the small cabin in back, holding Nora tight in her arms.

When Ma opened the door, Martha smiled, wishing for a smile in return and seeing only a flicker. “We have to go now, Ma.” Her mother wouldn’t quite look at her, wouldn’t reveal either warmth or coldness in her clear gray eyes.

“Mam-ma,” Nora said, waving her arms, and Ma reached out to take the child, holding her close and nuzzling the feathery blond hair. Ma took the child to Pa, who was sitting on the bed, and let him hold her.

“How’s my girl,” he said, pulling a handkerchief from his pants pocket to wipe the corner of his eye.

When he looked up at Martha, she sought the flash of warmth she’d seen from time to time, when he seemed to forget how angry he was with her, but like Ma he appeared to be hiding behind a mask, making his face difficult to read. She would have reached down to embrace him, but he held the child as a shield. Finally she took Nora in one arm and patted his shoulder with the other. “Good-bye, Pa.” He looked so weak. Would she ever see him again? But Ma was strong. Maybe another day they’d have time to put their differences behind them.

Garrett spoke up finally, his voice taut. “Good-bye, then.”

Martha gave her ma a one-armed hug, still seeking her eyes, but Ma kept her focus low. For the briefest moment she did look up, and her pain struck Martha. Tears glittered. Martha leaned forward to press a cheek against hers, then drew away. “I love you, Ma–and you, Pa. I . . . really have to go now.” Her voice broke on the last words, and she turned away, following Garrett out to where Newt held their horses.

Garrett mounted first and reached for Nora, perching her on the saddle in front of him. “She’ll be safer here.”

Nora’s shriek rent the air. He tried to soothe her, but she reached for her mother, tears washing her bright red face. She wasn’t having a bit of this arrangement. “I’d better take her with me,” Martha said.

Garrett’s jaw tightened, but he waited for Newt to help Martha onto her sidesaddle, then handed the screaming child to her. Martha did her best to tuck the child on the saddle in front of her. This was going to be a long ride.

They bid Newt good-bye, waved to the others waiting on the porch, and rode out, Nora still shaking with soft sobs. Martha could scarcely contain her own emotions. With every step the horse took, she was moving farther and farther from her beloved family. She looked back once, and blinked at the tears. Would she ever see them again? Ever heal the breach with her beloved ma and pa? Or had time ended all chance of that? She turned and glanced at Garrett, then Nora, ahead to her future, and didn’t want to answer those questions.


Outtakes #2 – A Place of Her Own

Originally I interspersed every one of Martha’s chapters with a short chapter from my own viewpoint, showing my return to the farm as well as my search for Martha. The editor liked my search, but not the return. This is part of an early scene of mine showing my family’s own struggles as we prepared to move to Martha’s farm. In general, I will try to post only the parts of scenes not included in the published version, although sometimes there may be a slight overlap. Thus, the posts may sometimes feel as if they’ve picked up in the middle of a conversation. Clip…..

Outtakes No. 2


Here’s the Cottage Grove house going on the market.






Before any of us could move here [to the farm] . . . we needed houses to live in. Had I known it would take so long I might have bought a bigger house in Cottage Grove when I moved there a few years ago after it became clear my dad needed me closer. At that time I lived alone and the twelve hundred square feet of my Victorian cottage there seemed perfect for me. After my dad died and we reached a decision that I would keep the farm and Carisa and her family would move here from Montana, we knew we would need a second house and some restoration on the old farmhouse.

Soon after the decision Carisa’s husband, Robin, got a job in Roseburg, a town in somewhat the opposite direction as Cottage Grove. Photojournalism jobs being rare, he felt he should take the job, even though the farmhouse wasn’t ready for them. The builder thought it would take a couple of months to have it done. We decided Carisa’s family could move in with me–the three of them, their two dogs, one cat and one fish. I had already acquired my other daughter’s dog. Robin would commute between Cottage Grove and Roseburg. Surely we could manage for two months.

But the two months stretched longer. I was anxious to get my own house started. Though relatively close, Cottage Grove was still forty miles from the farm, and it wasn’t easy to manage a farm from that distance. Fortunately, someone was close by to look out for things. Ed Cooley, the man who had worked with my dad since the 70s, was still renting cattle pasture from me and helping with the harvests and other tasks. From all those years working beside my dad, he knew more than I ever would about how things worked on this farm. Ed was one good reason my dad was able to stay on the farm into his late years, and one good reason I dared take it on when my dad died.

Anyway, two months in my little cottage became three, four, five. The cottage felt even smaller. Tempers flared. The fish couldn’t take it. He died. I could scarcely think, let alone manage. Having lived alone for almost twenty years I was used to my own space. And my daughter was used to running her own household. She was homeschooling Alex in the large country kitchen, the buffet in there given over to the paraphernalia necessary for that.

For a while we ate dinners in the dining room, which had become their bedroom, but that required folding up their futon every morning. We ended up eating at my little table in the corner of the kitchen, a perfect 30-inch-square table for me, but the four of us had trouble fitting around it.

Alex, at eleven, missed his friends and railed against Grandma’s stricter house rules. Articulate and dramatic, he would explode from time to time. “I can’t live like this anymore.”

Their big golden lab slunk off the couch whenever he saw me, head low, eyes guilty, knowing he wasn’t allowed there. The other little dog never understood. I had to put away all my breakable treasures to protect them from the lively cat that easily jumped to any height indoors.

While we struggled in our cramped space, I also needed to get this Cottage Grove house sold so I could afford to build my new house at the farm. This was summer 2008. House prices were trembling. I felt growing desperation to get mine on the market soon, but knew it wouldn’t show well with our menagerie in it. Finally after seven months, we told the builder my kids were moving into the farmhouse, ready or not. It was time to start the other house. That caused some consternation for the builder, as he contemplated having to work around the family and their menagerie to finish the job, but they made the move. Work soon began on the new house.

I had about three months of quiet in Cottage Grove–if you can count having a house on the market quiet, and running back and forth to a forty-mile-distant farm. Then my other daughter and granddaughter came to live with me. My small cottage became cramped again. We had to scurry every time our real estate agent wanted to show the house, with toys to pick up, the accumulations of too many people stuffed into too-small closets.

Time stretched while the new house on the hill took form. . . . After a year, during the near collapse of the housing market, the Cottage Grove house finally sold. Again I explained to the contractor we were moving in, ready or not. The move happened, and finally, with all my family around me in a lot more space, I was here to enjoy what Martha bought over one hundred forty years ago.

Note: My son-in-law Robin shared the magic of his photography in A Place of Her Own with pictures of the family farm. If you missed the tribute to Robin on my blog, or want to see the post again, click Spotlight on the Photographer to find it.