Usually I begin a new novel with setting. In the case of Death in Copper Town I was fascinated with the history of copper mining in Arizona. It started in the late 1800s, but continued until the 1950s, and even now companies are exploring ways to recover yet more minerals from the earth.
Next, I since I was writing a series, I needed to develop characters to people this setting. I wanted to write a police procedural, but one from a feminine viewpoint, and particularly that of a beginner. Enter Pegasus Quincy. I determined she needed to be a beginner, experiencing all that a cop learns for the first time, unjaded by patrol work in a grungy inner city setting. She had to have a sense of humor and a deep sense of caring for others in her world.
She wouldn’t know a lot about police procedure, since she was young and just out of the police academy; therefore she would view death like most of us do, something that happens out there, to somebody else.
Peg had recently moved from Tennessee to Arizona, trading lush green hills for the sometimes harsh high desert plateau. While she would know copperhead snakes, encountering timber rattlers would be unnerving. Javelinas would be a new experience for her as would dramatic summer monsoon thunderstorms in the southwest.
Oh, and since characters never operate in a vacuum, let’s give her a grandfather she can’t get along with, and a mother with early dementia, and a boss that rues the day he ever hired her.
Add bright red hair, a stubborn personality, and a six-foot height. Yes, that’ll get her started.
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I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out the fascination of Downton Abbey. Certainly the clothes. How marvelous! And the interweaving of the upper class with those who care for them. But one of the biggest draws for me was watching the vehicles change.
They lived in the Age of Transportation, going from horse carriage to rail to automobile to airplane. How exciting to see all of these for the very first time. Can you imagine, having been limited to the speed a brace of horses would go, to all of a sudden be catapulted into the 20th century with a ride in a brand new automobile!
I’ve been reading a memoir of an extraordinary person, whose life parallels the folks at the Abbey. In many ways her life was as exciting as theirs. The author? Agatha Christie. I was first introduced to Dame Christie by watching reruns of M.A.S.H. There is a wonderful episode where Hawkeye and B.J. are reading her newest mystery, only to find the last page missing. The story follows their efforts to find out exactly what happened.
Agatha had always been a story-teller. As a young only child, she invented a group of Kittens, and told elaborate stories of their adventures. Later on, of course, she became famous for her wonderful series of mysteries involving both Hercule Perot (who bears an amazing resemblance to her second husband) and Miss Marple.
In a way she was like Conan Doyle in that both characters were old when she invented them, with little chance to grow and change. She tried several times to shift into other venues, but her publishers kept pulling her back. They knew what the readers wanted!
She traveled with her first husband around the world. Followed her second husband to archeological digs all over the middle east. Lived through both world wars. An amazing lady!
I’m a mind girl. Most of my life my brain has directed how I do things, where I go, what I eat, when I sleep. That worked fine when I was twenty, or even thirty. Now, it causes me problems, sometimes.
Having a long weekend with not a lot going on, I tried an experiment. I would pay attention to my physical being, I would listen to what my body was telling me.
1) I’d keep taking the meds the docs prescribed. Always a good idea.
2) I’d switch from coffee to tea. Since this was only for 48 hours, I didn’t want to battle caffeine withdrawal, but at the same time I wanted to be mindful of what I was drinking.
3) To quiet my mind, I planned to do meditation. But in short bursts. Twelve minutes, four times a day. Why twelve? Ten seemed too short and fifteen too long. Hey, it’s my experiment, I get to make the rules. 🙂
4) Yoga and stretching in the morning. That wasn’t new. A walk in the afternoon. That was. I wanted to challenge my belief that “if I didn’t exercise in the morning I never would.”
5) Switch from my journal on the computer to a long-hand version. This would tap into a part of me that my faster brain didn’t always access.
5) And the big one, eat only rice–as much as I wanted–and lots of water. I wanted to examine my “mental cravings” and concentrate on eating only when I was physically hungry. Having a monotonous , short-term diet seemed a good way to do this. At the end of the weekend, I would to return to a healthy, balanced diet.
I’d keep my normal routine of household chores and weekend errands. A monk I am not.
1) I didn’t make it the whole two days on the diet. I’d gone to the farmer’s market the Friday before, and there were peaches sitting on the counter, tantalizing me with their aroma. About two-thirds of the way through day two I gave up on rice with salt/pepper, rice with cinnamon, rice with Herbs Provence, and sat down to a delicious baked potato, heirloom tomatoes, organic cucumber slices, and snow peas. But I appreciated the melange of textures and the explosions of wonderful color more since I’d been away from them.
And I find I am more mindful of what I eat later in the day. I found I craved crunchy things. But maybe I can substitute carrot and celery sticks for the chips with cheddar cheese. 🙁 Well, most of the time, anyway.
2) I found I didn’t miss the coffee. I liked the variety of teas–green, Assam, oolong, English Breakfast, Earl Grey. The heating of the water and doling out of tea leaves was a pain, though. I’m used to my automatic coffee pot. I foresee another gadget on my Christmas list!
3) The Yoga/stretching was valuable. I walked one day and found I skipped the next. But on the day I walked, I slept much better. I might try seeing if I can incorporate more of this into my regular routine.
4) Journaling was so-so. I’ll probably go back to the faster way on the computer. My fingers thanked me.
5) The biggest surprise was the meditation. interspersing meditation throughout the day allowed me to observe the thoughts running through my head and let go of some of them. Early on in the weekend, my thoughts were from unfinished business from the work week. Later on, I would concoct elaborate menus of amazing foods–until I let go of these, too, and just meditated. Last to leave were my writing ideas, including this blog entry: What would I say, how would I say it.
But even in 15 minute bursts, I found after the initial flurry of mental activity, my mind would quiet. I became calmer, happier, more able to slow down time during the rest of the day. I want to incorporate this practice within my regular daily routine.
So…it really didn’t take that much more time than my regular weekend pursuits. Since I wasn’t cooking, I had time left over to meditate. I gave up some reading time to go walking, but I still found time to read later in the evening. I was able to let go of work and enjoy the sound of an early morning serenade by a canyon towhee, and the glimpse of a crescent moon rising.
Will I do this mini-retreat again? I think so. But in addition, I’m going to add some of the things I learned to my every day living patterns. Always a good idea to take care of ourselves!
When I was a little girl, my family had an old upright piano, black. We lived in a small house, so the only place available for it was in the baby’s room. That meant whenever he was taking a nap I couldn’t practice.
My mother engaged a piano teacher who came promptly on Wednesday afternoons to give me a lesson. We didn’t have a lot of money, so it was impressed upon me that learning was important. My mother, when she had a moment, would also sit down at the piano and play the old wartime songs from the 40s. I still have her tattered songbook.
I’d like to say I became an accomplished pianist, but instead I flunked. I think I was the only kid of nine–at least I felt like it–to get fired by a piano teacher.
Fast forward to my early 30s. My mother-in-law had a spinet, maple finish. A traditional housewife, she’d sit down to it in the afternoons, after the wash was done, the house cleaned, before it was time to start dinner, and she’d play old country hymns. I loved to hear her play.
When the opportunity arose, we bought a piano, a concert grand this time, because money was flowing. My daughter took lessons, and became amazingly good. Soon she was playing Beethoven Sonatas with gusto. I loved to hear her play. Sometimes I’d take lessons, too. But a heavy career prevented the good practice needed to advance and I never did.
When my daughter left for school, the piano was sold and the proceeds used to start a new company. A good investment, surely, in our future. But I cried when it left our house.
Fast forward to now. Living n a house separated from neighbors by a wide margin. No way I’d interrupt anyone’s conversation, even if I played loudly and badly. Semi-retired so time to play. I took the plunge and bought a new piano, a studio upright this time, walnut finish.
I moved the piano five times! I heard other people play it. But I never played it much myself. I had an abortive attempt at lessons and quit when the teacher shook her head and said, “Well it is nice that you know how to read music.” At least she didn’t rap my knuckles.
It was time to let go. But more than letting go of the piano, in a way it was letting go of a part of my mother, and of my mother-in-law, and of my daughter playing so brilliantly as a little girl. Letting go of the dream of someday, some way, playing casually, fearlessly, enjoying the music. I had to acknowledge it wasn’t going to happen, at least not in this lifetime.
I put an ad in Craigslist, and after a few abortive responses, a gentleman came to visit it. He brought his young son. And the two of them, each in his own way, sat down and played the piano. It came to life! I heard what the keyboard had been hungry for all these years.
I took the proceeds from the sale and bought a good classical guitar. The guitar is Canadian, with a cedar top and rosewood sides and back. It is hand-made with nylon strings, a very personal instrument. I cradle it and it hums.
I signed up for online lessons, and am learning to take short, frequent practice times while the fingers toughen up and develop the needed callouses. I know if I play with a pick the sound is more bright, but I like the softer, more visceral sensation of playing it with my own fingers.
I am learning to be patient with myself. In the first week I learned three chords! That was enough. I have the rest of my life to welcome this new companion into my life.
It was hard letting go. And yet, since I have been willing to do so, the music I always knew was within my soul rises to the surface each morning as I sit down to play. And I am content.
I often visit Oak Creek Canyon in the summer to dip my feet in the creek at Ensinoso Falls. Because Oak Creek is spring fed, its waters are always breath-stoppingly cold, a welcome refreshment on a summer’s day!
This year because of the Slide Fire, all of Oak Creek Canyon is closed to visitors, so I drove to the East Verde Valley to encounter Wet Beaver Creek instead.
When I arrived the park was deserted. The camp host was nowhere to be seen. Even his hammock was empty!
The camp cat gave me a sniff before she deserted me for better pickings elsewhere.
As I walked down to the Creek, I spotted first one abandoned sock:
Then two more, nestled like wooly caterpillars among the rocks:
The sound of water roaring, roaring, roaring, told me why no one was sun-bathing today:
The heavy monsoons upstream had caused high waters, swiftly running, muddy, churning. No swimming today in the floods:
The currents pushed against logs, turning them over in its eagerness to move forward, and the water knife-edged into white water:
Where the water eddied, it created not ponds for wading, but entire lakes:
In side pools, the shadows reflected in water holding its breath for a moment:
And in one special place the foam had created a pattern as clear as a thumb print:
If you visit a place with expectations, you may be disappointed.
If you visit with an open mind, the world can be full of surprises.
I have been working hard all week, packing boxes for the local Humane Society thrift shop. My sister suggested weekends were for fun, too, so yesterday I drove north to visit the sunflowers of Northern Arizona.
These sunflowers provide stability for me. For fifty years, they have always bloomed out on Fort Valley Road north of Flagstaff. Every fall, fields and fields of sunflowers framing the mountains in the distance, under the monsoon clouds.
Perhaps someday these fields will give way to the growth of the town northward, but right now, this instant, as they have for the past half-century, they provide beauty that is without price and at the same time, totally free for the taking.
Gifts abide all around us, if we just look for them.
Our monsoon season starts in July. Not like an East Indian monsoon, where the rain rains buckets at a time, but a gradual build up of high thunderclouds that eventually rain when they feel like it. A lot of stern and drang, thunder and lightning, teasing sprinkles which sometimes transform into a gully-washer that fills the channels by the street, and sometimes just passes over with a sniff, saying, “Not today.”
The storm this morning was different, though. A gentle soaking rain, sometimes heavy, accompanied by ground fog so thick I cannot see my beloved red rocks. I have all the doors open and I am feeling the rain. Letting my pores soak in the humidity, hearing it stream from all the gutters into self-made lakes spreading across the ground because the earth is so full it won’t accept any more.
Each hummingbird feeder I have (one on each side of the house) has one resident hummer who just sits there, hunkered down, waiting for the rain to stop. This time of year they are mostly rufous, those beautiful copper-colored feisty birds that aggressively chase everyone off. In another two weeks they’ll be gone and our resident Anna’s will take over again for the fall and winter.
My mood is of quiet acceptance. Nothing I need to do, nowhere I need to go. Just being present to what the moment is.