Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Life in Isolation

Grand Teton National Park stands as a patch of land where the earth has struggled like an indecisive artist to create high plains that stretch themselves into harsh, jagged peaks. This is what endless streams of tourists come to see.  One can only feel reverence, one can only feel a minute speck in the vast panorama; it makes you realize how tiny and inconsequential you are in the scheme of things. I am envious of those who are lucky enough to live there year-round compared to my two, comparatively brief stays each year. I hold in awe those who homesteaded this unforgiving country, and feel jealous that they were able to live here.  This is a land that gives you a sense of history, a sense of destiny.  It is a geography of hope, born of chaos, forged by nature and hard won by man. 

 One of the men who would put his mark on this country was J. Pierce Cunningham. A fellow New Yorker, he arrived in the Jackson Hole area of the Tetons around 1885, aged about twenty.  A few years later, he and his wife staked a claim under the Homestead Act, and thereby laid the foundations for what would become the Bar Flying U Ranch.  The cabin they built, which under the Act had to be at least 12 x 12, was what is commonly known as a dogtrot or double-pen cabin, encompassing two separate rooms with a dogtrot or breezeway in-between.  Although a more substantial home was eventually built, along with sheds, barns and other outbuildings, it is the original cabin that still stands today.

 When I first visited Cunningham’s cabin I was immediately struck by the isolation of this remote location, how lonely it must have been in the 1880s.  Although more than four hundred claims were filed in Jackson Hole in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the vastness of the valley meant there could be little interaction, especially during the harsh winter months.  And this was a hardscrabble life; rocky soil led to high operating costs as ranchers struggled to feed their cattle during the long winter.  The infamous winter of 1886/87 put an end to much of the open range ranching. 

One might think, why do it then?  I can only answer for myself as to what I feel when I stand there, surrounded by a landscape so startling, so inspiring, I feel purified, whole, inconsequential and ephemeral.  Not having been born there, I cannot fathom my own attachment to this place, why I feel the oft-repeated need to return there, but it somehow cleanses me, clears my head. 

 When I visit Cunningham's Cabin, either alone or with a friend, we are usually the only ones there.  Tourists do not come to Grand Teton National Park to see historic buildings. Occasionally, someone drives up having seen the marker on the main road.  They get out, give a quick glance to the information sheet and look off in the distance trying to spot the cabin before heading on.  I wonder if they ever consider the lives that passed against this backdrop they now so briefly enjoy.
Cunningham Cabin was the inspiration for Andrea's book, Dearest Darling.  An earlier version of
this post appeared as 'A Cunning Inspiration' on her blog.  Born in New York, Andrea Downing returned in 2008 from the UK where she lived for most of her life. She now divides her time between NYC and the east end of Long Is., punctuated by frequent journeys out west---the area of the USA she loves best. Her first book, Loveland, was a finalist for the 2012 RONE Award for Best American Historical.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

May Member News

Congratulations to our WWW members on their new books and awards! What a great group this is!

Mary E. Trimble, Sailing With Impunity  
Sail with Mary and Bruce on a 13,000-mile adventure from Seattle to legendary South Pacific Islands and home again. From magical sights and scents of their first tropical island landfall to the bustling, colorful Tahitian markets. From sudden midnight squalls and weathering a cyclone in Samoa to pristine anchorages in the Kingdom of Tonga. Share the adventure as they fulfill their dream.
Vella Munn’s four book Native American historical romance series, “Soul Survivors” has been released: Seminole Song, Spirit of the Eagle, Wind Warrior, and The River’s Daughter are about the men, women, and children determined to remain true to their traditions and cultures in the face of traumatic challenges. The stories are historical romances and more, extensively researched and full of Vella’s deep admiration for America’s first citizens.

Shanna Hatfield, Thimbles and Thistles (Baker City Brides, Book 2)  Maggie Dalton has no need for a man in her life. Widowed more than ten years, she’s built a successful business and managed quite well on her own in the bustling town of Baker City, Oregon. Full of Scottish charm and mischief, Ian MacGregor could claim any available woman in Baker City as his own, except the enchanting dress shop owner who continues to ignore him. Not one to give up on what he wants, Ian vows to win Maggie’s heart or leave the town he’s come to love.

Shanna Hatfield Lacy (Pendleton Petticoats, Book 5)  Eager to make her own way in the world, Lacy Williams leaves behind her family on the Umatilla Reservation and accepts a job in Pendleton at the telephone office as an operator. Grant Hill wants a wife. However, not just any wife will do. If that were the case, he’d make an announcement at the mercantile and cause a stampede to the church. The two must strive to discover if the bonds of love are stronger than the bonds of tradition in this sweet historical western romance.

Linda Broday Twice a Texas Bride When Rand Sinclair finds a woman and child half-frozen and starving in the dead of winter, he shares the warmth of his fire. Then he discovers she's running from an outlaw bent on killing her. He risks everything he has to keep her safe.



Andrea Downing, Dearest Darling won the Maple leaf Award sponsored by Still Moments Magazine for Favorite Hero​, as well as Honorable Mentions in Favorite Novel, Favorite Short Story and Favorite Heroine.

Susan J. Tweit's commentary, “Thank You for Your Service,” published in the Denver Post last May, is a finalist for the Colorado Authors League Awards in the Essay category. 

Gretchen Wiegand and Anna McDermott, The Circle of Na’mow is a 2015 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Historical Fiction. The Colorado Book Awards Celebration will be on Sunday, June 21, 2015 at the Doerr-Hosier Center in Aspen Colorado and will kick off the Aspen Summer Words 2015 Literary Festival.

Roni McFadden The Longest Trail won the 2014 USA REBA award for the best non-fiction representing the western states and the second edition will be released soon. Ride along with young Roni as she discovers the lessons of the ancient spirits of the mountains, deserts and horses-a wonderful coming of age tale in a magnificent setting.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

October Conference Tours

By Jane Kirkpatrick

October on the high desert is a gorgeous time of year. Rabbit brush blooms a distinctive yellow, the sage takes on a special hue of green and the sky is as blue as Crater Lake. And the mountains? If all goes well, they might have a dusting of early snow to sparkle white and even pink at sunrise and sunset. The days are warm (often in the high 70s) and the nights cool to sweater and light jacket weather. 

  Redmond, OR is at about 3,400 feet of altitude so plan to drink lots of water that will be provided during the conference. All around the resort are rock gardens, horses on pasture, golf courses that give us green even if we aren’t golfers. (I actually sometimes watch the golf channel just to see the green and listen to soft voices while I’m cleaning and what not. I don’t golf. Yes, strange, I know). 

I digress. We hope you’ll arrive in time to join us for the High Desert Museum Tour. This facility is about 30 minutes from Eagle Crest Resort where the scenery will shift from hardy juniper trees and sage to tall Ponderosa pines and waxy-leafed Manzanita. The architectural- landscape-friendly buildings are nestled among this timbered paradise that serves as a reminder to how it must have looked when settlers first made their way here in the late 1800s.

 The Museum features three interest areas:  the outdoor/wildlife exhibits that include an otter pond that brings adults and kids alike to view this mammal’s life beneath the surface. History and science combine. A period settler house is hosted by passionate docents willing to answer questions. Raptor presentations happen frequently throughout the day both inside the facility and in those great outdoors. Inside there are two wings, one featuring a Native American exhibit with history and artful stories brought to life with video, basketry, and written insights of plateau Indian culture. 

The third interest area includes a living history that allows visitors to walk through time and experience native culture, mining, the impact of the Chinese, logging, cattle and sheep ranching and the challenges of high desert living.  Changing exhibits of art are also a part of this fascinating museum. 

After we leave the Museum, we’ll head for a shorter stop at Atelier 6000, a unique gallery that “emphasizes 21st-century multimedia approach to contemporary printmaking and book arts while preserving and honoring traditional processes dating back to the 15th Century. It’s a bibliophile’s dream site! We’ll chat with artists/authors working on unique art books. WWW’s Ellie Waterston will spend a few minutes sharing her experience with her wonderful art book Ví a Láctea written by Ellie, illustrated by Ron Schultz and hand-printed by Atelier 6000 and Lone Goose Press. We’ll learn about the history of art books as well. 

 Then it’s off to the Old Mill District of beautiful Bend. This mall and outdoor museum (of sorts) allows for a river walk along the Deschutes River, provides periodic history of the area including the site once being one of the largest lumber mill operations in the state and how it was reclaimed for this use by one man’s vision of what it could become.  Lunch on your own and we head back to the conference. 

We hope you’ll join us Friday morning. We’re counting on 45 making this choice for Friday morning. This year we also offered a Sunday morning tour. Yes, there will have to be a choice because we’re also providing two terrific workshops for those who do not choose the tour.  But isn’t that what writing is all about, making those choices? We’ll highlight those workshops at a later post.


For now, we want you to hear about the tour to the Imperial Stock Ranch, the oldest working sheep and cattle ranch in continuous operation in Oregon. The ranch owners once ran their sheep to the summer pastures along the Deschutes River where members will enjoy their Friday tour lunch and shopping!  The original owners, the Hintons, developed a unique breed of sheep called the Columbia and the sheep had grazing from the Columbia River to what is now the resort community of Sunriver, about 15 miles south of the High Desert Museum.
We’ll leave Eagle Crest resort early in the morning (8:30) and head through Smith Rock Park which is a premier rock-climbing center of the country with the Crooked River running through it. We’ll cross the Crooked River and head north toward the ghost town of Shaniko that in the late 1800s was the largest wool shipping center on the west coast. The Imperial Stock Ranch isn’t far from there, in a ravine that opens up to reveal the ranch headquarters. Dan and Jeanne Carver are the second owners not part of the original family. 

The ranch itself is on the National Register of Historic Sites thanks to Jeanne’s passion for history and tradition and the importance of the ranching life. She’ll share that passion as we visit the sheep barns, talk about the cattle operation, hear how they’ve diversified into to lamb-meat production for state-wide restaurants and have a booming yarn business. The latter included providing yarn for Ralph Lauren’s Olympic sweaters last year. There’ll even be a bit of a fashion discussion as the Imperial Stock ranch has a line of designer wool clothing that wowed guests at Portland’s Fashion Week.  A box lunch will energize us for the trip back to the resort and evening flight departures or perhaps more relaxing on the high desert.

We’ve booked a tour bus for 25 people and will need that many to make the trip. I hope you’ll be one of them!