Saturday, August 10, 2013

Follow the Tawny Tracks

Award-winning memoirist and fiction writer Page Lambert looks at the spirits that motivate us in life and writing. 
How does a writer find her way into the heart of a story without following the tracks of the animals?  How does a woman find her way through life without these animals to guide her?

Once in my day-dreams, a Basque woman with Cherokee blood came to me.  Her voice pulled me like an undercurrent. "My name is Selu Ama Martone Naciente," she said. "I am an old woman living above an old river. My mother called me the Water Carrier."  Selu has been in my dreams ever since. Together we are writing a story.

Lady, a red roan carriage horse with a black mane, came to us.  When Selu walks along the banks of the river, she stops to stroke Lady's neck.  I think of how, for more than twenty years, I stroked the neck of the red roan mare that was my constant link to the land, and I think of the red roan mare in Shifting Stars who journeyed to the sacred Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains with Turtle Woman, and of the old tawny cougar who's journey paralleled hers.

“Why,” my editor asked, “do we need the mountain lion? It’s not like she’s supernatural or mystical or anything.”

True, the lion was only being a lion.  But she was linked by the land to a destiny greater than any of us could understand, and it was her destiny that was linked to Turtle Woman’s, and to mine, and now through this bit of pondering, to Selu’s.  No, not supernatural, not greater than nature, yet every bit as mysterious as nature.

Selu remembers the contours of the land on her Basque grandfather’s sheep ranch in the Big Horn Mountains because she can still feel the vibration of the ewes’ feet upon the earth, like she feels the weathered furrows that line her face through the tips of her fingers.  Is this not mystical?

The banks of the river that Selu looks down upon are flanked with asphalt and stone buildings carved from the hogback ridges.  Lady, the red roan carriage horse, has walked these ridges, as did her sire from many generations back.  He was a thin young stallion once owned by the Hungate family, but after they were stuffed down their very own well, he helped bring their bodies to a Denver mortuary.  And then, because it was his destiny, he later carried three captive children back to Denver, two Cheyenne sisters and a young Arapaho boy, where they would be displayed on the stage of a theater along with a hundred scalps.  “Come see the Sand Creek Savages,” read the placard, “and Monsieur Malakoff, the Sword Swallower!”

Selu does not know this, nor does Lady.  She does not know that the DNA of all of her ancestors still floats through her veins, but she feels it in her bones—remembers the feel of young children clinging to her back.

The animals in our lives, like the stories of our dreams, weave in and out.  As we write, it is good to feel the truth beneath our feet, like the river stones, to walk toward the heart of our stories with intention and to remember that other beings have life journeys that parallel ours, even when we cannot see them, even when their tawny forms seem merely figments of our imaginations.

Author and Women Writing the West member Page Lambert writes about the western landscape, mentoring and guiding people who want to creatively connect more deeply with the natural world. She facilitates outdoor creative adventures, often working in partnership with other professional organizations and venues such as the Grand Canyon Field Institute, The Women's Wilderness Institute, and the Aspen Writers' Foundation. Page's River Writing Journeys for Women with Sheri Griffith Expeditions were featured in the January, 2006 issue of Oprah's O Magazine as "One of the top six great all-girl getaways of the year!"


Heidiwriter said...

Beautiful, Page!

Cathi Stoecklin Finch said...

Any other more recent novels? Published May 15th 1997...