Clara turned 13 last week, still pretty spry for an 82-year-old equivalent (according to pets.webmd.com). Even on cold days she follows her nose avidly around the snowy field, sniffing vole trails, or trotting, ears and hackles on high, in pursuit of the neighborhood coyote who’s been hunting our muskrats.
Clara paces herself. I think that’s the secret to her longevity. She get too worked up over the coyote, even when she sees him; she just lifts her nose higher and adds a bit more spring into that silky, sashaying gait of hers. I don’t think she wants to actually catch anything. The UPS man may get a bark or two, no more. She’s never been one to leap up for a wild good morning, or a welcome back from the store, which can be a bit disappointing after years of Kate, the wildly intense sheprador. But she does roll her eyes lovingly up to you when you walk in the room, tail a-thump. And she curls up at our feet when we’re watching TV or eating dinner. As I pass through a room where she lies, she gazes up at me, gauging the potential for a belly rub. If our eyes meet, she rolls invitingly onto her back, awaiting my attentions.
Some day we’ll get another dog. In the meantime, we are enjoying the gentle, peaceful presence of this dear, easy companion. I was thinking someone less than 80 pounds might be nice. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite like wrapping my arms around the full barrel of her chest, or lying down with my head on her furred neck, paw draped over mine.
The stress of isolation isn’t so bad, in the company of such a quiet soul.
A group of writer friends and I started a weekly half-hour Zoom meeting about a month and a half ago. Our intent was to nudge each other to write, an ironically elusive pursuit for writers, even when we’re isolated or quarantined. We’re committed to the end of 2020, a little boost to lift us to the end of a ragged year.
A number of excellent and unexpected benefits resulted:
Muskrat-watching has become a favorite household activity at the Wood family pond, for both dog and humans. 13-year-old Clara poses no risk to these quizzical, hard-working, highly appealing critters, so she joins our observations. There are at least six muskrats of varying sizes out there, with residences excavated into the pond bank or constructed from a bed of reeds. They’ve been highly active lately, clearing the ground of dropped apples, feasting on cattail fronds, busily crossing and re-crossing the pond to and from their work. It’s pandemic-era entertainment.
You’re Invited! Muskrat-watching and bocce ball by the pond, with a campfire.
This morning was our first ice-over. Hard not to worry about the bristly gang out there, but apparently they can be underwater for 12-17 minutes, and with vertically flattened tails that are half the length of their body, they are speedy swimmers. They are well-adapted to the ice and cold. Their biggest threat is the eagles, foxes, and one lone coyote that I’ve spotted twice in the last month. Well, everyone has to eat.
And so do we! Here on the eve of Thanksgiving, I wish for all of you, like our animal neighbors, plenty to feast upon, a warm place to sleep, and good company, even if your togetherness must be adapted to audio or video technology.
**photography credit - thanks to Lisa Wahlstrom!!
I am stumbling along through this brand new world of pre-selling promotions. I remember feeling confused about a friend's upcoming book last year. When it was finally published, I thought, wait, wasn't it out months ago? I felt I'd been inundated with her book's news. Now I am doing the same thing. My friends will surely have book fatigue before the book is even released.
Slowly, "the way things work" is unfolding - how to talk to bookstores and libraries, how distribution will work, which tasks are mine versus my publisher versus my publicist. My communications have resulted in a mix of "oops" and "awesome." Happily, the state of Maine is filled with friendly, forgiving folks, and I have some enthusiastic booksellers in my court now!
Three books about book promotion are on their way to my local library through interlibrary loan. I am a book business freshman.
Here's another lovely blurb! This one's from a writer/biographer/historian who became a friend and mentor during my Rachel Field research years. Thank you, Benson!
"This wonderful book--based on meticulously thorough, devoted research--is a lovingly tender, wise, and judicious account of Rachel Field and her world. Its unusual blend of memoir and biography helps to illuminate the life, even as a poignant dialogue between the author and her subject unfolds. Truly, a tour-de-force!"
--Benson Bobrick, award-winning author of Angel in the Whirlwind and Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired.
Alex Trebek died yesterday at age 80 of pancreatic cancer. For over 30 years he hosted Jeopardy, entertaining my parents, me, my children, three generations of fans. I will miss him!
What was it that made him so appealing? He was genuine, kind, cheerful, interested in people, a bit nerdy in an endearing way. He never sought the limelight; he tried to highlight the game’s contestants, not himself. Though he expressed a “tsk tsk” kind of disappointment when contestants missed the easy ones, his disapproval was gentle, far outshone by his enthusiasm over their success. He loved his job but never took himself too seriously. He always showed up looking his best, putting his best face forward, even in pain and discomfort (sometimes severe) during his cancer treatments. Publicly, he addressed his disease, likely to lead to his death, with steady calm, honesty, and hopefulness, as though his goal was to make us all feel better. He kept on living in full to the last.
Who would imagine that a quiz show host could rise to the status of role-model? Alex Trebek made me feel like the world was not just okay, but actually pretty cool. He was an icon of goodness, unbiased congeniality, quiet leadership. Steady as she goes. Thank you, Mr. Trebek.
The weather in Maine feels portentous.
We’ve been pummeled by a blustery, insistent buffeting of wind over the last two days, spitting rain and sleet and snow. It’s hard to capture on camera, especially the sound, the roar and whoosh and whipping of trees, the dance and fling and whirlwinds of leaves. The sheer force of it evades the power of a still photo – the slog of walking into the wind, like fighting the tide, a deepwater striding, the wheelbarrows toppled and branches bent, the eddies of debris flung into the sky, leaves simultaneously flinging up from the ground and down from the treetops. Hard to tell which way the world is moving.
Here is a photograph of the surf on Sutton Island yesterday. We’d just shut off our water, antifreezed the pipes for the winter, when the ferryboat threatened to skip our island stop. We have no water! They relented. The second photo is our backyard, today. When the gusts hit as you round a corner, they knock you off track. Even when they remain distant, overhead in the trees, their dramatic acrobatics intimidate. They shanghai the trees into service as reluctant, albeit flexible partners, most of them, except the ones that break.
Tonight, storms of bluster pummel our airwaves and our headspace. Tornadoes of activity engender intensity but little clarity. There’s no escaping. Something’s coming our way.
Let’s hope these are winds of positive change. Hang on to your hats, everybody.
I am grateful for friends and family today, the newly minted and the vintage. Yesterday, a friend showed up at my door with the gift of a beautiful, contemplative book (World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil), thanking me for my writing. The gesture stupefied me and choked me up. It always feels like a gift when my friends take time to pay attention to the things I write. To get an additional gift felt nonsensical, then overwhelming. It is, in fact, what I write for, to try and make the world a better place in whatever small way I can, even it’s making one person feel happy, hopeful, quieted, provoked to thought, broken open, elevated, amused. To see evidence that I might have achieved that is the greatest gift of all.
Friends read and edited my early drafts and listened to practice presentations. Others are reading my promo book as we speak, looking for typos. One way-back middle school pal has offered to deliver the book to local bookstores in Vermont for me. Then today, this beautiful poster showed up in my email. A neighbor and friend of the newly minted kind, who happens to be in the book business, said, “I made this for you!”
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
October 16th, 2020.
This is the day I came home from the grocery store to a heavy cardboard box leaning against my back door. I knew what it was, ten Advanced Reader Copies of my book. I plopped it on the kitchen counter, sliced it open, tossed the crumple of brown paper aside, and looked down at two pristine covers, topping two stacks of books. I didn’t want to touch them at first; I just wanted to gaze and take pictures. Makes me laugh to think of it.
I finally picked one up, leafed through, saw the table of contents, the dedication page, the opening poem, the illustrations. In truth, a tiny, critical voice said, “I wish the type were darker. I wish the photos had better resolution. I wish the pages were sturdier.” But that voice was overpowered by the giddy Robin who hasn’t been able to stop smiling for the rest of this day. I wrote a book!
Out in the back fields I walked with Clara, around and under glorious billows of oak leaves, red, yellow, and russety brown. Dark clouds whorled and darkened the rain-spitting day. It didn’t matter. Everything looked like heaven to me. I noticed the smile on my own face and laughed at myself again, wanting so much to share this feeling.
“Bimma, Grampa!” I called up to the sky (because that’s what they were called for so many years). “I wrote a book!
“Mom, Dad!” I called again (because that’s what they were called for so many earlier years). “I wrote a book! It has a table of contents, and illustrations, and poems, and endnotes. And some people will probably buy it!”
It still didn’t feel like enough.
“Thank you for making me!” I called up to the sky, where a lone bird flitted its way to some evening destination. "I'm sixty, and I wrote a book, and I've held it in my hands."
That’s what it really comes down to, isn’t it? That’s the thing that we really care about. Well, at least it is for me.
Mom, Dad, look what I did! Oh I wish you could be here. Maybe, in a way, you are.
This child is manifesting a torrent of becoming. It dazzles the mind to watch her concentration as she ponders the way balls roll, the way dogs scratch, the way her voice is amplified inside an empty cup, the way food falls from her hand to the floor. Even more delightful is her social discoveries. Fiona may have no idea what’s funny, but she happily joins in other people’s laughter. She crinkles her eyes in full-faced grins, repeats any gesture that elicits happy reactions, claps her hands, shakes her head, waves her hands, pants like a dog. She’s learning about play, clowning around, interactive exchanges. Offering positive feedback is irresistible, so she is surely gaining a sense of empowerment. I, for one, am thoroughly in her power.
A writer could spend a life harvesting material from these little natural-intelligence systems that we call babies.
My ARCs are in the mail! These are advance/non-retail copies of my book that will go to book marketers, bookstores, libraries, and maybe a couple for me to share with blurbers or a final proofreader or two.
I am super pumped to hold a physical book in my hand.
I'll keep you posted --
Robin Clifford Wood is a writer and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband and dogs, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her grown children and their multi-species families.