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Chasing Muse: Finding the “Wild, Silky Part of Ourselves”

Tricia Erikson-3high

Reaching the summit in the Saddleback Mountain Challenge. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

People pay good money to chairlift up a mountain in civilized fashion and then ski down for pleasure. I just paid to snowshoe straight up 2000 feet in single-digit temperatures to brave a gnarly descent. But, then, I’m not a mountaineer, I’m an island writer chasing a muse.

When I shuffled to the starting line of the Saddleback Mountain Challenge an hour earlier, racers appeared in a motley assemblage of equipment that reflected their strategy. Most wore Randonee skis adorned with “skins” that could be removed at the peak, allowing a rapid descent. A few people wore snowshoes with a snowboard strapped to their back; their descent would be swooping, graceful. One man wore two halves of a snowboard strapped to his feet, halves that would be reunited, presumably, once he achieved the peak. And then came the smartypants distance runner — one of two women in the pack and the only one outfitted with just snowshoes to wear, both up and down — that’s me. Halfway up the mountain, I reconsider the wisdom of entering this challenge; wind-driven ice cements to my hair and face, and bounces off my fingers, bare and hot from exertion. What was I thinking?

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Brown hair turned white in Arctic conditions. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Reaching the peak, I pass a number of racers who stop to switch their fancy gear to downhill mode. One-two-three of them. I wonder: do they admire my strategy of using the same gear for the entire race? Nah.

I yank on my coat and gloves, pull up my face guard, and lumber onto the mountain’s shoulder. My left ear loses feeling to the flesh-freezing wind, no doubt casting me even more as the Bride of Yeti. Then I reach a point where the race route narrows to a two-foot wide shelf, little more than the ridge of a snowdrift. As if on cue, I stumble onto the precipice. A normal audience would gasp as my center of gravity plunges over and back from the edge, but the ski patrol sentry quips, “Nice catch.” That’s high praise up here.

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Running across the peak on snowshoes. Photo courtesy Saddleback Mountain.

Finally, I stand alone at the top of the designated downhill route, a narrow chute. It’s name: Muleskinner. I try not to take the name literally or conjure images of how it might apply to me. But, if this route were a highway, the sign would flash orange neon letters “Go back, 50-60% grade.”

Given the promised first-place prizes of season ski passes for the winning man and woman, the racers ahead of me are pushing hard; I just want to survive. Avoiding last place would be a bonus. Descent on snowshoes: my strategy faces a crisis. Facing this downhill reminds me of facing a blank page, or worse yet, a manuscript with extensive need of editing. I don’t want to do it. What am I afraid of? Falling? Getting lost in a snowbank? Those rank as givens today. I decide I’m most afraid of not finishing. I abandon all pretense of sanity and step over the edge, on purpose this time.

To my shock, the deep, fresh powder has been scoured away by wind, leaving porcelain-smooth white ice disguised as snow. My snowshoes respond by rocketing downhill, spinning me sideways. There is nothing to grab, nothing to stop me. Channeling my five year-old self, I sit down hard and push my snowshoes out in front of me. With buttocks serving as my snow-tubing device, I shoot straight down Muleskinner, stopping in an explosion of deep powder. Able to stand again, I run downhill until hitting another porcelain plate of ice. Repeat the sit and slide until powder impact. Stand and run. Midway down Muleskinner, a couple of the guys that I had passed on the peak, pass me–one of them with graceful swooshes, the other guy resembling a human snowball.

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Reaching the finish line. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Why am I doing this? It wasn’t until after I crossed the finishing line (looking indeed like the Bride of Yeti), after I had driven back to Portland and reached home by ferry, that I read Mary Oliver. Only then did I find words for what I was doing on Saddleback Mountain–I was taking care of the “wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem [and, I would add, no writing] can exist.” Oliver describes this inner muse as a “mysterious, unmapped zone” that “comes before everything, even technique.” She warns that “It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime.”

This is what I fear more than Muleskinner. That silence within.

In “Wild Geese” Oliver writes, “You do not have to walk on your knees, For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” Seriously? Does this mean I didn’t have to grind up and down that flesh-hungry mountain on snowshoes to find my “mysterious, unmapped zone”? Mary Oliver would probably say that I could discover beauty in the everyday world around me. But, no, on this day, I needed the mountain to shatter a deep silence, to shake the silence apart the way the wind knocks rime ice from evergreen needles and casts the shards into the howling spit of the storm.

 

Thank you to Eleanor Morse and my fellow writers in the Sudden Fiction group for sharing Mary Oliver with me at the moment I most needed it and to the staff of Saddleback Mountain for running a first-class ski area with the biggest heart I know.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner athttp://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Secret Weapons Against Winter: Write or Plunge into the Sea?

sandalsinsnowMy willingness to jump into a 40 degree ocean does not prove me crazy. Yet, many shake their heads, say “better you than me,” shudder, and turn away. Maybe I’d rather they didn’t understand how alive I feel, walking across snow in sandals, peeling off layers on a breezy winter beach with my heart rate quickening at the thought of the icy sea needling my skin. Maybe if people knew that, afterward, the whole body flushes with warmth, bright light and giddy laughter then they would want to polar bear plunge, too. Then the wintry beach would be crowded with other island souls, desperate to unmuffle the months between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Nah, not happening. Many more islanders harbor a different secret weapon against the Maine winter: writing.

Thanks to the Sudden Fiction writing sessions of Eleanor Morse and Nicole d’Entremont, we huddle around the woodstove and beat back the winter darkness with our words. I love how Maine author extraordinaire Stephen King explains this type of literary defiance in his essay “On Impact.” King wrote, “it’s the work that bails me out. For me, there have been times when the act of writing has been an act of faith, a spit in the eye of despair. Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.” As the temperature plunges, the snow piles up against the window, and daylight resists the earth-tilting nudge to lengthen, we fight our way back to life by wielding our pen (and sometimes even by plunging into the sea).

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner athttp://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Island Middle School Book Club Celebrates One Year

Langlais sculpture hangs from library ceiling

Bernard Langlais sculpture hangs over the book stacks of the Peaks Island Branch Library.

More delightful than discovering a new book for myself at the library this evening was finding a group of middle school students scrambling to pick out new books to read for their Middle School Book Club. For the record, they started their book club long before Mark Zuckerberg. It could have been the club’s one-year anniversary celebratory cupcakes that fueled the students’ giddy rush to the book shelves. More likely, it seems that book club leader and Peaks Island Branch librarian Roseanne Walsh has hit upon a popular formula for this book club; rather than come together to discuss a book that they have read in common, students gather socially to share with the group a book that they have read individually.

“Everyone contributed titles of books that they thoughts others would enjoy reading. These titles were mixed together and everyone randomly chose a title that they wouldn’t necessarily read,” Roseanne wrote in the Peaks Island Star. From what the students told me, titles from Sharon Creech, Sarah Dessen, and Alyson Noel remain popular.

Imagine: a book club that doesn’t revolve around everyone obtaining a copy of the same book? A social gathering devoted to discussing books, even though you’ve all read different books? Hats off to these young adults for sharing their love of books with each other and may they inspire other libraries to do the same.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner athttp://www.peaksislandpress.com.

What islanders love more than books: a book sale

Library on Peaks Island

Library on Peaks Island

The Friends of the Peaks Island Branch library will throw one of the island’s most beloved literary traditions, the annual book sale extravaganza this Saturday, July 19th from 8 AM to 2 PM. So come and get your retail therapy, guilt free.

Loaded down with treasures at the annual book sale

Loaded down with treasures at the annual book sale

But wait! This is also your opportunity to make room on your crowded bookshelves for those new reads. Drop-off your books to donate them to the sale on Friday, July 18th from 10 AM to 2 PM at the Community Room.

Through Peaks Island Press, Patricia Erikson offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Book drop-off for Peaks Island Book Sale

Friday, July 18 – 10:00am – 2:00pm
Location: Peaks Island Branch
Audience: Adults, Teens, Kids & Families, Seniors
Too many books?? Bring your book donations to the library during the day Friday in preparation for our annual Friends of the Peaks Island Library Book Sale on Saturday.

– See more at: http://www.portlandlibrary.com/events/book-drop-peaks-island-book-sale/#sthash.dOy5dF1a.dpufCommunity Room.

Friends of the Peaks Island Library Book Sale

Saturday, July 19 – 8:00am – 2:00pm
Location: Peaks Island Branch
Audience: Adults, Teens, Kids & Families, Seniors
Pick up some new summer reads and support your island library!! Book sale to be held in the Community Room.

– See more at: http://www.portlandlibrary.com/events/friends-peaks-island-library-book-sale/#sthash.PnoPNjnh.dpuf

Sea-soaked and salty: a literary message in the bottle

Every year, the changing island weather prompts me to write, like a patient writing instructor prodding its lazy student. To get my attention, the island lobs cranberry-orange sunsets at me and tempts me with the sound of clattering trees or rolling beach cobbles. And then I ache to write, usually. This fall, I dared to remain sullen and shunned my keyboard.

One morning, the island retaliated by tossing a surf-worn, sandy book at my feet as I walked along the beach below my home. I was as surprised to see a book floating in the surf as I would have been to stumble across a baby seal sitting on the sand. Picking the book up, I recognized the black moleskin cover that protects beloved journals. Sea-soaked, the cover had warped wildly, but the pages clung stubbornly to the binding.

I felt guilty at the prospect of touching a writer’s private possession and yet shouldn’t I rescue it from the waves and try to identify its owner? Prying the journal open carefully, I peered at blurred handwriting. The disintegrating pages spoke of an old man wearing snakeskin boots, walking alongside the author as osprey soared overhead. But the “In case of loss return to:” line remained empty. There was no way to know how far it had floated before it washed up at my feet like a literary message in the bottle. Unsure of what to do, I carried it home to dry it out.

The salty pages are wavy and brittle now. The well-traveled moleskin journal could be considered flotsam worthy of the trash. Yet, saving it reminds me to keep writing.

Of course, if the journal belongs to you, please let me know.

Scott Nash takes Blue Jay the Pirate to South China, Maine

Blue Jay the Pirate

Blue Jay the Pirate, Scott Nash

Scott Nash is preparing for the next book event with his usual genius. Nash’s rendition of a Blue Willow transferware plate – with his protagonist of The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate at the center – took my breath away. The daughter of an antiques fanatic, I grew up surrounded by things like Blue Willow plates, pewter tankards, and spinning wheels. The detailed setting and character of these plates, inspired by 18th century Chinese ceramics, is a perfect choice for getting us to think about ships, pirates, and South China, Maine, of course!

The South China Public Library, the oldest continuously operating library in Maine, is hosting this author-illustrator whose interactive talks are always a big hit. Here are the details:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

10:30-11:30 AM

South China Public Library, South China, Maine

According to the National Park Service, "The Blue Willow pattern was introduced in England by the Spode factory in the late 1790s. During the 18th century Europe was fascinated by all things Chinese and especially their beautifully hand-painted china with scenes of Chinese landscapes. The Blue Willow pattern is not an exact copy of a Chinese pattern but rather based on several traditional Chinese designs."

According to the National Park Service, “The Blue Willow pattern was introduced in England by the Spode factory in the late 1790s. During the 18th century Europe was fascinated by all things Chinese and especially their beautifully hand-painted china with scenes of Chinese landscapes. The Blue Willow pattern is not an exact copy of a Chinese pattern but rather based on several traditional Chinese designs.”

Pages of Peaks: Calling all Peaks Island authors

Poster for Color & Pages of Peaks event

Poster for Color & Pages of Peaks event

Peaks Island authors are invited to participate in a popular, annual event at the beautiful, historic Trefethen-Evergreen Improvement Association (TEIA) on Diamond Passage, an event formerly known as the Color of Peaks Art Show and fundraiser for camperships. This year the event has expanded to include books and has become the “Color & Pages of Peaks Artist & Author” Show from July 12th to 13th.

The Show will commence with a wine-and-cheese opening reception on Friday evening, July 12th from 6-8:00 PM; bring an appetizer to share and come prepared to enjoy music by Heather Thompson and Sam Saltonstall. The show continues the next day on Saturday, July 13th from 8 AM to 2 PM.

Authors are asked to pre-register for this book exhibit, to drop off their books by July 11th, and to pick up their books by 3 PM on the 13th. Co-organizers Friends of Peaks Island Library and Friends of TEIA will charge a 10% commission on all book sales. For more information or to secure a registration form, authors should please contact Kathryn Moxhay at kmoxhay@earthlink.net.

If you’re an island author, you know it never hurts to network in marketing your books. If you’re a literary tourist, then you won’t want to miss seeing Peaks Island as an inspiration for countless authors. For the past 8 years, this has been one of the best feel-good events of the summer and the one with the best view, so don’t miss it!

Sailing at TEIA (courtesy of http://teiaclub.org)

Sailing at TEIA (courtesy of http://teiaclub.org)

How do I get to Peaks Island?

Who is Patricia Erikson? – I’m an author, educator, and consultant who lives on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, Maine and blogs at Peaks Island Press to keep up with the many writers whose talent and joie de vivre make this island community an amazing place. I’m also a history geek who blogs at Heritage in Maine.

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