Member Monday: Breakthrough by George Parker

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature a piece by Writers Forum member and newsletter editor, George Parker. Welcome, George.

Breakthrough

by George Parker

Rock work comes easier for some people than others. Some people pick it up right away. A few never get the hang of fitting rocks together without the benefit of concrete or mortar into an immovable wall. Most of us only get it after a long hard struggle learning how to talk to the rocks.

Ella was a Corpsmember from Del Norte. She had been on John Schwabe’s ‘Fishhead’ crew. Schwabe was a fisheries biologist, and most of the projects his crew was assigned were salmon habitat restoration projects in the north coast watershed. Ella had thrived at Del Norte. She had a hippie spirit that appreciated the concept of ‘giving back to the Earth’. Her ambition had been the Backcountry Trails program from the day that I met her at Del Norte. I had already worked my two years as a regular CCC corpsmember. When I met Ella I, I was a staff member. I was a fisheries special corpsmember, liaison between the CCC and the Department of Fish and Game sponsor, and technical adviser on fisheries projects. I frequently worked with Schwabe’s crew on fisheries projects. Ella was outgoing and sociable and friendly and really wanted to make a difference in the world. She was a hard worker who always pushed her five-foot-two-self to be better, faster, and stronger.

Ella was chosen for the Backcountry Trails program and assigned to one of the two Kings Canyon National Park crews. I had decided that it was time to move on from fisheries and had applied for trails jobs around NPS. I was hired by Kings Canyon. Ella turned out to be on the CCC crew that I was going to work with. This was a good thing!

Ella fit in very well with the camp life and culture of a Backcountry trail crew. She worked as hard as anybody on the crew. Her high spirits saw her though the trials of a first season on a Backcountry trail crew. Ella had only one thing dogging her. She just could not get the hang of rock work.

Laurie Church, our NPS foreman, and Eric Vanderleest, our NPS maintenance worker, spent a lot of time with Ella, trying to teach her how to fit rocks together that did not look like they wanted to fit together. Ella would appear to understand, and Laurie or Eric would leave her to finish the section, but when they would come back to inspect the work, the rocks would be too loose and unstable to be acceptable. When a section of rockwork was finished, you needed to be able to kick the rocks and jump on them and not have them budge. Ella wasn’t getting there. Eric would test kick her work and rocks would move. Ella started getting frustrated with her progress. Eric started getting frustrated. Words were exchanged. Tempers flared. Life did not feel good around Ella’s rockwork.

By the August dog days of the season, our trail maintenance had progressed above Rae Lakes and was heading towards Glenn Pass. Crewmembers by now were getting enough experience with rockwork that the good ones could be left more or less on their own. Eric and I were running corpsmembers in several sections of the trail. One morning Eric and I hiked out of camp ahead of the crew and he lined me out on what he wanted done that day. One section just needed eight or nine feet of single tier wall. Eric told me to have Ella just piss-ant the rock down for the project, but he expected me to build it.

“I don’t know what else to do with Ella,” Eric said. “I’ve tried showing her every way I know how. Laurie has tried everything she knows. I don’t know. Maybe Ella is just a person who is never going to get the hang of rockwork. She just might be piss-anting rock for the rest of the season.”

Eric and I continued up the trail around the bend about thirty yards, and he showed me where he wanted a multi-tier wall on a switchback. Eric continued up the trail to his worksite. I went back to the first worksite, where I met Ella on her way up the trail.

“Eric’s got a section here that needs some single tier wall.”

Ella mumbled “Sure”. She looked like an exhausted late season corpsmember. For the most part, she looked like everyone else on the crew at that point of the season. ‘Clean uniform’ had become a relative term. Dirt was ground in to her khaki uniform shirt under her daypack straps, leaving black lines around her shoulders that were never going to come out…not even when we got back to washing machines. Her blue CCC hard hat was on her head but pushed back off of her forehead, sweat damped hair peeking out across her forehead. She had leaned out over the summer. She was more solid, and could perform feats of strength and endurance she had never thought possible for herself.

One thing was different between Ella and the rest of the crew. I could tell the difference in the sloop of her shoulders and the exhaustion in her eyes. Her face was drawn. Her eyes had a vacant stare. I had been in the same condition before in Yosemite. I think she had hit her wall. The wall is that point in a trail worker’s first season when you reach a point of exhaustion at which you are not sure you will be able to physically finish the season. You are emotionally drained. The muscles protest at being pushed so hard. The stress of living with the same twenty people or so all summer takes its toll, and all you can think of is returning to civilization, to showers, TV, and restaurants. Ella displayed all of the symptoms on that day.

“Okay, Ella. This section here is just gonna need some single tier wall. While you’re piss-anting the rock down for that, I’m gonna be up around the bend piss-anting the rock for another wall section. I’ll be back to work the wall, okay?”

Ella nodded wearily as she dropped the rock bar and shovel off her shoulder.

“You okay, Ella?”

Ella nodded again and started up the hill to gather rock.

I hiked down to my section and started rolling likely rocks down the hill to the site. By the time I had all of my rocks together, I decided that it was time to go check on Ella.

Not only did Ella have all of the rock gathered, she had already laid three rocks for the wall. I was surprised because I hadn’t told her to build the wall. Then again, I hadn’t told her not to build it, either.

Ella was on her hands and knees chipping a rock with a single jack as I approached. She looked up, and when she saw me, she straightened herself up and stretched her back as I inspected her work. I expected loose rocks and lousy contact. What I found were three good rocks in a wall. Good contact all the way around where the rocks touched each other. They had a good foundation back into the trail tread. I kicked the first two rocks. Solid. They didn’t budge. I didn’t kick the third rock because it wasn’t tied in to a fourth rock yet. That was the one Ella was shaping to fit.

Ella sipped water from her canteen as I looked at her wall.

“Do you know what you have here, Ella?”

“No.”

“You have a good looking wall. It’s solid. It looks good.”

I thought the compliment would cheer Ella up, but it didn’t seem to. She just nodded and took another sip of water. I looked the wall over again, and considered Eric’s instructions. He hadn’t expected Ella to be able to pull this simple wall off, and he had expected me to build it. But Ella was doing a good job here. I decided to let Ella finish.

“Okay, well, it looks like you have this under control. I’ll be right around the corner up there if you need anything.”

Ella just nodded again and put her canteen down. She began chipping away again at the next rock to go into the wall. I went back to my project.

I checked on Ella a couple of more times during the day. She built a good wall. At the end of the day, Eric and the corpsmembers working with him came back down the trail. Eric gave Ella’s completed section the kick test. It passed. He said, “Good job, Parker.”

“Cool. Can you guess who built it?”

Eric looked confused for barely a moment, and then his face lit up. “Ella?”

“Ella.”

Eric kicked the wall once more. “Damn! That’s good!”

He looked around for Ella and brought her over to the section. She looked just as fatigued as she had that morning. Same sagging shoulders. Same drawn face.

Eric said, “Ella, this is good work. A good solid wall. Nice job.”

Ella just nodded.

I am certain that on that day Ella burst through her emotional wall by building a good rock wall. Her spirits picked up after that day. She laid more rocks. Good rocks. As a testimony to how good Ella became at rock work, Kings Canyon National Park hired her the next season as a regular trail worker. Yep. She got my job.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: The Airball Queen by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an essay by Alicia McCauley. Alicia is a teacher, a writer and the President of Vigilante Kindness. Her essay, The Airball Queen, was recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible. Welcome, Alicia.

The Airball Queen

by Alicia McCauley

Friday afternoon was our school-wide reading program finale in the gymnasium.  The finale was a series of races and games.  There were jump rope relays, basketball relays, soccer relays, minute to win it games, hula hoop contests, scoot board races and a host of other challenges for my first graders to participate in.   There were times when I was doubled over, laughing so hard that I was crying because of balls escaping, jump ropes tangling, and all my first graders clapping and cheering each other on with abandon.

One of the harder games was a basketball shooting game.  Each kid stood at a line taped in the middle of the key and shot five baskets.  This was a supremely hard task for first graders.  That basket might as well have been in the clouds.  One of my darling little girls-a teeny, tiny breath of a kid-was chosen for this game.  

She was an adorable kid with curls of hair that bounced each morning when she would run to me and wrap her arms around my leg in a hug.  When she got excited about something, her blue eyes opened wide and she flapped her arms.  I’d seen her do this when reading her favorite books, when mastering particularly difficult math problems, when playing at recess and especially when she painted.

She stood at the line, basketball in hand, with a serious expression screwed on her face.  She shot.  Airball.  She scrunched up her face in concentration and shot again.  Airball.  Her third and fourth shots arched through the air and again fell short.  

I bet you’re thinking this is one of those stories where she made the fifth and final shot and ran a victory lap around the gymnasium filled with kids who chanted her name and hoisted her up on their shoulders.

It isn’t that kind of story.

Not one of her five shots even came close to grazing the net.  

Not a single one.

Back in the classroom after the conclusion of the reading program finale, we’d gathered at the carpet to talk about all the fun we had competing and cheering each other on.

My tiny airballer raised her hand to share, “Mrs. McCauley, I was nervous about that basketball game because I’d never played it before.”

She paused and I’d waited, scripting in my mind words of encouragement or some sage advice about perseverance or something, anything to ease the sting of all those airballs.

She continued, the pitch of her voice rose to an exuberant squeal, her arms flapped in wild excitement, “I was nervous at first, but then I played the game and I was AWESOME at it!!!”

Wait, what?  

She explained, “I’d never thrown a ball that high before.  I threw it really high five times.”  She held up five proud fingers. 

My face broke into a huge grin, mirroring the smile on her own precious face.

How silly I was for thinking I needed to pepper her with my “sage advice”.  As is so often the case, I found myself marveling at the unconventional wisdom of my students. 

I can be so hard on myself when it comes to trying new things, so fearful and bound in nerves, so unwilling to try lest I fail, or, worse yet, lest I fail in public.

The next time I’m facing a new challenge, I’m going to remember her face, scrunched up by every ounce of concentration.  I’m going to remember her candor in admitting she was nervous and afraid.  But most of all I’m going to remember her wild, flapping arms and the triumph on her face for throwing the basketball higher than she ever had before.

She didn’t make any baskets that day, and for that I’m grateful because if she had, I would’ve missed the lesson.  She didn’t score any points, but one thing is for sure, my itty-bitty airball queen was a winner.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: An Excerpt from Argentine Assignment by Chloe Winston

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an excerpt from Argentine Assignment, Chloe Winston’s latest book. Here’s a little more about Chloe.

Chloe Ryan Winston 001Chloe Ryan Winston was born on a ranch in eastern Oregon, graduated from Marylhurst University, and earned a master’s degree at Idaho State University.  She lived in Ashland, Oregon, which is featured in her writing, as well as Mexico, and has traveled extensively to fifty-eight countries.  Ms. Winston has contributed to several blogs, and as a travel writer to publications including The Los Angeles Times, International Travel News, and Mature Lifestyles.  She has been a cruise destination lecturer as well as a high school teacher, counselor, and administrator. Chloe will be signing copies of Argentine Assignment at Barnes and Noble on October 24 at 1 p.m.

An Excerpt from Argentine Assignment

by Chloe Winston

The plane’s engines were already rumbling as we scrambled up the narrow, wobbling steps as though the devil himself could have been right on our heels.  I didn’t dare look back.  I whispered, “Knee, don’t fail me now!”  It wouldn’t do for that old sledding accident to kick up a fuss.

A dim light at the top told me the door was ajar, perhaps we could squeeze through that opening. Was it left open for us? Who was on the other side? Were we leaving the frying pan for a fire?  I tripped, my dicey knee buckling a little, and I grabbed the skinny rail to keep from falling.  One of my fingernails ripped.  A brisk gust of wind tore the scarf off my head.  I glanced down. 

The curly girlish wig that I’d put on Jaime’s head was now askew. I yanked one reluctant hand off the rail to reach over and straighten it.  I wanted him to look like a girl until I found out what was going to happen after we boarded the plane. And perhaps should keep him looking like a girl until I handed him over to Derry in Mexico.

My hurried movement threw us both off balance for a moment.  I feared we would fall, and I took a quick breath. Just a few more steps. The door opened a fraction wider, showing a slender hand extended to us.  I shoved the boy inside just as the airplane’s engine strummed more deeply in an initial readying for takeoff.  As I shoved him, I again lost my footing, falling to my knees. A painful slip.  Our helper giggled—a strange reaction I thought, but at least a friendly sound. We probably did look funny…entering a plane this way rather than the more usual collapsing corridor.  I got to my feet, losing sight of Jaime for a moment. Then the attendant slammed the door behind me, swinging the lock into place.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Kijumi is Coming by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday! Today we feature a piece written by member Alicia McCauley during her recent return trip to Uganda. Alicia is the founder and President of Vigilante Kindness, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and employment opportunities for students and villages in developing countries. On Saturday, October 17th from 4:30 pm-6:00 pm Alicia will be speaking in the Redding Library Community Room about her most recent trip to Uganda. This event is free and open to the public. Welcome back, Alicia.

Kijumi is Coming

by  Alicia McCauley

I woke this morning to the welcome voice of thunder and the syncopation of rain. I drew back my curtain and breathed in the relief. It hasn’t rained in Gulu in a month and a half, leaving everything and everyone parched and jacketed in ruddy, red dust.

I threw on some clothes-okay, I really just yanked a skirt up under the nightshirt I’d peeled off and thrown on the floor. I didn’t bother with shoes or anything else. I grabbed my camera and iPad. I tiptoed to my mom’s room to see if she was awake to watch the storm with me, but the crack under her door was dark. So with my camera and iPad in hand, I scrambled back down the hall to the balcony outside of my room. The sun wasn’t up yet and I knew I was in for a spectacular lightning show across the dark sky. I sat on the balcony writing and snapping photos.

The storm was behind me, so I didn’t see the fingers of lightning pointing from the sky and touching the ground. Instead the whole of the sky would go from pitch black to electric pinks and yellows all at once, like a camera flash to the face. As my retinas recovered from each flash, I’d count the seconds between the turbulent thunder and the blinding flashes of lightning, counting the miles separating me from the storm, just like I do with my students at home when a thunderstorm rumbles in. To my delight, the increments quickly shrunk from five seconds to one second and then the thunder and lightning were stacked on top of each other, a thrilling assault on the senses.

Not to be outdone by the thunder and lightning, the wind rushed in as well, a welcome reprieve from the stifling, still humidity. The wind whipped at my skirt and splashed my bare feet with rain. My balcony overlooks the once grand Pece stadium and I watched the field puddle.

During my first two nights in Gulu, sleeping was a near impossibility. My jetlagged body struggled to adapt to the correct clock and to the humidity that always sucks the life out of me at the beginning of my trip. At night I’d lay naked under my mosquito net, not the sexy kind of naked, the ugly, sweaty “peel everything off to survive” kind of naked. Mosquitoes buzzed around my net and I laid there sweltering.

I could only imagine what the last month and a half in Gulu had been like. I’ve seen the parched, brown crops and can imagine the utterings from cracked lips praying for rain in this unexpected dry season.

The morning of the storm, I watched the sun peek her pink face from behind the clouds as the spaces between the thunder and lightning counted back up to six, then seven, then ten miles away until the storm held its breath altogether. The soccer field drank the puddles and they vanished almost as quickly as they’d formed. Just when I thought the storm was through, a fresh slashing of rain fell, and a second helping of thunder and lightning filled the sky until the ground was sodden and swollen with rain.

Later that morning, I sat downstairs talking with an old musee. He taught me the Luo name for thunderstorm (mwoc pa-kot) and the Luo names for different kinds of rain. There’s ngito, meaning a drizzle. There’s kot paminilemu, an unexpected rain. But my favorite kind of rain is kijumi, a long, hard rain.

The musee talked about the parched crops and how this mwoc pa-kot and kot paminilemu vanquished his worries of famine.

Famine.

And here I was complaining about the heat because it made it hard to sleep.

Fear of famine had never even crossed my mind. I’ve never known the worrying pangs of impending famine.

While I’ve not known physical famine, I have known the feeling of famine in my spirit, the ugly nakedness of feeling bereft. I know about waiting and praying with dry, cracked lips for some relief, any relief to fall from Heaven. I also know the reprieve of rain and the joy of hearing the cool whisperings of God blow into my life.

Friends, some of you are impossibly parched right now, famished down to brittle bones, praying desperate prayers from cracked, dry lips. I don’t have any pretty, pious words for you, but I prayed for you today during the kot paminilemu, prayed that you’d be absolutely sodden with a first and second helping of refreshing rain. Hold tight, dear ones, in the midst of your dry season, keep looking to the sky.

Your kijumi is coming.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Honeysuckle Moon by Linda Boyden

Welcome back to Member Monday! We hope you got to see the spectacular lunar eclipse last night. It’s a pleasure to serve up a second helping of lunar wonder by poet, storyteller and children’s author, Linda Boyden.  You can purchase a hardback copy of Linda’s newest picture book Boy and Poi Poi Puppy at All About Books.  Welcome, Linda!

Honeysuckle Moon
By Linda Boyden ©2014

I lie in night’s velvet deep.
Outside the window
clouds hide the honeysuckle moon,
crickets serenade the languid air,
the night softened by their song.

The clouds disperse.
The full moon bleeds the landscape white.
I rise and walk among the ghostly trees,
the only sound, my metered breath.

An owl soars across the face of the moon,
its body, a crucifix of shadow.
Thunder trembles in the distance.
I fall on my knees, heart pierced by beauty.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!