Somewhere yesterday (Thursday) I got a note from a friend. It was on Facebook – which I am growing to enjoy hugely. (I was even able, this morning, to see up-to-date photos of the garlic row I planted in our allotment ten days ago.)
Anyway, Linda Acaster is a novelist, mentor and all-round talented writer who is constantly buried in nurse-maiding other writers through their work – and explaining to dummies like me how to manage modern technology. She remarked that I seemed to be getting on top of this blogging caper, was being very productive, and added some remark like, “Don’t you do anything else out there?”
Well, yes, I do – and I will do more as the weather opens up and I get properly settled in what is, for me, a radical change of environment. But, as to being productive, I am a writer. I think like a writer – at least, I presume I do. I store up images, sounds and impressions in my head; characters, conversations, sensations, moods, events; and all the time, as I go about my daily business – writing things for other paymasters, for example – all that I see and hear on an hourly basis is fermenting at the back of my head, waiting for a chance to be expressed.
Okay. I was going to introduce Mari Sandoz – or at least trace my involvement with her work. It started some twenty years, when I was teaching a course on the literature and history of the American West, and working on a PhD in the same area. I’d read Willa Cather, a
writer of course, who grew up around Red Cloud, in the southern part of this state. I thought she wrote sublimely about the landscape down there. Nebraska
I did just that, and was mightily impressed. To this day I occasionally re-read the opening paragraph. It’s up there with the beginning of Moby-Dick as one of those passages that thrills me every time I return to it. It’s as good an introduction as you’ll find in any writing about the West.
I was up around six, on the road not long after, and was soon heading north along Highway 27, looking for the trail up to Caroline’s place.
I got there, eventually, and was pretty pleased with myself, until my hostess greeted me with, ‘Where ya been all morning? It’s already.’
In fact, in the interests of keeping this within bounds I’m opening a bottle of the Odell Brewing Company’s splendid India Pale Ale (7% alcohol!) to warm the cockles of my heart as the snow drives against the window, the onions turn brown and the temperature dips below freezing point.
Let me wrap up that first visit to Caroline, though, by saying that it set me on a twenty-year mission to learn about her sister’s extraordinary writing career, and to understand the nature of her love affair with the Sandhills. Because, like so many frontier writers – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Hamlin Garland and Willa Cather are the ones I know best – she couldn’t wait to get the hell out of here, but once she’d departed, guess what? The very best of her writing – without exception, I’d venture to say – came out of the elemental, often harsh experiences that coloured her early days.