Saturday, August 20, 2016

planting acorns: #parklit hashtag book festival free-write

At this very minute, my innovative writer friend Bronwyn is hosting a "hashtag book festival" about parks. What does this mean? It means that if you go here, you can encounter interesting things to read about parks, and post your own thoughts, writing, pictures and recommendations, all from the comfort of your phone or computer. A genius locale for a book festival in the middle of August.

I'm taking this as a call to jot down a few of my own #ParkLit thoughts; I was inspired by a photo Bronwyn posted of Mesa Verde, the national park where she just did a writing residency. I doubt she was housed in an actual cliff dwelling, but that's how I like to picture her: sitting inside an adobe house, laptop on her knees, gazing at the valley below.

Great view. Tough commute.
My family took one kind of vacation when I was a kid: We visited state and national parks in our 1979 Dodge Four Star motor home. We always left no later than 5:30 am. My sister and I rolled out our sleeping bags in the back of the cabin while my mom heated Costco muffins the size of our heads in an oven the size of a shoe box and my dad drove.

Sometimes we went places that were only impressive to adult palettes, places with a lot of trees but nothing my sister and I considered exciting. Things we considered exciting: rivers and lakes you could swim in, deer, gift shops, ice cream. The trip--to somewhere hot, I don't remember where--on which we discovered Pudding Pops was especially magical. We found them again in the freezer section of the grocery store when we got home, but they never tasted as delicious as they did from a vendor's cart by the side of the trail.

Here is a short list of my favorite non-natural memories from parks:
  • googly-eyed neon rubber animals from the Big Sur gift store
  • The Phoenix Shop at Nepenthe, the high-end hippie gift store just outside Big Sur
  • butterscotch pudding in tin cans
  • Junior Rangers badges
  • bringing my pet rat, Rosie, who liked to eat the crumbling rust-colored motorhome curtains
Do you need a rain stick? Turquoise jewelry? A CD of flute music? The Phoenix Shop is your place.
Sometimes we went places that even my parents admitted were duds. The Loneliest Highway in America and Dead Horse State Park became the stuff of family legend. Sometimes our motor home broke down, and my dad would swear and tinker by the side of the road. Eventually he started bringing a spare alternator wherever we went. My mom did as much cooking and cleaning as she did at home, making the concept of "vacation" somewhat dubious. She naturally woke up at 5:30 am, for the apparent purpose of loudly banging pots and pans and sorting through her underwear drawer, which was just below my head on the bench where I slept.

Sometimes we went places that were so spectacular they broke through my desire to go somewhere more "normal" and kid-centric (i.e., Disneyworld). Mesa Verde was one of those places.

Traipsing through Anasazi ghost towns, I was filled with fascination and envy. There was a part where you had to crawl through a very small tunnel, and another part where you had to walk on a very narrow cliff-side trail. My parents patiently talked me through my claustrophobia and my fear of heights, and it was worth it. The part of me that loved Sunset Magazine spreads about spectacular tree houses and cool little play-nooks you could build beneath stairs fell in love with cliff dwellings. (Never mind that my dad actually built us an amazing play house, complete with a linoleum floor, a loft and running water that we almost never played in.)

These lucky kids have a dog and a tree house! I only had cats and a playhouse. #HardKnockLife
I invented an Anasazi family with two daughters, Kachina and Mazli, and wrote stories about them. Typical plot: Mazli finds an injured deer and adopts it as her pet. They weren't very good plots, and they probably weren't culturally sensitive or accurate, given that the names I gave my characters were just imagined Indian gibberish. (Kachinas are real. But I don't think they're Anasazi.)

When I started fourth grade in the fall, we studied California history and were tasked with writing about Native Americans. Most kids wrote stuff like "The Chumash rowed very far in their canoes. They ate many fish." I pounded out a Mazli-and-Kachina story and volunteered to read it before I realized what I was doing. I was the only kid who'd written fiction about something completely unrelated to the assignment. By eighth grade, I would happily write "personal essays" about a huge network of cool cousins I didn't actually have, and now I can look back on my small rebellion with pride, but in the moment I wanted to sink into the floor.

Hopi kachinas.
Here is a short list of my favorite nature-involving memories from parks:
  • the rock water slide and swimming hole at Cuyamaca State Park
  • the big red rocks somewhere in the desert that I climbed and got stuck on for a while 
  • anything climbable, really
  • the sulfur stink of Yellowstone, and the bison traffic jams
  • singing loudly and badly at the mouth of the Grand Canyon
  • rafting in Yosemite during a drought, the water so low I could pop into the river and pull our boat on foot 
  • the mountain lion my mom spotted on one of her solo morning walks, proving that there was something to do at 5:30 am other than clang pots and pans
  • the time my dad--who likes water about as much as your average house cat--waded up to his neck in Lake Havasu; it was so hot that we were actually allowed to use the air conditioning in our motor home
  • the acorns we collected and discarded in the back yard when we got home; they're huge oak trees now

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