The title of this blog can be taken two ways. For the first time this winter, snow covered the landscape this morning. Beautiful? Yes. Exciting? Maybe. Am I prepared? No. The snow tires are in the dungeon, and hoses still are attached to the house.
But more importantly, I’ve been engaging in my own Cold War by battling Russian hackers. (I know how to use the analytics in my social media, thank you.)
I tried to log in to my website to write my blog on Monday. I failed. So I contacted my website designer, a man infinitely versed in techno-weirdness. He ferreted around, then called to say I had been hacked. For the second time in four months. Even though the passwords are so complex that they might as well be Sanskrit.
Four months ago, readers looking for me were directed to the website for designer Michael Kors. This time, they found me hawking Oakley sunglasses. (Given a choice, I’ll take Kors over Oakley.) Weird Russian letters peppered the website, one of several trails of breadcrumbs leading directly to Ivan the Terrible.
So we quickly went to work. Many precautions we’ve taken are invisible to you, but our efforts in the past few days have added several layers of security. You might notice our SSL certificate. The website also will be swept very regularly for malware. The invisible protocols are best not shared in case my hackers are ESL—English as a second language—students.
This chaos is surrounded by wonderful developments in my writing endeavor. I feel as if I’ve been studied so hard of late that I warned my fly-fishing guide to be on his best behavior when I’m in his drift boat: there may be spies in the aspens and spruce on the riverbanks! I’ve always been conservative, steady and deliberate—characteristics for which I’m excessively thankful now.
And just as I’m writing international suspense, the developments in my career are GLOBAL.
Which also explains the hackers. As my web designer said, “If you weren’t getting such high traffic, you wouldn’t be a target.” Readers interested in the exploits of archaeologist Grace Madison are swinging by this website in amazing numbers. And some of them are enjoying blinis and caviar, washed down with vodka, as they travel the world with a protagonist who prefers pita, hummus and iced tea—straight, no sugar. Thank you.
I live in a place where summer is epic, winter is iconic, and spring is muddy. (Bleeeeech.) Autumn is my favorite: beautiful and fresh and peaceful. Our valley teems with locals (both two- and four-legged) because summer travelers have returned to their real lives, and winter athletes won’t appear until ski slopes open.
One September or October day is more special to me than all others. It’s a revelation of sorts. Clouds will cluster on the mighty mountains to the south, and I’ll know we’re close. When they blow eastward, caps of snow appear. Just as they did Tuesday morning in the photo above.
This first scree of snow was late, interrupting perfect lollygag weather laced with warm days and cool nights and bursting with a scramble of activities such as hiking, fly-fishing and golf.
Crossing a bridge in a cart last week, I (habitually) glanced at a small stream churning with the distinctive swirl of spawning trout. After screeching (literally) to a halt, I
dashed ( sort of) strode purposefully back to watch eight nice browns swerve and dance over the patch they had cleaned in the gravel stream bed. The fish had darkened to a rich mahogany, meaning their spawn was almost over. I smiled at the rebirth they represented, knowing that their fingerlings (babies) will populate this stream when it thaws in May.
And my writing in the midst of all this bustle? This pursuit is one of phases. Some are crazy, as in when the manuscript pours from my mind, through my fingertips and onto my computer screen. Some are delightfully tedious, like the edit cycle that I love so much because it brings clarity to my work.
And some require the patience of Job. My literary agent has done her job well, and we’re waiting to see what publishers will do now that they’ve grasped what readers and reviewers are saying: there’s a time and place for a vigorous, global, middle-aged female protagonist committed to doing the right thing. The time and place are now. The protagonist is archaeologist Grace Madison.
I’m dying to share about book 3, but can’t quite yet. So go rake leaves, or take a walk, or build a fire in your fireplace, or put on your chunkiest sweater and imagine snow. Or read Thomas Merton. (I’d recommend A Year With Thomas Merton.) His devotionals wire me tightly to the natural world, filling me with his sense of awe. They create a perfectly delicious mindset as I pivot toward the holidays. I’m so pleased that you’re with me, and stay tuned!
Not long ago, this valley was part of a large ranch. When the ranch was developed, the founders’ granddaughter received the parcel on which our home sits. Her lumberjack husband constructed their home from trees on this site.
I hope he was a better lumberjack than he was a builder. The house creaked when a bear plodded across the roof. Mice held conventions in the living room. The fireplace doubled as a meat smoker. It all had to go.
But before it went, another owner left a trash pile to welcome the furry and fanged, defying laws and enraging neighbors who found bear and mountain lion dangerous. Neighbors who grabbed rifles to hold a bead on dining predators when the little lady engaged in intimate conversations with her guests.
Our valley was (and in many ways, still is) a Wild-West kind of place.
After we pulled down the house, varmints eventually came to terms with the end of their garbage gravy train. Bear stroll through every year or two. Mountain lions leave prints and tail-drags every winter. A bobcat serenades us after every tough snow storm. Fox, deer and elk are more dependable than our postal delivery.
And then there’s the prairie chicken (pinnated grouse).
Let me be clear: this is no ordinary prairie chicken. This is an ENORMOUS prairie chicken. A LEGENDARY prairie chicken. A prairie chicken about which neighbors began inquiring immediately. “Have you seen the prairie chicken yet?” “Have you fed the prairie chicken? She fed it out-of-hand!” “Does the prairie chicken have a mate this year?”
Noting that I lived amidst the unhinged, I researched prairie chicken. It was the end of May and our famous resident remained hidden all summer. Almost six months later, about this time, I noticed a brown volleyball in an aspen. We don’t play volleyball and volleyballs are white, so I investigated.
The overinflated orb had feathers and a beak. A tail and skinny neck. I walked toward the tree. The Mother of All Prairie Chickens didn’t budge. Its head bobbled in and out a couple of times, like a pigeon’s, and I thought of the Muppet song, “Doing the Pigeon.” (You can thank me for that glorious hyperlink.)
As I stood almost (no fool here) under the bird, it nestled onto the branch. I knew then that I was a Chosen One. Should I genuflect, bow, or offer canned corn? I snapped photos to prove that the icon was alive, and wondered if I could substitute grouse in a chicken pot pie. Noting that the average life of the prairie chicken is a year and a half (I did my research on the centrocercus urophasianus), this offspring was genetically wired: to return to this meadow and to be a Prairie Chicken on Steroids.
For more than five years now, I have been buds with this ruling class of prairie chicken. One or two giants among prairie chickens migrate through twice a year at the very hinge of our seasons. Two clucked through this spring and one scared the wazoo out of me yesterday by emerging from under a bench I passed.
It’s our cycle of humans and animals. Ranchers and lumberjacks, crazy ladies and authors held more closely to the earth by interaction with creatures great and small.
And that can of corn in the pantry? Yeah. I’m totally doing it. Busted!
Last week, I headed north to the Tetons, barreling up the Rocky Mountain range that soars more than 14,000 feet and runs more than 3,000 north-to-south miles. Two drizzly days on the water—fly fishing the Snake and Salt for cutthroat trout—and a day in the Teton National Park and Yellowstone created my perfect spiritual sashay toward the finish line of fall. A Hallelujah Chorus of bugling elk accompanied evenings of tap-dancing feet on the fire-pit rim as I struggled not to melt the soles of my Columbia PFG fishing shoes. (My nose was stuck in a book.)
I was disappointed to miss the bison, although park employees don’t herd the beasts into view for tourists. A small black bear delighted me as he or she discretely (there are other ways, you know) snuck up on a cluster of very savvy, honking Canadian geese. Epic fail, little dude! You’ll need to get your hibernation calories elsewhere!
Heading south from Yellowstone, cutting through the Tetons on a road pockmarked by moon craters, I commented that time and conditions were perfect for meandering moose. On cue, after almost rear-ending a Subaru hidden smack dab (emphasis on smack) in the middle of what they call a “road” in the Wild West, we spotted the young male.
At this juncture, let me mention that there are two types of cameras: the point-and-shoot and the more complicated. I have a simple, complicated camera which is smarter than I am. The driver was even less proficient. He grabbed the technology, clicking and grumbling about lack of focus. By the time I wrestled the camera from him—in the courteous and loving context of the long-married—the memory card held an assortment of very contemporary, very blurry moose photos. We reached a very traditional agreement about who would use the Nikon on future trips as one very bored moose moseyed into the evening rain.
And there are (at least) two types of character development: personal and fictional. As my husband and I practiced the personal, I thought of my protagonist, archaeologist Grace Madison. She sprang to life one uncharacteristically cloudy day at tel Dan on the Galilean Peninsula in far northern Israel. Her soundtrack was heavy artillery fire in Syria and machine-gun fire in Lebanon. The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) bomber slipping through the coastal scud was an appropriate backdrop for her birth that May day. And like the moose that delighted us, she was an epiphany that has thrilled readers in two books as I prepare to release the third.
Maturity aside, a Rocky Mountain fall foretells dramatic change. Peaks are dusted with snow. I lift my head to sniff the sweet heaviness of woodsmoke. Mountainsides still wear garish gashes of orange and yellow leaves, Crayola colors emphasized by the pale trunks that surround them. The world does a slow duck-and-cover while animals scurry, preparing to survive—much as I planned to do on tel Dan.
I love it all: the life, the changes, the writing, the growth. I hope you’re outside, enjoying the transition in your neck of the woods.