2018 year was a banner year. On the professional front, I resigned one agent in June and signed with another in August. Resigning was the right thing to do, and I’m delighted with my new agent. She’s responsive, smart, completely professional, and very well respected. Then I completed the first book (which she’s shopping now) in a domestic-thriller series, and started the second.
In my personal life, our youngest graduated with her masters in International Policy/Economics in November and her law degree in December. We now have two fine young attorneys in the family (three if you count our daughter-in-law), and we’re officially a couple again—albeit a couple with outstanding legal counsel.
Looking into ’19, I’ll finish the second book of the new series by the end of February, then grind it through a tough edit cycle. (I love edits.) In April my daughter and I will travel for two weeks, confirming details of the second book and researching the third—a “closed-house thriller” in a unique venue. (I’m quite excited about it.)
From late spring through October I’ll polish the second book and draft the third. I’m also looking forward to revising a three-book domestic-suspense series (that my beta readers liken to Louise Penny’s work—I’m honored) written in 2016/2017. My backlist contains seven unpublished manuscripts.
In November I’ll spend two or three weeks in the Middle East, primarily Israel and Jordan, possibly Egypt. I’m looking forward to returning to the region, climbing in and out of archaeological digs, absorbing the sounds and sights and flavors of one of my favorite parts of the world. The trip is related to my writing, but it’s too soon to share more.
Today I’m hitting the cross-country ski tracks, trying to blow out cobwebs left by a nasty holiday cold. Cross-country skiing will pepper my schedule until the white stuff melts, then golf, fly-fishing, and gardening seduce me from the computer. Book club, which I’ve attended for almost fifteen years, remains a constant regardless of season, as do opportunities to serve in my small mountain community.
I’ve cut back on blogging because there are so many blogs and so few experts. But readers always seem to enjoy blogs about the seasonal events where I live, hence this post.
As you know (if you’ve followed for a while), summer for me is all about my garden. (And golf and fly-fishing.) I’m waaay up in the Rockies, so the season is brief and sweet. This year we’ve had little rain and the fire danger is extreme. The xeriscape lawn is in God’s hands. Only my berm, plus a few pots and planters, receives irrigation.
When I planted the garden I used currant plants as a natural hedge between the more cultivated, house-side of the big berm, and the wild, grassy side that faces the street. The currants are full of fruit this year—something that the chipmunks and small birds have figured out. I realized that if I was going to harvest currants, I had to do so in a hurry!
I clambered (that’s the most generous term for my movement) on the berm yesterday, staining my fingers with the juice from white (they’re really peach-colored) and black currants. I got three cups, leaving about three times as many fruit on the bushes. After sorting, tipping and tailing, and washing the currants, I baked scones.
There’s nothing like warm currant scones (recipe below) on a crisp morning that reminds me that fall is coming too soon.
FRESH CURRANT SCONES
Preheat oven to 400
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup fresh currants
Demerara sugar for dusting tops of scones
Whisk cream and egg. Mix flour, sugar baking powder, and salt in food processor. Cut the butter chunks into the flour mixture. Gently fold in the currants. Stir in the egg-and-cream. Form the dough into two balls, then flatten into six-inch disks. Cut the disks into six pieces, like a pie. Brush with additional melted butter, and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Bake about 20 minutes, or until golden. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.
A sow bear in Alaska wants me. Local fishing guides call her Nasty Pants. I call her something much worse.
Our first encounter was five years ago. I was minding my own business while fishing for trophy trout at Brooks Falls in the Katmai Wilderness. Nasty Pants came barreling around a large willow stand, huffing and teeth-clacking and making a spectacle of herself.
Of course, her spectacle was nothing compared to mine as I splashed through chest-deep water at an all-time high. My wading boots were five sizes too large. Clown shoes.
During our little introduction a 27-inch rainbow took my fly. The line went into the backing as I battled fish and current. Nasty Pants did a territorial-bear dance, marking me as her own. I didn’t know whether to watch the bear, work the fish, or drown. I told the guide to cut the line.
“But that’s a 27-inch bow!”
“I don’t care about the bow. The bears, specifically that one—” I nodded toward Nasty Pants, who was grinning “—are flipping me out. Cut the line!”
“But—” he started.
“Cut it or I drop your rig,” I said, giving him the Mom Look of Death.
He cut the line. I breast-stroked (actually, it was more of a spastic, waving sprint) through the river, then crawled through the mucky wetlands while loudly insulting Nasty Pants’ mother. Then I vowed never to return to Brooks River or Falls.
Two weeks ago I returned to . . . wait for it! . . . Brooks River and Falls. My husband, a very adventurous lunatic, was eager to fish it again. I had caught my trophy trout on the Qvichak River so agreed to accompany him. I would bear watch during the morning and read at the lodge that afternoon. He and the guide could do manly things while holding fly rods and running from bears.
From a viewing platform I watched watched bears eat and fight and loll. A trio of anglers—silly men—downriver were triangulated by the animals, pinned in place for thirty minutes armed with bear spray and eau du fear.
Then a big, ill-tempered blonde bear ambled into view. I looked at her. She looked at me. I recognized her. She thought I was dessert.
She wandered around the viewing platform, planning her menu. A group of bears decided that the end of the bridge was a great spot for a nap. Nasty Pants settled down beneath us, and I pondered my exceptional ability to levitate as the bears blocked the bridge. When they awakened and while Nasty Pants was distracted by a silver salmon, we scooted across the bridge. I glanced over my shoulder several times to ensure that Nast Pants wasn’t faster than me, and then walked faster all the way to the lodge.
Once at the lodge I pulled out my iPad, propped my wading boots (that fit this time) on the lip of the fire pit, and settled in with a good suspense novel. Every once in a while I’d see a park ranger scurry past outside, rushing toward someone have a bear moment. Happily, it wasn’t me.
Just after three, our DeHavilland beaver floatplane lifted off from the smooth surface of Brooks Lake. I know that the big blonde bear standing on the bank was sad to see me go.
It’s that time of year. Summer is fading and the mountains are turning daffodil, pumpkin, and scarlet. Our lows are in the 40s and the light is softening.
The changes on this mountaintop warn us (about as subtly as a clanging gong) that winter is coming. Animals have picked clean the berry brambles and the rose hips are bright red, rich with vitamin C. Mushroom season (see this blog) is winding down as hunting season (elk, deer, bighorn sheep) ratchets up. I marvel, as I do each year, at God’s goodness as He cares for humans and animals alike.
My Harbinger of Doom plant, the one that changes colors before everything else, began to evolve two weeks ago. It’s a currant plant, bountiful with fruit. I purchased another bush (I plant one each year), keeping it on the deck to protect the fruit from chipmunks. The critters have the eyes of an eagle and the speed of Mo Farah.
I baked the last batch of currant scones today, and I’m sharing the recipe here. If you’ve never had fresh, wild currants, you don’t know what you’re missing. When I fly-fish our rivers now, I barely restrain myself from asking the guide to pull over so that I can raid the flaming currant brambles along the banks.
FRESH CURRANT SCONES
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Mix in your food processor 4.5 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add i teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg. Gently cut in 2 sticks of cold butter.
Mix 2.25 cups of heavy cream with an egg. Add this to the dry ingredients. The batter has the consistency of half-dry cement, so brace yourself to add the currants. Fold in the currants, noting that some will become smashed fatalities.
Roll the dough onto a floured surface and form into a ball. Flatten the ball to about an inch thick, then cut into eight or ten pieces with a sharp knife.
Arrange on a baking sheet, brush with additional melted butter, and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. These freeze well, which is a good thing if you have a husband who loves fresh scones as much as mine.
We coast through an intersection, singing Bohemian Rhapsody (all five parts) at the top of our lungs without noticing the other car, the one whose driver looked up just in time to prevent T-boning us. Or we’re in the chair at the dentist, a drill mere inches from our brain, unaware that the dentist is working hard to control a bad case of the hiccups. (You’re welcome for that one.) Sometimes we have a sense of something wrong—an unease, the proverbial hair on our necks standing on end—without fully realizing the danger from which we’ve narrowly escaped.
These moments are brushes with mortality. They remind us that we’re a speck in a much larger universe. We’re just passing through, hopefully living every moment as if it were our last. Because it might be! Consider them a divine thump on the back of the head.
I’ve been outside this summer, which invariably will end too soon. When not writing or working on the platform redesign I’ve been playing golf and fishing and working in my garden. It suffered as I travelled back and forth to do end-of-life care for my parents and settling the estate. Long summer days (usually six hours of weeding and pruning and planting) have been beautifully restorative. Worshipful. Soul-calming.
But last Thursday was a different sort of day. I was jumpy. Dogs were barking a canine version of Handel’s Messiah. Even the birds didn’t seem to chirp with vigor. The entire environment was off, on edge. In a bad mood.
We haven’t seen a bear this year, although last summer’s neighborhood patrol was a four-hundred-pound delight of drooling, stinking, bear fur. Bears normally rest during the day and are active at night, so I wasn’t terribly worried to be clambering up and down my garden berm mid-morning. (To be honest, I’m scared of cougars; you never see them coming.) But something was off that day. Even though I’m at peace with my God and unafraid of eternity, I hope that my departure from this earth doesn’t involve sharp claws and big, pointy teeth.
I finally tugged off my muddy boots, went to my office, and got my bear gun out of the cabinet. I proceeded to garden without mishap until afternoon thunderstorms forced me inside. The last thing I did was to spill DeerOff (as necessary as water in places where deer and rabbit know a gourmet meal when you plant one) on the drive before dousing everything I wanted to keep.
The next morning I glanced out my office window, checking for rain clouds on the horizon. I noticed that FedEx or UPS had driven through the DeerOff, leaving tracks. I would check for a parcel at the pedestrian garage door later, and went to work. Then I ran errands before settling at my desk to write a synopsis. About fifteen minutes into that task, I rocked back in my office chair. How could someone have driven through ONE puddle with both sets of wheels, leaving TWO tracks.
Intrepid suspense writer that I am, I knew that something was up. Deductive reasoning forced me out of my chair. I trotted down the stairs, out to the freshly asphalted driveway. I paced to the street, studying weird markings until I can to a clear set. I paused, and sucked in a deep breath. then I laughed.
I stood, hands on hips, staring at bear prints that were twice as wide as my foot. Big Bear had walked through the DeerOff in broad daylight that morning, moseyed to the street, wandered around, and returned up the drive—creating two sets of near-parallel tracks. I remembered my uneasiness the day before. The Glock .356 Sig was still on the office bookshelf, next to the loaded magazine.
I thought of the Holy Spirit, who guides foolish mortals. I said a prayer of thanksgiving—for this guidance, for my Glock, for the birds and dogs who nudged me into high alert. I thought of all sorts of narrow escapes; not just the physical ones, but the moral and theological ones as well. I wondered if God our father holds His breath when we face a choice between good and evil. As a parent, my blood pressure (notoriously low, thanks to genetics) hums a little higher when my children are at a crossroads.
Even though I’m an insignificant speck in this universe, I am one of God’s children. And at least last week, I was worth saving from a very large bear. Especially in summer—fly-fishing through rapids, gardening on the edge of the boonies, even (or especially) riding my bike on mountain trails—I keep the Holy Spirit busy.