Mid-Month Marvels: Greenagers

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

I’ve blogged about my teen participation in the Youth Conservation Corps before. It was a very life-changing part of my growing up, and it gave me skills that I employ to this day. It used to be a federal program, and I truly believe that when Reagan did away with it, the country didn’t quite realize what it was giving up in terms of teaching the nation’s youth how to be strong, capable, confident and hard working adults.

So imagine my joy when I stumbled upon an organization called Greenagers. The only fault I can find with this amazing program is that it is only in the Berkshires and a small part of New York State. I think this entire country could benefit from this fantastic idea.

According to their website, “Greenagers provides employment and volunteer opportunities for teens and young adults in the fields of conservation, sustainable farming, and environmental leadership.”

They have several programs. They help maintain the Appalachian trails in the area, work with local farmers, and install front yard gardens for area families. They work on public lands to build trails, remove invasive species, and construct kiosks and benches. They also have a river walk stewardship program, and a climate action program to educate students in middle school.

There are so many benefits to Greenagers that there is not enough space in this blog to count them all. Not only does it provide youth with gainful employment, but it educates them about the environment and provides them with tools to maintain this planet in a way that we should have been doing all along. It also teaches them teamwork and gives them skills in collaboration. It shows them how to work with their hands, and it gets them off the couch and into the great outdoors for actual exercise. It gives them an amazing work ethic and it instills confidence and keeps them out of trouble.

Currently, this organization is raising funds to acquire the April Hill Education and Conservation Center, a 100 acre plot that includes a farmhouse that was built in 1744, a barn, and several outbuildings, not far from the Appalachian Trail. This will allow them to expand this incredible program and increase their opportunities to educate and uplift the community. Check out this amazing video, and please join me in supporting this great cause.

Greenagers

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Packhorse Librarians

Librarians have always been my heroes. They preserve and impart knowledge and literacy. They inspire curiosity. At a time when “intellectual” seems to have become a dirty word, they are keepers of the flame. Call me a geek if you want to. I think librarians rock.

Recently, I was thrilled to discover something about the history of librarians that I never knew. During the Great Depression, in the rugged and remote Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky, the Works Progress Administration funded the Pack Horse Library Project, and the vast majority of librarians involved in it were women.

These women would ride an average of 120 miles a week, two weeks out of every month, in the rain and snow, through the mud, along cliffs, and up icy creeks, to bring books to people who otherwise would not have access to them. They promoted literacy and education, and improved people’s chances for employment. They’d often read to families themselves. These women risked their very lives to spread knowledge. Not only did they have to tackle rough terrain and inclement weather, but they also had to gain the trust of communities that generally viewed outsiders as highly suspect. I can’t imagine a more noble pursuit.

Their funds were quite limited, so they also had to ask for book donations, and they got creative in other ways as well. They made Christmas cards into bookmarks, and license plates into book ends. They also made books of their own. They created recipe books and quilt pattern books from information gleaned from the community. They did their best to get to know their patrons and provide them with books that would spark their interest.

I’d like to imagine that if I were alive in that time and that place that I’d have been a Packhorse Librarian; a bringer of information, a messenger for truth and art and literature. It was a hard life, no doubt. But I bet at the end of the day, they took pride in this honest work. That makes life worthwhile.

Now those same communities are served by bookmobiles. This, too, is noble. I hope the librarians in those vans, with their dry feet and their warm hands, take a moment each day to think about those intrepid women who paved the way for them. And I hope they keep up the good work, because, I’ll say it again, librarians rock.

Packhorse_librarian_on_a_rough_trail

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If You Could Do Anything…

If money, time, responsibilities, age, and health were no object, what would you do right now? If there were no barriers in your way, what dreams would you pursue? What goals would you try to achieve?

I think about this quite a bit. As I’ve said, I have a very long bucket list. I dream big. Even so, my “one thing” seems to be different depending on which month or year you ask me.

Today, at this moment, what I’d love to do more than anything else is pursue a Master of Fine Arts at my alma mater, Warren Wilson College. Many very talented writers have gone through that MFA program, and have gone on to win National Endowments for the Arts; Guggenheim, Radcliffe, Stegner and Hodder fellowships; the Rome Prize from the Academy of American Letters; Whiting Awards; the NAACP Image award; The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award; the Kate Tufts Discovery Award;  the Juniper Prize for Fiction; the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry; the Kenyon Review Fellowship; the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy; The Howard Frank Moser Short Fiction Prize; and on and on. Even more have gone on to be published through highly acclaimed publishing houses. I genuinely think this program would push my writing to the next level.

It is a low residency program, which means I could remain in my beloved Seattle most of the time. But twice a year I would experience the delight of Western North Carolina and its Blue Ridge Mountains. And there’s something magical about the WWC campus. It is one of the most environmental and liberal campuses in the country, and it influences you. It gets into your bloodstream. You can’t go there without leaving as a more amazing you. I’ve tried to get many people to attend this fine institution. One day I hope someone will actually listen to me, because this place is a gift.

So what is holding me back? Money, first and foremost. That always seems to be my biggest hurdle. The bills won’t stop coming simply because I would prefer that my focus be elsewhere. And then of course there’s the question of time. An MFA is not a trivial pursuit. It’s not something I could squeeze in between my bridge openings at work. And unfortunately, that work is what keeps the dogs in kibble.

So unless I happen to stub my toe on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I’ll simply have to keep dreaming of a path in life that I most likely will never have a chance to take. Somewhere in an alternate universe, another me is sitting under a tree in the heart of an alternate Appalachia, learning how to be the most incredible writer she can be.

Oh, and she’s younger, thinner, in a loving relationship, and impervious to cold. Why not? Given my active imagination, I can almost content myself with that. Almost.

So now it’s your turn. What would you do, if you could do anything?

wwc

I may not have an MFA, but I still wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

My Jacksonville to Seattle Odyssey—Part 2

It was really hard saying goodbye to my sister this morning. I don’t know why. It’s not like we’ll lose touch. But it was kind of comforting, knowing she only lived 4 hours away. And I probably won’t see her for a year and a half. So it was hard. Still, off I went, just me and the dogs, who got right down to the business of sleeping.

We officially traded cars, and now I’m driving a 2000 Dodge Caravan with a whole host of quirks. The windshield wipers forget to work sometimes, and have to be reminded. When you hit a bump in the road, the radio turns to CD mode, which means the music stops. And the CD player doesn’t work. The air conditioner doesn’t really work in stop and go traffic. All of these are things I can live with and be rather grateful for, because without this quirky car, I’d be in deep trouble. And as I drove along I thought that if I were on one of those dating websites, I’d come off as the human equivalent to this vehicle. Quirky, but I can make it from point A to point B, and in the end, that’s all that matters, right?

So I headed up into the Appalachian Mountains, where my soul has always resided. It felt strange knowing that I’d be driving right on through them, because usually when I head this direction it’s to stay a while. If I could live anywhere in the country, it would be here. (With the exception of Butts County, Georgia. Sorry, but there are limits.) Maybe some day.

But I did have the distinct pleasure of stopping for lunch in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can’t be in Tennessee and not sample the bar-b-cue, so I went to Sugar’s Ribs. My friend Carole joined me. What a blessing this blog is. If it weren’t for this, I’d have never met her. And yet here we were, having lunch. And she drove an hour and a half to do so. We got along like a house afire, but I knew we would.

A strange thing happened when we left the restaurant, though. I had parked the van on a dark shady side street with the windows open. It was 75 degrees out and overcast. And my car was now flanked by two Chattanooga Police cruisers. Uh…

The officer said he thought the car had been abandoned with the dogs inside. We had been gone for 20 minutes. The car is in excellent condition, full of my possessions, and the dogs had water and food and the windows were open in full shade. They were fine. He said he assumed someone had walked off into the woods and shot himself. (Seriously? Isn’t that a bit of a leap?) But he was nice enough. He said if I hadn’t come right then, he’d have confiscated the dogs, though. That would have ruined the trip, to say the least. Believe me, I’d never leave my dogs in a hot car, and I’m tempted to kill any human who does.

After that, I headed North again, through the comforting, cozy mountains with their solid, reassuring rock outcroppings, and mildly disturbing fireworks emporiums, but somehow my GPS led me briefly back into Georgia, which had me worried for a second there. I’ll have to look at a map and work out how that happened, but before I knew it, I was back in Tennessee and then on into the rolling green hills and grasslands of Kentucky. I got this huge surge of pure joy when I crossed into this state, because it’s the first part of my journey that is parts unknown for me. I have officially crossed out of charted territory. If my travel experiences were an old map, this part would say, “Here there be dragons.” How exciting!

I passed several signs of fascinating places that I would have loved to have checked out, but traveling with dogs limits one. And of course time and money play a factor, too. Instead I’ve opted to hibernate in a hotel in Paducah, Kentucky.

A note about Paducah: It has always sounded to me like a small boy’s slang for defecation. A friend says it sounds to him like a teenage boy’s slang for his naughty bits. Either way, it makes it awfully hard to take this town seriously. But if it weren’t for the dogs, I’d be out exploring it right now. It’s got a waterfront art district, an historic district, and a National Quilting Museum! How can I resist? Alas…I’m off to bed.

Next stop, my niece’s house in St. Joseph, Missouri!

Check out part 3 here!

PisforPaducah! cover

The Bunyip and his Cousins

Behold the fearsome Bunyip. This mythological creature was much feared among the Aboriginal people of Australia. Until recently I had never heard of this beast, but it intrigues me because it seems to be so far from even the mainstream creepy folk creature as to be unrecognizable.

Bunyip_(1935)

bunyip 2 bunyip stamp 

As you can see from the various artists’ renderings, no one can agree on what this monster was supposed to have looked like, and therefore one can only speculate as to what animal the Ancient Aboriginal Peoples could have seen that appears to have scared them silly. I think a combination of that country’s vastness and isolation and the fact that it’s already a land that is inhabited by some of the strangest animals on the planet all played a part in creating this extremely bizarre imagery.

It seems as though every culture has its bunyip. The boogeyman. The thing hiding under your bed or in your closet. Apparently all humans have a need to conjure up creatures out of their free-floating anxieties.

Below are just a few of the many.

chupacabra

The Chupacabra of Latin America

Mothman

The Mothman of the Appalachians

ebu gogo

The Ebu Gogo of Flores

 Aswang

The Aswang of the Philippines

 Brosno Dragon

The Brosno Dragon of Russia

 Canvey_Island_monster

The Canvey Island Monster of England

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Taniwha of New Zealand

 grootslang

The Grootslang of South Africa

 yeren2

The Yeren of China

jersey-devil

The Jersey Devil of New Jersey

Peluda

The Peluda of France

 mongolian_death_worm2

The Mongolian Death Worm of the Gobi Desert

 Ropen

The Ropen of Papua New Guinea

It’s a very big world that we live in, full of isolated and uncharted places. It’s also full of people with wild imaginations. But if even one of these creatures were to exist? That’s the reason they are so disturbing to us. We can never be quite sure. Shudder.

Happy Halloween.