AK 2010, Day 28: Settling in at Denali [Catching Up]
[Cabin at Milepost 22x]
The set up is one only a writer could dream up: Friends have a cabin just outside the Park boundaries, perched high up on a bluff above the meandering Nenana River. They’ve offered to share their space for the remainder of their vacation, plus another week during which I will stay here on my own. The view from their porch looks down to the river and out across into the Park. Row after row and 5,000-6,000 foot ridgelines jut upwards from the river, eventually leading to the sky-high Alaska Range.
I’m at Milepost 22x, as I’ll call it, because even though the address sounds obscure it’s actually quite an easy place to find if you know the Denali area and community at all. Suffice it to say it’s gorgeous, fall is peaking in flurry of golden aspen trees, and all the while the low bush cranberries are so abundant and succulent that most of my outdoor clothes are stained with specks of pleasant magenta simply from walking around.
[Low bush cranberries taste best after the first frost.]
Just off the back deck, a narrow footpath extends through Ahtna (Alaska Natives) land along a bluff trail with extended views of the Nenana and surrounding hills. Bear scat, red squirrel mudden (food caches), and all the plant life of the boreal forest abound. I can walk three miles round trip with views all along the way—a perfect evening stroll and, hopefully in a few days (one my heels heal), a lovely jogging trail.
[Views from bluff trail.]
I’ve been thinking a lot about my war stories collection and the short time I have left to get the work in order. I’ll start in on it again full-time beginning Saturday (tomorrow) and, while it’s been hard to break the rhythm that I worked so hard to maintain in Fairbanks, I also wholly believe in the power of letting things build up with the express purpose of making damn burst. I researched all summer, then got to Fairbanks and wrote more war stories than I ever thought I could. Now I’ve taken a week to backpack and another week to explore and socialize, and I’m eager to return to the collection with “fresh eyes.”
Doubts about the collection and my abilities to see (or not see, more accurately) my own weak spots as a fiction writer, have intruded into my thought process off and on during these two weeks, though: What kind of impression will this collection leave? If it is accepted for publication, will it pigeon hole me as an author? How much of this subject matter will the average reader be able to take? Is the collection too short? Too graphic? Are my military facts right? Are my emotional truths fair and believable?
For support, I’ve been cherishing two pieces of advice. The first is from my esteemed grad school professor, Interlochen snowshoeing buddy, and author of 10+ books mentor “Leon Hammerhead,” who says that we must make our characters suffer, we must love them, and we must empathize with them in order to make them real. Most days, I feel pretty confident that I have been able to do that with my war story characters, despite how thoroughly far from my own personal experience their fictional perspectives are. The second is this quote from Rockwell Kent:
“After all, the qualities by which all of us become known are those of which we are ourselves least conscious. The best of me is what is quite impulsive; and, looking at myself for a moment with a critic’s eye, the forms that occur in my art, the gestures, the spirit of the whole of it is in fact nothing but an exact pictorial record of my unconscious living idealism.”