Set Up for Place-Based Writing

I’m finding it a little challenging to orient to Enterprise. This is probably due to the fact that I’m still teaching in Joseph and, unfortunately, still cannot go on walks (doctor’s orders) because of my foot. I know the house well. I know Tiny, the 17-year-old cat well. I know the post office and grocery store and Fishtrap House. But what about that old mill I keep driving past? What about the abandoned rail cars and overgrown railroad ties? That building that looks like an old depot but now houses a plant nursery?

I hope to answer these questions in the coming weeks (and start moving without pain). Meantime, I thought I’d describe a few tried-and-tested techniques I use for keeping track of new, place-based writing ideas.
I always start by purchasing maps. Here, that meant a visit to the U.S. Forest Service office in Joseph for a topo of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, followed by a stop at Our Little Store in Enterprise, for the best darn county map $6 can buy. Rounding out the collection are a few hand-sketched maps from Fishtrap’s trusty Program Coordinator Jon Rombach and, all-totaled, I’ve got dirt roads, paved roads, county roads, private roads, foot trails, and unmarked old roads well covered. Now I just need to grow some bones in my feet, get out there, and get moving.
[Ideally, these would all be hanging up on the wall,
but I’m housesitting and haven’t found the right spot yet.]
Next, I find somewhere to purchase or giant piece of butcher paper that I can tack to the wall. Here, I write down things like the following:
–ode to the sea cow of Wallowa Lake
–Bowlby stone and Swamp Creek Quarry
–salmons coming up the basalt chutes
–the sluggish flies at the lake house (in winter? indeed!)
–sheepherder’s stew, docking sheep
–“whiskey as black as tar with the kick of a 4 year old mule” (regarding Billsville whiskey sold for 25 cents a pull in Wallowa, OR, 1880’s)
–to crab, to rabbit, to “keep the teacher,” to “board around”
Finally, I go to the local library and check out both highly regarded and high skeptical history books. I cull them for facts and lore, old photographs to scan, repeated family names, and just plain old good stories. The smaller the town, the better the stories (usually) and that’s the way I like it.
Last year, I stayed in northern Michigan long enough for my place-based research to start showing up in my fiction. This year in Wallowa County, time will tell.

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