Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Wish List

I found what I believe is the most perfect writing retreat--ever. (Or at least within my immediate reaches.) It's called "Explore the Literature and Landscape of the Horse", hosted by author and speaker Page Lambert this summer at the Vee Bar Guest Ranch in Wyoming. Each participant is paired up with a horse for the week and as the brochure states, "As we learn more about how a horse communicates with the world, we develop a deeper awareness of how we communicate with the world." I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

As someone who has lived in the suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul for the last 20 years, I can only imagine how engaging and life-changing an experience like this would be. My daily environment consists of strip malls, giant box retailers with giant paved parking lots, traffic lights, traffic congestion, and just plain traffic. This fall our suburb, which is on the outer fringe of the Twin Cities Metro, added two metro transit stations with daily bus service to the Twin Cities. I told my husband that was the last straw--it's time to get out.

Actually, we do plan to list our house for sale with hopes of moving to "the country", and we plan to keep an open mind for whatever opportunities come our way. In the mean time, I'll be dreaming about a cabin nestled along a rushing creek at the Vee Bar ranch, imagining what I can learn from a horse, as we spend 5 days "riding and writing" in the Snowy Range Mountains of Wyoming. And to think I'll have a real horse this time--not a little plastic one like I took to the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch in September. (Although I have to admit, Rio and I did have a special time together.)

So yes, a week at the Vee Bar ranch with author Page Lambert and facilitator Sheri Griffith is at the top of my Christmas Wish List for 2009!

Barbara

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas--Celebrating the Joy of Faith and Family God's Way


As I look out my office window this morning, the ground is covered in fresh white snow. It's only a dusting...tips of short green grass poke through, as though they're not ready to be hidden away for the long winter that we get to "enjoy" here in Minnesota.

Yes, it is December...the season of Christ's birth. For many it is a time of family get-togethers, of decorating the house in red and green, and gift-giving. If you are looking for a heartwarming and economical Christmas gift, consider the book, Christmas--Celebrating the Joy of Faith and Family God's Way, Whitestone Books, a collection of true and tender holiday stories. Each story is a real life reminder that Christmas truly begins in the loving heart of the Father.
A Christmas Bundle is one of my stories selected for the book and shares my unexpected arrival for my parents late in life. With a willingness and obedience to God, Jessie and Percy Veden selflessly accepted the responsibility of raising another child in their 50s, a time when most couples were in the twilight of their parenting years. In a small, rural farmhouse, they welcomed another baby into their simple home, placing the well-worn crib in the midst of the warm kitchen where Jessie spent most of her days.

Christmas-God's Way is available on my website on the Anthologies page. While you're there, check out the other compilation books such as Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons, Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers, Groovy Chicks' Road Trip to Love, and Finding and Following God's Will.


Christmas Blessings,
Barbara

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November is National Adoption Month

NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH, 2009- - - - - - -BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

"All children deserve a safe, loving family to protect and care for them. In America, thousands of young people are waiting for that opportunity. During National Adoption Month, we honor those families that have strengthened America through adoption, and we recommit to reducing the number of children awaiting adoption into loving families.

America is a country rich in resources and filled with countless caring men and women who hope to adopt. These individuals come from all walks of life, united in their commitment to love a child who is in need of the protective arms of a parent. We must do more to ensure that adoption is a viable option for them. By continually opening up the doors to adoption, and supporting full equality in adoption laws for all American families, we allow more children to find the permanent homes they yearn for and deserve."

Thus begins the formal presidential proclamation for National Adoption Month. May we take time this month to recognize individuals and couples who have adopted and raised children as their own. My sister adopted two children, Brian and Stephanie, and dedicated her time and love to raise them. My brother adopted two boys, David and Bruce, and I can't imagine our family without having known and loved these children.

When I wrote "Hidden Heritage...the Story of Paul LaRoche", the true story of a white couple who adopted an American Indian boy, I became intimately involved in the Summers-LaRoche family. Paul's story is inspiring and uplifting on both sides of the adoption coin...his adoptive home was warm and loving, and when he reunited with his birth family as an adult, he was embraced and welcomed back. His is a wonderful example of how adoption can and should work.

This month let us salute all the people and families who have given and shared love--the greatest gift of all--under the umbrella of adoption.

Blessings,
Barbara

Link to presidential proclamation: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-proclamations-national-adoption-month

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Planning, Progress, and Pay-off

I finished the first draft of my current novel "Seeds of Salton" in two years, writing and working at a steady, sometimes-frenzied pace, all while keeping up with my home and part-time day-job. When I finished the last chapter this spring and read through the entire 356 pages I found myself face-to-face with the same question a lot of writers do: How do I turn this draft into a polished manuscript that I can present to agents or editors?

Like many I turned to the Internet to research my options, reading agent blogs and writers websites. I knew first-hand that writers conferences hold a wealth of helpful resources. In 2007 and 2008 I attended the Southern California Writer's Conference in San Diego, but I lacked the time and money to get to another one this fall. There were numerous editors-for-hire all over the web, but who could I trust?

To start, I turned to a writer friend who recommended editor and author Susanne Lakin in California. I contacted Susanne and we "hit it off" right from the start. I hired her to do a content edit of the manuscript, which she promptly did. She responded with many positive things to say about my writing and the manuscript, which gave me an enormous boost of confidence. In her eight-page critique she outlined my weaknesses in the premise and story arch. More importantly though, she offered suggestions on how to strengthen the manuscript in a way that made sense to me.

In the midst of working with Susanne, I attended "Story Mastery" with Michael Hauge, presented by the Midwest Fiction Writers & Screenwriters of Minnesota right near my home in Minneapolis. Michael's handouts included Key Story Component Breakdowns and a Six-Stage Plot Structure worksheet--exactly what I needed to fine-tune my own plot structure. What hit me even deeper, however, was how he presented the protagonist's character arch through "Identity and Essence" and the tug of war between the two.

Susanne Lakin also suggested I purchase the CD set for a seminar taught by T. Davis Bunn at the Mount Hermon Writer's Conference in 2009, titled "Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level," another wonderful seminar about story arch and character development. By this time everything began to "click" and I had a much clearer understanding of premise, tone, voice, and character development.

And then came the fun part! I did my best to take all these news helps and apply them to my manuscript. These past few weeks I've had a ball putting all that I've learned into action. I've cut pages, tightened paragraphs, and rewritten several scenes like there's no tomorrow. The pay-off is a much improved manuscript and a newly instilled confidence to go with it. I still plan to attend a national writer's conference this winter, but for now I am thankful for the opportunities that have crossed my path without having to leave home.

It's rewarding and uplifting to have people like Susanne, Michael and Davis who are willing to share their expertise with those of us on this journey to publication. Thank you, thank you!
Barbara

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

1st Place - Brainerd Writers Alliance Essay Contest

As all writers know, the journey to publication has so many ups and downs it's like being on a never-ending rollercoaster ride. The struggles, the frustrations, the rejections can turn into a one-way ride down, plunging my unstable rollercoaster car toward the ground. Thankfully those moments don't come along too often, but when they do, they're ugly. I had one of those moments recently and wondered why we must endure these difficult, soul-searching "bumps" that want to literally throw us off the track.

This one lasted a couple days. I did some good soul-searching, dried my eyes, and went back to the computer. Later that day I received a phone call from Gary Midge with the Brainerd Writers Alliance telling me I won first place for my essay, "Under the Shadow of the Tower" in their 2009 writing contest. Wow...a much needed boost! And within minutes of Gary's call, I received an email from an editor in California, filled with wonderful words of encouragement and confidence in my writing...exactly what I needed to keep going.

So here I go with my rollercoaster car upright once again, up the slow and steady climb on the biggest and steepest hill of my journey to publication...clickety, clickety, clickety...working on the revisions of my novel, feeling the sense that something incredible is waiting for me just over the top of that next rise.

Chuck Swindoll once said, "Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal."

Well, today my prayer is to keep my eyes on the goal--rather than the ups and downs of the journey--to obtain an agent and subsequent publication for my novel, Seeds of Salton.

"Raise your faith to trust God when you can't see around that corner," is another good quote from Chuck Swindoll, and most fitting!

Blessings, fellow writers,
Barbara

Monday, September 28, 2009

Me and Rio




Yup, I saddled up little Rio last Monday and headed west. Luckily for Rio I found the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch west of Medora, ND that has accommodations for both people AND horses, as you can see by the corrals there behind Rio.


When I checked in to the ranch Monday evening, the man working the bar/front desk asked if I had a horse. I said, "As a matter a fact I do!" and pulled little Rio out of my purse. He didn't seem to appreciate my humor, or maybe he'd had too many city slickers trying to act like rough riders, I'm not sure. Regardless, me and Rio settled into our room at the lodge. We had an incredible view of the North Dakota Badlands off the deck, which I can testify is amazingly beautiful at sunset.

Tuesday I drove over to Wibaux, hoping to do a little deeper research about the history of Wibaux and the cattle ranchers of the 1880s, including the town's founder, Pierre Wibaux. At one time Pierre Wibaux owned more cattle than any other individual in the world! He was a true cattle baron and had friends like Teddy Roosevelt and Marquis de Mores. I roamed the sections roads for awhile, admiring the quiet beauty of eastern Montana's rolling land, spent time in the library, and had lunch at the Shamrock, downtown Wibaux.

On Wednesday I drove to Medora, the quaint little tourist town on the edge of the North Dakota Badlands, where the entrance to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits. On the 36-mile loop through the park there are numerous overlooks with incredible views, ones that give you a sense for how it looked a century or two ago. There are wild horses and buffalo herds, antelope, whitetail, muleys...plenty of western inspiration to stir the imagination.

I asked Rio if he wanted to stay there, but he was a little intimidated by the size of the wild horses and opted to come home with me. So now the real work begins!!



Giddy-yup!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Defeat of Jesse James Days - Northfield, MN

If anyone is looking for something fun to do this weekend, take a short drive to the beautiful river town of Northfield for the "Defeat of Jesse James Days" Celebration. The weekend is chock-full of festivities in the historic downtown--everything from re-enactments of the famous shootout to a PRCA Professional Rodeo, a parade, craft show and much more.

I will have a booth with the FINE ARTS & CRAFT FESTIVAL along the picturesque river walk, Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with copies of "Hidden Heritage", Brule' CDs and DVDs, and my photo greeting cards, plus copies of my compilation books: Cup of Comfort for Single Moms, Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons, Celebrating Christmas God's Way, Finding and Following God's Will, and Groovy Chicks' Road Trip to Love.

Please stop by and say hello!
Barbara

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hidden Heritage TV Show Premieres on RFD-TV!



Exciting news!!

HIDDEN HERITAGE premiere episode to air on
RFD-TV Monday, August 31, 2009 – 8:30 p.m. CT

The first episode titled “Hidden Heritage—The Pilot” will air Monday, August 31st, at 8:30 pm, CT. New episodes will follow each Monday thereafter with topics that include Mount Rushmore and Park Superintendent Gerard Baker, The Elders, Circle of Celebration—Lower Brule Pow Wow and Tribal Farm, Rez Ride 2009, Arts of the Indigenous, Sacred Sites—Bear Butte, Native Wisdom—Lakota Concepts, The Music of BrulĂ© and Friends.

Each episode will air at Monday, 8:30 pm; Tuesday 10:30 am; and Wednesday, 7:30 am, central time zone. The television show follows Paul’s journey into Native America and is based on the book Hidden Heritage by Barbara Marshak.

Paul LaRoche, a/k/a BrulĂ©, is an award-wining Native American recording artist from Minnesota. Adopted at birth, he didn’t discover his Lakota heritage until he was 38. Paul and his band, AIRO, (American Indian Rock Opera) have sold over a million CDs worldwide and earned seven Native American Music Awards (NAMMYs) since 2002.

Locally the network can be found on:
Charter Cable – channel 138
DIRECTV – channel 345 (basic package & family pack)
DISH Network – channel 231
For further listing information, go to http://www.rfdtv.com/, Rural America’s Most Important Network.

Producer: Paul LaRoche
Director: Shane LaRoche
Writer: Barbara Marshak

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Filming "Hidden Heritage" for RFD-TV



Yes, believe it or not filming has begun!





We were fortunate to join Paul LaRoche in South Dakota last month for a weekend of filming for the new television series that will premiere on RFD-TV in September 2009. We filmed part of Episode #5, titled "Rez Ride 2009"...and hope to make the motorcycle ride an annual event.





We started on the popular Iron Mountain Road in the southern portion of the Black Hills that has framed tunnel views of Mount Rushmore in the distance. It's a very popular route for motorcycles especially...numerous hairpin turns, tight curves, pigtail curves, single lane tunnels--you name it, Iron Mountain Road has it all. Even though we were there two weeks prior to the Sturgis Bike Rally, there was plenty of motorcycle traffic through the hills. It was a little tricky filming on such a busy roadway, but our fabulous crew made it work nonetheless.





We had only 3 motorcycles...which proved to be just the right amount considering the traffic and other roadside challenges. Dan and Chris Kes, from Bloomington, Minnesota; John and Barbara Marshak, and Paul and Kathy LaRoche. Next up we rode north through Nemo and Vanocker Canyon to Bear Butte, the sacred Lakota mountain on the northeast side of Sturgis. The next day we headed south and west to the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Badlands, and the Wounded Knee Memorial. The timing was perfect...shortly after we arrived at the Wounded Knee Memorial, the 4th Annual Wounded Knee Memorial Bike Ride rolled in with about 65 bikes and a number of people waiting to see them. We stayed for the ceremony as the sun began to set on the prairie...a fitting end to the episode.



In fact, as we wrapped up our final shot, in the distance we a soft chant echoed down the hillside as the ceremony came to a close. It was that perfect moment, captured on film, that happens when you least expect it. We couldn't have timed it any better if we'd planned it. It was almost surreal. I'd like to think it's a sign of good things to come for our new television series.

I'll post details about the series premiere of "Hidden Heritage" on RFD-TV--America's most important rural network-- soon!

Until then,
Barbara

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Graduation!


Yeah! We made it through another high school graduation, our last in fact. Number 6 of 6! With ours being a blended family there was a bit of a gap between the older kids and David, our youngest. Like 9 years to be exact. So long I'd almost forgotten how to do a grad party! Nonetheless, we celebrated commencement on Friday, June 5th, 2009 with David and 410 graduates from Lakeville North High School. We had our open house celebration on Sunday, June 7th. Although the weather didn't cooperate at all--extremely cool & dark, looming clouds--we made the best of it.


As with many stages in life, we now look forward to the next phase...college. David has plans to attend North Dakota State University in Fargo to study Architecture. And for John and I, empty-nesters. It'll be the first time in our married life without any kids in the house.


And so it goes...another one of those life changes. For the first time in 26 years my life won't revolve around a school calendar. Rather than look behind and feel sadness, I look ahead with breathless anticipation of what God has in store. Right now I have three writing projects going simultaneously, each one amazing in story, depth and dimension.
So while I may have an empty nest, I do not have an empty desk!
Until next time,
Barbara

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Working Weekend


We had our first camping weekend of the summer this Memorial Weekend. It felt great to get outdoors and spend some time around a campfire again. We went to northern Minnesota with three other couples, just like we've done the past three years. Typically the focus of our weekend getaways is to ride Harleys (well, one couple has a Honda motorcycle) during the day and gather around the warmth of a campfire in the evening. (Actually the Honda guy brings the firewood, so we have to let him ride with the Harleys!)

I had a lot of writing to get done over the weekend, so I decided to stay back and write while the others went riding. It worked out really well and I was able to accomplish quite a bit...thanks to my helper, Abbie...our Golden Retriever. I think if she has her way, she'll be going with us every time!
Next on my mind is graduation...our youngest is graduating from Lakeville North High School is less than two weeks!
Barbara

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Maui Shower Sponsors NASCAR


I had a fun project to work on last week. A family from our church has a business called Maui Shower, a mobile shower facility in a bright yellow-and-orange semi that they take to large-scale events like NASCAR where thousands of campers are in need of showers. Maui Shower is now in their fifth year of business and they have four semis that travel all across the United States.

The owners, Tim and Sam Watts, (father and son), were pretty excited to have an opportunity to sponsor a couple drivers at Talladega Superspeedway a couple weeks ago. I wrote a press release for them and thought I would share it here:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Minneapolis, Minnesota –
The Maui Shower Company teamed up with Tonya McCallister and McCallister Precision Marketing (MPM) to sponsor drivers at Talladega Superspeedway, April 24-26, 2009. In a show of support to NASCAR and the sport of racing, Maui Shower went 3-for-3, sponsoring drivers in all three events.

Sponsorship started Friday night at the ARCA series when Maui Shower took an ad on the side of Grant Enfinger’s #83 red Chevrolet. Enfinger started in the 8th position—his second start of the season—and finished 3rd, after a wild race with five cautions. Tonya and MPM took it to the next level, bringing Maui Shower a sponsorship opportunity with Joe Nemechek in both the Nationwide and Cup series.
TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY - NATIONWIDE SERIES: On Saturday, April 25, 2009, Maui Shower sponsored driver Joe Nemechek. The Maui Shower logo dazzled bright and bold on the front hood of his yellow Chevrolet Impala SS throughout the race. Driving #87, Nemechek started in 19th position and stayed clear of trouble to finish 11th in the Aaron’s 312. Television coverage was provided by ABC Sports, giving Maui Shower great national exposure.

TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY - SPRING CUP SERIES: On Sunday, April 26, 2009, the Maui Shower logo splashed across the front hood of Joe Nemechek’s #87 Toyota Camry. The highly visible spot throughout the four-hour race earned a 25-second mention by FOX Broadcasters. Nemechek started the Aaron’s 499 in the 17th spot and avoided two major crashes to finish with a season’s best at 14th .

Working in conjunction with McCallister Precision Marketing, Maui Showers is committed to the sport of racing. Look for the Maui Shower trailers on the infield at future NASCAR events throughout the 2009 season.

Contact: Tim Watts, CEO President
Sam Watts, Vice President
Maui Shower Company

952-641-6000

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sleetmagazine.com

Flash News!

There's a brand new online literary journal created right here in hidden Twin Cities literary circles, called Sleet Magazine. The first issue was released in April with three categories, Poetry, Fiction, and Flash. The staff includes Susan Solommon, Editor, Nate Thomas, Poetry Editor, and Kathleen McEathron and TJ Kampa.

My short story, One More Chance, was selected as one of three fiction pieces for the first issue. Check it out at Sleetmagazine.com, Current Issue, Fiction. By the way they are currently accepting submissions in all three categories for their Fall 2009 issue.

On a side note, it was 85 beautiful degrees in the Twin Cities yesterday. Wonderful!
Blessings to all,
Barbara

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Brule' Concert in Willmar

This past Thursday, April 16th, John and I were once again treated to an amazing performance by the Brule'/AIRO gang. Paul LaRoche continually finds ways to improve his concerts, bringing in new dancers and drummers, adding a story or new song, and sometimes he simply hooks us all with a good old fashioned joke. Altogether it really defines the direction he is going...all the way to the top!

This spring Brule'/AIRO has been on a tour sponsored by DMM Productions with several stops in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In reading the message board on the Brule' website, it's evident that scores of people are thrilled to see them in person, right in our own backyards.

The reason hubby and I chose the Willmar stop is because John's stepmom, Lorraine Majchrzak, lives near by. She has followed the Brule' journey along with us and never thought she'd get to see them in person. I was a little hesitant because at 84 years of age, I didn't know if she'd be bothered by the pounding drums or loud music. Not to worry, she loved every minute of it, completely enthralled with the dancers.

This summer it will be 10 years since we first saw Paul performing on the sidewalk in front of the Buffalo Stockade in downtown Deadwood. It's amazing to think all that has transpired since then, fulfilling my dream to be an author. I never fully understood why God chose Paul's story for me to write, it's simply one of those "trust & faith" things that comes along in life, sometimes when you least expect it. Needless to say, it's been an incredible journey and opened so many doors. And what's especially neat is knowing the journey isn't over.

Right now Paul and I are taking the Hidden Heritage story to a new format...television. More on that to come...

Blessings,
Barbara

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Word of Advice for Freelance Writers




As we all know it's rather amazing what we can find out by doing searches on the internet these days. Recently I was amazed to discover two stories I had written nearly four years ago were published---and I had never been informed or paid! It all started when I decided to Goggle my name to see if Hidden Heritage was included in the class-action lawsuit against Google Books. The book cover and information came up, however the contents were not uploaded.

As I continued looking through the list of books that came up with my name search, I found several stories I had written for different anthologies, such as the Cup of Comfort series. Then I noticed two stories that I'd written but as far as I knew had never been published. One was titled, Second Blessings, shown in a book called Blessings for Mothers by Regal Books, and A Guide for Life was listed in The Bad Hair Day Book by J. Countryman, a division of Thomas Nelson. Both had publication dates of 2006.

Needless to say I immediately checked my submission records from 2005 and found both stories had been submitted to a "middle-man" type editorial company that worked with inspirational publishers. From what I could tell he collected and edited stories for a themed project and then sold the entire contents to a publisher as a package deal. I contacted both publishers who directed me to this person. My purpose in sharing this information is not to "bad-mouth" him or his business...I was told he went through a "perfect storm " of changes and events that caused the breakdown in connecting with all the authors. Regardless, it took a full month after my initial query and further prompting on my part to get a resolution.

It's a lesson I think many freelance writers can learn from. Keep good records and take the time to search your name and articles/stories by title. You never know what you might discover!
Blessings,
Barbara

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mexico Amigas and Amish Sisters

Another Minnesota February means cold nights, cloudy days, and a recent rain that turned the snow into a dirty drab landscape. Even though it is tempting to not leave the comforts of home, I am thankful we have reached beyond our four walls and made connections to those in other cultures. For the past several years our family has participated in a short-term mission trip to Central Mexico through our church, Trinity Evangelical Free Church, in Lakeville, Minnesota. Last week my husband John and son David traveled to Iguala, Guerrero, in central Mexico along with 21 others to help Paul and Teresa Stillwell and Missions to Latin America. This is a construction-type mission trip and their team mixed 75 tons of cement by hand in just four days. Four long days, according to hubby. Because wood is so expensive in Mexico, most building are made with concrete. The team did a roof pour on two small churches in Igaula and a small addition to the Sunday School room at Paul's church in nearby Tepecoa. I've gone with John twice before and it truly is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. The people in Mexico are so appreciative and thankful their American amigos have come to help, yet somehow we come home far more blessed. David really came into his element as a young man this year (according to dad) and says he wouldn't miss it for the world.

Meanwhile, awhile back I made friends with two Amish sisters who were selling homemade baskets one cold December day at the Dairy Queen in Staples, Minnesota. I stopped to buy their baskets and made time to visit with the girls before I hopped back in my warm car. As I resumed my drive back to the Twin Cities, I knew their horse and buggy offered no such break from the cold! I planned to use the baskets as a display for my photo cards whenever I had a book or speaking event. After the next book festival, I sent a couple pictures to the girls so they could see how I'd used their baskets and sent a letter with the photos. The sisters were so happy to hear from me, they immediately wrote back, and we are now best friends. For the past year we've been exchanging letters and little gifts back and forth. It's funny, in this day and age where texting and cell phones, facebook and email are the norm, I've rather enjoyed our old-fashioned letter writing.

So...here's to our amigos in Mexico and my Amish friends "up north", I send blessings and love,
Barbara

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Devils Tower Storybox Essay


As part of my residency at the Devils Tower, I was asked to submit an essay to the Tower Storybox answering the question, "What does the Tower mean to you?" This past week I was fortunate to attend the third annual writers retreat up north near Perham at a quaint little cabin on Dead Lake, hosted by author Julie Saffrin. Each morning first thing I worked on my essay, basking in the memories from the Devils Tower park and my time there.


Under the Shadow of the Tower


October images one envisions across the Northern Plains often include machinery churning up dust in the fields, leaves turning brilliant golds and reds, crisp and crunching underfoot, a full Harvest moon, warm Indian summers. As I drove west from Minnesota into North Dakota I was met instead with strong, gusty winds and a mix of nasty sleet and rain pouring down in sheets. No warm autumn imagery to greet me on this trip. My destination was Wibaux, Montana, a tiny dot of a town on the Montana-North Dakota border to do research for my book on my way to the Devils Tower residency.

For three days I trudged the cold, wet Montana landscape to “discover” all things unique to that region…lava scoria covered buttes, crushed and poured on gravel roads, coal trains, loaded full and coming from the west, huge ranches measured and divided by section roads, iron hard land with eccentric-looking buttes and breaks. Having all those images fresh in mind I was ready for the next phase of my journey…the tower.

I awoke early Sunday morning to the thud of a large branch hitting my roof overhead and a foot of heavy, wet snow. All roads west were closed. Disappointment set in as I didn’t want to miss a single day. By one o’clock I decided travel southbound should be open and struck out on my own. Dark, gray skies hovered just above the roof of my car as I drove south from Medora on Highway 85, continuing into South Dakota. The buttes and craggy outlines of the rugged landscape on both sides were covered in a glistening white garment, as though elegantly dressed for a special occasion. Unusual sandstone formations looked like an enchanted castle, offering a mystical elegance to my drive. Each mile I was encompassed by breathtakingly beautiful scenery, a royal escort of sorts, my own anticipation growing.

Around five o’clock I made a stop in Belle Fourche and turned west into Wyoming, thankful the road was open and clear. The sky remained dark, the clouds seemingly too heavy to stay in place, descending now to the ground in a misty shroud. Dusk neared as I rounded the final curve past Hulett and I caught my first glimpse of the tower jutting above the hillside in the far distance. It caught my breath. As I neared, the clouds began to lift and the sun, setting now behind it, shone through the lifting haze, basking it in a golden backdrop. There it stood, large and tall, giving the aura of something special.

I settled in to my unit at the park as an invited guest, with the purpose to write. Each day as I walked the base of the tower, glancing upward every few steps, words like strong, mighty, and fortress came to mind. Standing in its shadow I felt an assurance that the tower was there not because of a random geological formation. The strength radiating from the cracked columns of stone call those who stand in its shadow to acknowledge the Creator’s unique design, formed like none other on the earth.

To further prove its reverence, the tower is harmoniously surrounded by equal beauty…the gentle meandering curves of the Belle Fourche River, the red sandstone buttes that shimmer in the afternoon sun, golden meadows filled with Needle and Thread Grass and Western Wheatgrass. Pockets of tall, majestic Ponderosa pines whisper in the wind, shedding a soft bed of pine needles that cover the ground for the creatures that wander the landscape, often hidden in their quiet steps.

I wondered how to answer the question…what does the tower mean to me? It meant I found a sense of belonging in a place that captivated my soul like no other. I sat at my desk, weaving the scenes from Wibaux into the pages of my manuscript, cognizant of the responsibility that comes with telling a true story. The book you see, shares a powerful story of forgiveness, a message relevant to many.

As I spent time on the Joyner Ridge Trail with my back leaned up against the smooth bark of a pine overlooking the valley below, the tower cut a distinctive shape against the blue sky as I reflected on my own dreams, hopes, and visions. The setting begged me to be still and listen to God’s voice echoing across the landscape, the voice of the Great Mystery, Wakan Tanka to the Lakota people who lived under the shadow of the tower for centuries and also declared it something special.

Suddenly I understood the connection between my setting and the message in the words I was writing…the One who created the earth and everything in it is the same One who grants forgiveness. I was given a most incredible gift…time under the shadow of the tower, blessed so richly by God.