Archive for October, 2016

h1

Ellie’s Flowers

October 25, 2016

This was printed in the Summit Daily News. It’s a reminder of the simple, good pieces of life, and because writers get lots of rejection, writing this helped me remember the positive.

Last month, my daughter came home from college for a brief 12 hours; long enough to do four loads of laundry, buy a few groceries, and eat a home-cooked meal. I’d like to say the reason she came was to see all of us, but it wasn’t. Not really. Her main purpose in returning was to show her roommate the Rocky Mountains in all their spectacular golden glory and to summit a peak.

The girls arrived late Saturday afternoon, enough time to do a little shopping and take photos before dinner. On the way to the grocery, we drove by Lake Dillon and showed off yet another Summit County gem. Ellie’s roommate, Becca, hails from the hills of Virginia—beautiful mountains in their own right, but no match for our massive peaks back dropped by a brilliant blue sky.

Becca snapped pictures. Once out of the car, she spun in circles, baffled by which direction to look. “It’s all so incredible,” she said, snapping more photos.

She’s right—we do live in an incredible place. Of course, we have our days: days of drizzle and sleet and snow that make it difficult to drive and too cold to move, but overall, living in Summit County is a privilege. Nature radiates in all directions.

After buying a few supplies for their dorm room, the girls planned to hike and take more photos before dinner. But first, Ellie said, she wanted to see one more thing, show off one more piece of Summit that she had missed while living in Boulder. I wasn’t sure what could be more beautiful than the mountains, the aspens or the sparking lake. But she knew: Frisco Main Street flowers.

During the summer, Ellie was a flower girl, employed by the Town of Frisco to water and weed. She spent eight hours a day working outside, sometimes alone, sometimes with a crew, but always taking care of the flowers.

“They’re still looking good,” she said, filled with obvious pleasure. To her, the boxes of geraniums and baskets of petunias that lined Main Street were pretty, worthy of pointing out. But they also represented something more. The flowers had grown and blossomed under her care. Ellie had nurtured them, and she found pride in their loveliness.

Although I love our mountains and breathtaking views, watching my daughter point out her beloved flowers made me rethink the definition of beauty. There’s no doubt that Summit County has a spectacular landscape, but beauty can be found in small, everyday matters. Taking ownership of one’s job or watching plants grow can provide insight and strength. Splendor found in the simple slices of life reminds us that even on the darkest of days, there is light.

The following morning, Ellie and Becca woke at 3:30 to climb Mt. Bierstadt. They made it to the summit by sunrise. Their pictures were spectacular, but so was their simple, celebratory milkshake at a diner down the road.

It’s hard to beat the brilliance one sees when climbing a mountain at dawn, but there are pieces to life, smaller and less obvious, that are equally lovely. Life’s everyday moments like smelling the flowers or enjoying a milkshake offer the opportunity to find beauty and significance everywhere.

Advertisements
h1

Character Lessons From an Innkeeper

October 4, 2016

Someone I knew, although not all that well, died recently. In total, I had no more than a dozen conversations with Richard, but his words, his presence, and his energy influenced me. A loss is hard enough when you know someone well, but when you lose someone who plays a small but impactful role in your life, it can be confusing and certainly jarring.

When I heard Richard had died, I was sad; sad for him, his family, and his friends. I was sad for the small hole in my life but also sad for other strangers, who’d known him only marginally, but would miss his presence.

Richard worked at an old mountain inn, which was almost always empty and not at all fancy. I went there to write because the town was quiet, I knew no one, and could get a lot of work done in a short period of time. I had no distractions, except one: Richard.

Sometimes I’d arrive at the hotel last minute, because it wasn’t the kind of place one needed a reservation. Richard would wave his hands in the air, greeting me like a long-lost celebrity. He liked to talk, but I had deadlines and work to get done. Eventually, I learned to plan intentional evening writing breaks to listen to Richard’s stories. I never regretted it.

At first, Richard’s tall tales made me scratch my head. Were they really true? But as I got to know him, I realized they were. Richard lived in the middle of nowhere, but he’d been places. As he poked the logs crackling in the fireplace, he’d tell me about his mother, growing up on a farm, and picking apples. He shared incredible adventures about his time in the military. He told me about quinoa growth in South America and the complicated legalities of water rights. He was a lobbyist with a strong political bent. Richard was not a gossip but knew everyone in town and beyond.

Once, I sat silently as Richard spent an hour arguing with an older man who had opposing political views. They remained civil, agreeing to disagree. Later, I mentioned how it was nice, rare these days, but nice they respected each other’s views. Richard answered in his usual, enthusiastic voice, “Why get angry when someone disagrees with you? If we all thought the same way, life would be big time boring.” He was right, of course. If we all had the same politics, the same religion, and the same interests, life would be ‘big time boring.’

From what I gathered, Richard’s time was anything but boring, but I didn’t realize how significantly his stories made me think about life. Every time I left town, a piece of him found its way into my writing and into my world. Not only did Richard help me realize the importance of taking time to talk and cultivate unforeseen relationships, but he also taught me something about character development; a necessary piece of writing.

As a fiction writer, I use a variety of tools to create believable characters. The enneagram, character sketches, psychology tests, and archetypal profiles all help me build the people in my manuscripts. There are times I want to cheat and make it easier for myself by not doing the needed work to deepen a character. But when I do, the characters fall flat. By living his life fully and deeply, Richard reminded me to make characters complex, rich with detail, and unexpected. A complex character can make or break a story. I think Richard felt that way about life—you make it or break it by the kind of world you build.

I’ll miss Richard, but I don’t regret the time I took to ask a few questions and listen to his stories. He lived a large life. So should we all.