I am now and have ever been a country girl. I was literally riding horseback before I could walk. I grew up an only child on huge cattle ranches in the company of horses, dogs, cattle and wildlife. The only person I had to talk to, was me. I got very good at it. I could escape to anywhere and become anybody in an instant – when my mother told me we were moving again, when I was the new kid again, when I was the half-breed kid before it was fashionable to be of Native American heritage, I could just vanish. I still can.
On my knees in a glaring white gully of eroded sandstone, I created whole cities and civilizations, with fields and orchards, and horses, of course. There were always horses. Horses that flew even as they patiently pushed cattle along a dusty track in the middle of nowhere. Fiery steeds that I rode into battle as the conquering hero I became. I wrote florid poetry in relentless iambic pentameter, and I could talk for half an hour during sharing time – always my latest wild fantasy. The teacher would smile and everybody else would smirk. I was – just for those few minutes – oblivious. I’m not sure I had a happy childhood, exactly, but it sure set me up to be a writer. I endured high school. There were ninety-six kids in the whole school, eight in my graduating class. I wrote florid prose. I sang in the choir, acted in the plays, played in the band and sucked at tennis, which was my best sport. After school and on weekends, I rode horses and drew maps of far off places, and made lists of all the supplies I’d need to make a go of it there. Among all the adventures, there is an outdoor riding arena available for training horses and improving riding skills.
Then there was college. My world opened up. There were people from other countries, people in rainbow shades of skin and clothing – people who had these amazing ideas, mind-blowing slants on life, love and politics. At last, I was popular. I acted in plays, wrote plays. I learned how to control my temper and my tongue. By learning those things, and in praying my way through the toughest English class of my entire undergraduate career, I learned how to control my writing.
I fell in love with a young man of brilliant artistic talent and temperament. We each married someone else, and remain to this day fast friends who remember and cherish that initial spark. When I write about intense love … that’s him. It always will be him. When I write about tender, submissive love that becomes intolerable after a while, I draw on my first marriage. When I write about love that becomes affection, and tolerance, and grows immeasurably rich through all the manifestations and perturbations of an enduring friendship, I’m writing about my good and patient husband of the last four decades.
Through jobs and children, backpacking and horseback riding, I wrote. Researching, honing and putting it away for that time when I could devote myself body and soul to its art and its joy and its demands. Being a high school teacher, the enduring joy those kids have brought me as they moved through my classes to become successful, loving, thoughtful adults with jobs and children of their own … when I write about the wondrous order of things … it’s them. And the high Cascades on a midsummer’s day. And the sweet breath of horses.