Welcome to my world of small town western America. I left my professional life as a teacher, counselor and motivational speaker in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and retired to a totally different life experience in the rural, low traffic, serene beauty of the Black Hills of western South Dakota. I had married an “environmental nut” and intended to live out the last part of my life “off the grid” in the serenity of the rolling, spruce-covered hills, cactus, coyotes, elk, mountain lions wild turkeys, bison, low humidity and cloudless blue skies. I had been told by many that I would find life boring and I would miss the theatres, concerts and variety of restaurants found only in the cities.
Now I am relaying to all who read these words that my life in the “boonies” is by no means, in any way, at any time – boring. There are some days when I sort of wish it were more relaxed and slow paced. In a low population area you cannot hide from the many activities that surround you. Well, maybe some can, but I have never been one to ignore causes, controversy or those who manage to meander into my life, and all of the above are more visible in this rural part of the world. If you want to escape from the demands of living, it is far easier in the anonymity of large cities.
I began my writing after 50 years of study and work and family commitments. I was in the local book store in Hot Springs, SD, browsing the shelves when a woman came in asking if we knew of anyone who would be willing to write for her local “Back Roads” publication. With no hesitation I told her I would write a column, and that was that. My husband was occupied at all hours with building our grid less retirement house. I had my llamas to raise and books to read and a new area to explore, but I did have time to write, and somehow I knew that I could. So I began to write about my new experiences and found myself enjoying the work immensely. The words came easily and I never lacked for topics to write about. Over the next few years I wrote for other publications as the previous ones disappeared from print. After the third magazine quit publication my husband encouraged me to publish a book about my adventure for my family and friends. It was encouraging to receive positive feedback from many readers, even some I did not know. And so my writing adventures began.
My books and other writings such as my blog are always inspired by events that I have experienced or that others have shared with me. My first book, A (not so) Simple Life: Our Return to Rustic Roots, narrated my reflections about living off the grid in the beautiful southern Black Hills of South Dakota, connecting to memories of related experiences from my childhood growing up in the northern woods of Minnesota.
My second unfinished book burned up in a violent wildfire. After a futile effort to re-do it, I switched gears and wrote Cascade of Flames, first-hand accounts of firefighters who valiantly fought the blaze and the evacuees who fled the out-of-control inferno in which they lost all of their possessions. It concluded with the personal story of my husband’s and my flight through the flames that destroyed our almost completed home, which, ironically, had been built to resist fires by my volunteer firefighter husband. The traumatic event changed many lives forever and had long-term effects, some that linger even until today.
My third book, Reveille in Hot Springs: The Battle to Save Our VA, was written as a cause to assist veterans in their struggle to save our VA in Hot Springs, SD. Our community and our veterans are still in the midst of the fight. As one of the Vietnam veterans shared in his story, “We fought the wars. Then we came home and fought to fit in. Then we fought to get our disability claims. And now we have to fight to save our Dom. It is not a battle I choose. It is a battle I have to do. And, if we lose, I can say at the end of the day, I did what I could do.”
What I most enjoy about writing is that in the process of putting my thoughts and feelings on paper, I understand myself and my world more completely. When I interview others for their stories, I gain a deeper awareness and insights into their lives, thus enriching my own. I am especially grateful to the veterans who bravely shared their stories for my latest book. My greatest hope is that their stories will reach others who may be touched and inspired by their words.
I had a passion for books since I began to read. I remember when I was about ten years old telling my mother when she asked what I wanted for Christmas, “All I want are books.” And I got them….a huge stack of wonderful, enchanting books. I read them over and over during that long, cold winter. It was my best Christmas ever. During my lifetime books have entertained, amused, inspired and guided me. My dream is that my books will have, in some small way, a similar effect on my readers, present and far into the future.