Guest post: Shadow Mountain

Map: Oregon, setting of “Shadow Mountain” by Nancy Townsley

This is a guest post from Nancy Townsley who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Oregon. Enjoy.

I remember it like it was yesterday, especially on days when the weather is just right, when the cloud cover is minimal and the smog over Portland’s downtown core clears out after a good rain and I get a fantastic view of Mt. Hood off to my left as I drive east on Highway 30 before heading toward my newspaper office. It used to be that when I saw the mountain, I’d put my mind’s meanderings on hold for a moment or two, long enough to consider and appreciate its stark-white majestic beauty and rugged, craggy appearance. “The queen of the Cascades” is indeed a marvelous peak to behold.

But in the last two years, since Jared fell from the Crater Rock area on Hood’s south side, dropping into thin air after a snow cornice collapsed beneath him, I’ve had to work hard to resist thinking of the mountain as an 11,250-foot monster that took him from us. When his body came to rest in the White River Canyon, his FitBit Tracker was still working. Data on the device gave his grief-stricken relatives some solace because it showed he had died immediately: there were no calories burned, steps taken, or activity recorded after he plunged from the precipice.

Since that terrible day in 2012, five more climbers have succumbed to the mountain’s twin personalities — allure and treachery — each sudden death bringing all those dark emotions flooding back.

Accidents happen, but they aren’t supposed to happen to someone you love. As tempting as it is to consider the wider, more cosmic implications of such randomly occurring events, and despite the sincerely good intentions of those who insist everything happens for a reason and that a celestial someone’s in control, I’m not at all convinced that a Supreme Being was anywhere near the awful soup of circumstances that came together when Jared, Mark, Kinley, Collin, Sebastian and Robert fell from Hood on blue-sky days in February, and May, and June, and August.

I can’t believe that an all-powerful god wouldn’t have plucked my stepson from the edge. Or that an omniscient god stood idly by and allowed him to die that day and be lost to his children and his wife, his mother, his father and two siblings who still fight back tears many days, when they miss the sound of his voice or the warmth of his touch. The only “perhaps” I can entertain is that a loving Someone or Something is now holding all six men in the vast and unknowable palm of his or her or its hand somewhere beyond the veil, where pain and sorrow are no more.

Still, I weep for all their families, the same way people have for ours since two winters have changed into a pair of springs and we’ve tried to carry on, looking for ways to honor Jared’s memory even as we silently scream into the ether that more than anything, we just want him back.

So many “whys” are on our lips as we continue to think about the “what ifs” of our personal and perennial loss. What if Jared had not gone up to the mountain that night? What if the wind had been weaker, the snow less slick, the sun less strong? What if he had not removed his crampons and his helmet when he stopped to rest after taking a dozen photos on his camera, breathtaking shots of the sunrise over the crater’s rim as that Monday, February 6 dawned bright and clear in the Pacific Northwest?

We will never, ever know. Mother Nature has her ways, and they are often beyond our understanding. Recognizing that questions are always more plentiful than answers, when I ponder these things I try to remember that the jungle — and the mountain — are neutral.

A friend of mine, who also fell from a great height many years ago but survived, believes that when we die, each of us immediately begins our next great adventure. She says this with a serene look on her face and an almost imperceptible hint of anticipation. That has become my mantra and meditation. If we are lucky, we live life to its fullest, and one day, at a time we often cannot predict, we die. At that moment we are spirited away by the gentle winds of transformation to a place of peace and joy so profound it can only exist in our imaginations.

But what of the now? This morning around six o’clock, Hood was cloaked in clouds. She wore her wispy white regal robes close about her shoulders, her mysteries hidden beneath their voluminous drifting folds. And though I know she’s entitled to her stories and her secrets, I’m still mad as hell at the mountain.

Nancy Townsley is managing editor of two weekly newspapers in Washington County, Oregon, where she has won numerous journalism awards. When she’s not on deadline, she runs marathons. Her essays and stories have appeared in “Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life,” published by Forest Avenue Press; The Riveter Magazine; Role Reboot; and Bleed, a literary blog by Jaded Ibis Productions. She lives in the river town of St. Helens with her husband Gregg, who writes western historical fiction.

Guest post: Time Capsule: Pittsburgh, 2005

Map: Pittsburgh, PA, setting of “Time Capsule: Pittsburgh 2005” by Robert Yune

This is a guest post by by Robert Yune who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Enjoy!

Pittsburgh. Steel city. Iron City (beer). Distance from Morgantown, West Virginia: 78 miles. Pittsburgh, the “Paris of the Appalachias.” Distance from Paris, France: 3,987 miles.

True story: she grabbed her bottom lip and pulled it to the side. “Heah,” she said, pointing. She had the Steelers logo tattooed on her gums. She let go, rubbing her face. “Just wanted to be true to my roots.” The Steelers don’t have cheerleaders—what’s the point?

Pittsburgh: eighty days of sunlight a year. Andy Warhol had to flee to sunny New York. The Warhol Museum downtown has a fully stocked bar—it’s the first thing you see when you walk through the door. Their happy hour sucks.

Working steel mills in Pittsburgh: The imposing Edgar Thomson plant in
Braddock, the Irvin Works plant in Dravosburg, the Clairton coke plant, the U.S. Steel plant in the Mon Valley. How many does your city have?

Oakland is a busy neighborhood in east Pittsburgh, a “cultural district” that contains a business district, three universities, residential neighborhoods and several hospitals, all crammed into half a square mile. Hospitals. There are five thousand, seven hundred and fifty-nine hospitals in the United States and most of them are in Oakland, situated amidst a maze of one-way streets and conveniently located atop one of the steepest hills in the nation—Pitt students call it “Cardiac Hill” as they pant their way to Trees Hall. Let’s pour out some liquor for the old stadium before we roll downhill. The new stadium—sorry, “events center”— looks like an Austrian Museum of Banking.

Downhill to the Cathedral of Learning. In the 1920s, Chancellor Bowman commissioned the structure, prompting workers and students to call it “Bowman’s erection.” No one knows why it was built: I like to picture Chancellor Bowman enjoying the panoramic view of Oakland from his castle-like mansion overlooking the city. You know what this area needs? he says to no one in particular. A thirty-six floor gothic skyscraper. He throws his snifter of brandy on his lead crystal window, watches a tall amber stain run drip onto Forbes Avenue, the new axis upon which Oakland would turn. He turns and pulls his robe tight around his chest. We’ll begin tomorrow.

“Spare some change? Spare some change?” Shake your head and the beggar, a skinny man in a dirty blue bomber jacket, will move on. A few feet and you can’t even hear him. Amidst the sound of the bus’ massive diesel engine, there are blaring horns muted through the windows. “Aw hell no,” the man stuck in traffic says into his cell phone. “Goddamn Pitt students.” Indeed. It’s Arrival Survival week, meaning a swarm of bright-eyed Pitt freshmen are descending upon Oakland. They push their belongings in giant yellow carts, laundromat-sized, with PITT HOUSING stamped on the side. One student has his filled entirely with ramen noodles. And then there’s the usual: computers, clothes, vacuum cleaners, fans, mini refrigerators. As the traffic inches by, you spot a freshman girl pushing a cart filled to the top with stuffed animals.

“Got any change, change?” Meet Sombrero Man, one of Oakland’s many panhandlers. His broad, dirty face is shaded by an authentic-looking straw sombrero. Occasionally, Freshmen steal his hat and hang it like a trophy outside their dorm windows. He always gets a new one, though. No one knows from where.

Sombrero Man’s on the move, and so are we. It’s a dense neighborhood—this entire tour only covers about four blocks. Now we’re passing another Oakland landmark: Diplodocus carnegii, the huge bronze dinosaur outside the Carnegie Museum of Art. It’s tall and as long as a school bus, its thin neck stretching to overlook Forbes Avenue.

Oh yeah. This happens a lot during Arrival Survival—and here, you thought it was just a clever rhyme. There’s a poorly marked intersection where Forbes Avenue changes from being a two-way street and abruptly becomes a one-way. If you don’t turn down a side street, you face the very real prospect of a head-on collision with four lanes of oncoming traffic. Next to this intersection is the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It’s a huge stone building adorned with statues: bronze Copernicus and Shakespeare guard the entrance. From the roof, statues of great pioneers and architects gaze down pitilessly at the scene below. A minivan stops in the middle of this trap/intersection. Horns blare. As it attempts a K-turn, a few cars speed around it.

Speaking of transportation, there’s one last thing I’d like to show you—“Excuse me, excuse me,” a young man in a red shirt says, interrupting me. He runs ahead of us, facing us and walking backwards. “Please, my man,” he says to me. He’s in his early twenties, white, with a scraggly mustache and a neon green baseball hat. We stop. I exhale in disgust. “My car broke down on the Boulevard of the Allies yesterday.”

“Sorry,” I say.

“It’s out of the shop, I mean they’re done with it in the shop—you know the Exxon down there—and anyways I need it to get to work.” I tell him I don’t have any money. “Come on,” he says, looking at you, pleading. He says there’s four grand worth of tools in the back. He can repay you. His inflection is so perfect, his eyes pleading. He could be faking, or is that genuine sorrow behind the “I’m ashamed I have to ask” tone? That look in his eyes…one can’t fake that, right?

Enough. I say something rude to him and walk away. You look back at the man—maybe you’re even wondering if you have any ones or fives. He’s good. And maybe he’s telling the truth. Either way, that’s the third time his car has broken down this week.

“Time Capsule, Pittsburgh, 2005” is an excerpt adapted from Robert Yune’s first book, EIGHTY DAYS OF SUNLIGHT, forthcoming July 2014 from Thought Catalog Books. Yune received a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in 2008. His stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Avery, and Los Angeles Review, among others. He currently teaches fiction and composition at the University of Pittsburgh.

American Vignette: Insects and Arachnids. A Writing Challenge.

American Vignette Show Us Your State Writing Challenge badge on andreareadsamerica.com

vignette¹  (vɪˈnjɛt)
– n.

1. a small illustration placed at the beginning or end of a book or chapter
2. a short graceful literary essay or sketch

I am reading my way around the United States in three books per state, and as I read, I am continually confronted by how little of my home country’s landscape and culture I have experienced. When I read a book set in a state I have lived in or traveled to, I can relate to the sense of place, and I love writing about the memories the author’s words evoke. For states I’ve never lived, though, I have no stories to share, and I am at a loss.

This is where you, dear writers, come in. I am seeking guest contributors to share scenes of life from your home states here on Andrea Reads America. I want this site to have more personal touches than just a series of book reviews, and I would like to publish your voices: young, old, gay, straight, white, black, rainbow striped. On the first Wednesday of each month, I will post a prompt to help get your writerly juices flowing. I invite you to write a piece on your own blog using the prompt, or if you do not have a blog, you can email your entry to me (email in the submission guidelines below). I will enable pingbacks so any entries that link to the prompt post will appear on this page for all to read.

The Prize(s)

A state is a big place with many ethnicities, landscapes, subcultures, and city streets, so on the Tuesday before the next prompt is posted I will publish a roundup with links to some of the best place-based pieces. If there is enough participation in the challenges these roundups will reflect the diversity inherent in even the smallest of states, so please, share your stories. When I come across entries that are scene-rich, or culture-rich, are well written, and that capture an atmospheric sense of place for a particular state, I will reach out to authors and ask permission to republish their works here on Andrea Reads America as accompaniment to the write-ups I post for that state’s literature. All re-publications will be credited to the original author and will include an author bio, a link to the author’s website or blog, and links to any social media the author participates in (or whatever information the author would like to share).

This week’s prompt: Insects and Arachnids

Some of the most distinctive memories of a place are evoked by the critters that populate it: mosquitos, butterflies, spiders, scorpions. After living in Georgia and Florida all my life, one of my favorite things about Minnesota was that in the three years we lived there I never saw a single cockroach. Their absence was almost worth the long winters. For this month’s challenge, tell us a true story about insects or arachnids in your state.

Submission Guidelines

  • In fewer than 800 words – in a “short graceful literary essay or sketch” – describe a scene that captures a sense of place in your home state (home may be your childhood home, your current home, or anywhere in between). The sense of place may come from landscape, food, culture, ecology, colloquialisms, or any distinctive element of the state you call home.
  • Your vignette must be set in a state you have lived for a minimum of three months.
  • Tag your piece with American Vignette and with the state it is set in, and use hashtag #AmericanVignette on social media.
  • Please specify in your tags whether your piece is fiction or creative nonfiction. (note: fiction is welcome for the roundups, but only nonfiction will be considered for publication)
  • Deadline for possible inclusion in the “Insects and Arachnids” roundup is July 31, 2014.
  • To create a pingback, feel free to use any or all of the following blurb (remember to check that the link works): Reader, blogger, and essayist Andrea Badgley is collecting “Show Us Your State” stories for her Andrea Reads America website. This is my entry for her American Vignette: Insects and Arachnids writing challenge.
  • If you prefer graphic pingbacks, please link the badge at the top of this page to create the pingback for your entry.
  • If you would like to submit your piece via email, please cut and paste into the body of an email (no attachments) and send it to editor [at] andreareadsamerica [dot] com. A couple of notes about emailing submissions: if you email your piece it has less of a chance of making it into a roundup; remember to title your piece, check your word count, and provide the name of the state in which your vignette is set.

Have fun, and I look forward to escaping into your state!

¹ “vignette.” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 05 May. 2014. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vignette>.