Story by Susan Martens
Photos by Kate Brooke, Jeff Grinvalds, Jason Hertz
Teacher-writers (with their writing-friendly friends and family) descended once again on Platte River State Park for the annual Nebraska Writing Project Platte River Writing Retreat and Marathon on Sept. 9-11.
This year saw the return of the Friday Night Write about Found Stuff
Ritual and NeWP Family Quilt Show as well as a debut of the Great Platte River Dance Party. Retreat participants also nominated books for One Book, One NeWP-- watch for details and voting instructions soon!
Writing Marathoners roamed the park as well as the neighboring town of Louisville on Saturday afternoon, then gathered for a read-around on the festive screen porch of Owen Cabins 6 and 7. Some of the day's writing is represented below.
Many thanks to my fellow retreat organizers Anne Walden, Jeff Grinvalds, and Diana Weis for a fantastic weekend! Mark your calendars for next year's retreat, Sept. 7-9 and reserve your cabins (and teepees) early. The next writing marathon will be January 21 in downtown Lincoln.
Spending time outside is a great investment – it pays rich dividends .
water song gushing from small creek
frog-shaped rock one leap short of fall's edge
gnarly roots exposed in long ago erosion
twist in amazing designs
cottonwoods leaning, paralyzed in mid-fall
broken bridge of limestone or shale
reaching across creek
to retrieve it's long-gone half
dry earth trail twisting through trees
in steep climb and sheer descent
what to notice on the journey
cricket chirp after nervous jump
cardinal whistle at passing cloud
swallow tail butterfly visiting nodding golden rod
myriad shades of green dappled by sun
glimpses of perfect blue when leaves wind dance
Platte River Park in prime on September afternoon
Plunge into the Creek at the Platte River State Park
Before my lumbering feet, limber grasshoppers the color of file cabinets flash white and orange wings. They knock their grasshopper knees at impossible speeds in hidden places deep within the grasses of the prairie. I walk through the wet-hay scented fields into the woods, where meadowlark and swallows chirrup and cry from the tangled overhead tapestry of flood plain poplar, cedar, and oak. I trudge deeper down the packed sand path to Dave Andersen Bridge, so named by one forest-ranger brown, engraved yellow-letter sign. I stand on a wood deck over The Falls and gaze into the murmuring passage of water and bright green algae over time-channeled stone. I know that somewhere between the ignorant rocks and phantom stream is a moment worth writing and holding until the lines fold and meaning sinks back into the murmuring stream.
-- Jason Hertz
A Toast: to Carol
Carol once wrote about an act of bravery, her moment of individual triumph that defined her not only as a writer but as a writer in this place. Remember her smile as she arrived at our table, soybean stalk held aloft like a torch, its roots showing beneath her grip?
Soybeans and their culture had been part of Carol's growing up. Her father and her North Bend neighbors cultivated them every year, the dust of chaff familiar to her from every Fall. After weeks of driving past the fields on her way to teach at Peru State, she chose the courage to stop her car on the shoulderless roadside, cross the bramble to the field's edge, and steal a stalk of inspiration that to Carol also meant claiming her voice as a Nebraska writer.
Today at Owen's Crossing we found a soybean field, itchy-fuzzed beans ripening at near right-angles off the stalks, plants almost as mature as the one Carol pulled more than a decade ago. I paced the edge of the rows, looking for a plant that wasn't too big. A train thundered some 120 yards nearby as I made my selection and pulled, the dry stalk snapping off and leaving the roots in sun-hardened dirt. I held it aloft, the sun illuminating the reddish-orange prickly halo around each tri-lobed pod and streaming through the insect holes in the leaves, and I thought: Here's to you, Carol!
Post script: Carol MacDaniels, whose inspirational teaching is memorialized in the
Nebraska Writing Project's Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award and who
coined the term “petty soybean larceny,” died on September 7, 2001. Her memorial
service was ten years ago on this day.
Heron Bay Bar
We're talkin' about
Black leather, Harley ridin'
Sturgis shirted, Bob Seger
Emulating, ZZTop bearded
Crash, Wild Bill, Brother Jerry,
And his other brother Jerry,
Parked their chrome and
Camped at my house,
Drank beer in my mother's kitchen.
Kicked back, blasted bar music,
Laughed and guffawed,
Traded road rash stories.
Truck drivers, doctors,
Preachers and teachers,
Bandits and Banditos,
Sporting their “colors” or not.
"It's pretty cool here."
A heron skims the flooding water,
And one tells his caller,
"Yeah, I'm on my way!”
As he sips his brew and
Watches the waitress deliver
Cheeseburgers and greasy French fries.
A black t-shirt from Porky's shouts,
"We Cheat the Other Guy and
Pass the Savings on to you."
A solitary rider gazes and contemplates
The cost of gas in his economical ride.
The do-rag oldster comments, "We rode
Those bikes in a blizzard in North Dakota on
June 15th" and a long green hopper cruises my journal.
"Joe, he's got a crazy wife! She's a lot of fun!"
These bikers are mostly graying and aging,
Like the dry docked boats on the shore…
Reminiscent of Becker's Drug
And other known soda fountain environs.
Historically these relics of the past
Survive only in the backwater small towns of Rural America.
Orange Cream flavored water,
Root beer floats from syrup, not cans,
Clown Sundaes, and Chocolate sodas.
Straws placed precisely, not jabbed
No lost froth and overflow.
Tiny baby ice cream cones
Suitable for a one-year-old's hand;
"Help Yourself to Coffee"
Order that “Black Cow” or banana split
Waffle Cone history
Antique mirror-backed, oak-paneled
Marble counters chronicle
Ice cream history;
A Dream's Delight;
A Memory Savored.
Heron Bay Bar--tattered parachute canopy,
Recycled satellite dish and cottonwoods,
Trashed out cement patio stage,
Cigarette butts, and swearing bikers,
Beer and diet pop.
Blake's Soda Fountain--
Varnished oak floor,
Wrought iron “ice cream” chairs
stainless steel fountain ware and
No smoking signs:
A modern mom threatening consequences
With no follow through…
Bring me a beer and a serving of honesty.
-- Jan Knispel
Stopping by Louisville City Park
Yesterday's Write About Found Stuff Ritual yielded a theme of transformation, thanks to the candles and to cecropia moth caterpillars and to the conflagration of writers in the woods.
Today we are transformed by the writing marathon into bold adventurers, unafraid to wander through Louisville and engage soda fountain jerks, unafraid to stride into a biker bar tucked away on a gravel road next to the MoPac trail.
What emboldens us? The good company of our fellow writers and a gentle but guiding sense of purpose. Because we are together, people by and large seem accommodating, helpful, and even curious. We're open to going in, going out, asking questions, taking a look, having a taste, listening in, trying out, and just generally wandering about.
Folks don't know what we're up to, but we seem harmless enough with our notebooks and pens. We seem happy. We're interested in their stories and their places. And we tip well.
-- Susan Martens