Rain today. When I took my shower outside this morning, leaves fell from the alders all around me, and young crows made a ruckus above my head then flitted from branch to branch. The mist was so thick I could not see the small island so near shore we can walk to it at low tide.
I am getting ready for a long trip to promote the new book. First I’m going to Arizona and then Florida to mystery conference. Jan will meet me in Florida because she has some time and she wants to drive with me to Del Ray where I will do a reading then she has to fly home to Alaska because she has a research trip in Prince William Sound. For years she has been working with the humpback whales in the sound and sampling the small fish they are feeding on, to continue studying the impact of the oil spill and the health of the forage fish of the ecosystem.
I will fly back to the pacific northwest where I will read in Portland, Seattle, Moscow Idaho, and Ilwaco, then back down to Tacoma for The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference. (You can find details on my events page)
I look forward to seeing my friends on these trips: Dana Stabenow, and Jim Sallis in particular. I look forward to the good conversations I will have. There is almost nothing I love more than meeting writers and sitting around gabbing. I also love meeting people who actually read my books, other than my friends and family. It seems like a miracle to me to get off a jet plane in some crazy place like Arizona and meet someone who knows Cecil Younger and Todd. Sometimes it is odd when a fan talks with me as if they really know me too even though we have never met. (“John, what in the hell were you doing when you killed Todd’s dog in your second book? I almost came up to Alaska to slap you around!”) But still, I love it. I love meeting readers no matter where or when.
But the older I get the more I hate leaving home.
There is such self-indulgence in my new writing life since I retired from crime. In the last two years, I’ve written four books of poetry, a book of non-fiction, one completed and published novel and a draft of another. I have a lovely writing space that looks out on a cherry tree I planted years ago and out to the ocean. I have a few dear friends who call me periodically to help me move heavy things for them. My wife, works hard with her students who love her and help her with all her adventures. On Sundays, I play music in a café with some buddies, which I have done for some twenty years, and it is the most fun, I have all week. I’m probably the least accomplished musician, I play mandolin and slide guitar. We play swing music and blues, some folk music and some old jazz. We all listen to each other and no one shows off or wants to leave town to be a rock star. We are all happy exactly where we are, doing what we do, which I’ve come to see is a blessing.
I will travel around for a month in the lower 48 then I come home and will make trips out during the month of October for my Alaska tour. I will be back and forth from home for that and that will be good. I expect the weather in October will mess with flights so I will take ferries whenever possible, but the ferry schedule in and out of Sitka is not great these days.
One of our best friends I will worry about is Nancy Ricketts. Nancy is 93. She lives in the Pioneers Home in town. She took a fall the other day and her stomach doesn’t feel great. She is not eating well. She hates talking about her health. Nancy likes to talk about substantial things. She likes to talk about music, or science, books she has read or things she has learned in her long life. Jan edited a book about Nancy’s father the great biologist and collector Ed Ricketts, who was made famous by John Steinbeck. Nancy loves to talk about the things she remembers about her dad. She believes she inherited a great deal of his spirit, curiosity and adventure. I think that is true. Today she is staying in the infirmary at the Home. I asked her if she was worried that her stomach problems were cancer. She said, “No, I’m not worried about that, I just want to know what is wrong, if it is cancer then I will just have another set of decision to make. What room to be in and what to expect. I’m still so lucky right now. None of that really matters, I’ve been planning on dying soon anyway.”
Nancy is very lovely, when I last visited she was working on hemming a nice pair of pants. She has a great sense of color and always wears cloths that look good on her and her hair is cut in a way that frames her face beautifully. She is thin now, when she has pain and sits in her big chair under her reading light she reminds me of a Siamese cat, we will be talking about Gregorian Chants or the effects of music on her mood, she will stop and stretch towards the light with her eyes shut, cat-like; shudder a bit and then settle back. When we visit her she becomes grumpy if we talk too much about her health. She usually wants out of her room no matter how frail she feels. This weekend we drove out the road in the rain, we drove until we saw a small fawn scampering up the road ahead of us. We drove up a narrow road where we could see the mountains disappear into the clouds. We listened to sacred music then we turned around and I changed to Dixieland music for the bumpy jaunt downhill.
We went back to her room and I lay on her floor. I read aloud from a new book called This Land Is Your Land by Mike Lannoo, which is about the early history of Field Biology. Lannoo is a friend of all of ours and he has written about Nancy’s dad. I read aloud as Jan and Nancy sat back and listened. Periodically both the opinionated women would chime in with comments or corrections. “That’s not quite correct!” Nancy would pipe up, when I read something about what house they had first lived in...ever the editor.
Soon she wanted to sleep, so we got up to go. “He is such a good writer.” She said, always wanting to end with kindness, “and I had a wonderful time today,” she said as we gathered our things. “You be careful on your trip,” she said to me. “I will” I said, “I will come see you first thing when I come home.”
Nancy shrugged her shoulders and smiled at me like a coquette, “Who knows, where I’ll be?” I kissed her and said goodbye, somehow not sad, but deeply moved, and calm in a way I had not felt before.
Crows in the alders,
and a fawn sprints down the road
without its mother.