It’s my anniversary month! When I started working at the Timberjay nine years ago, I was hired to do the graphic design, in other words, create ads. These days my work has expanded beyond our weekly paper to creating ads for our Real Estate Guides, Summer Fun Times Magazine, North Country Christmas Magazine, Crossword Puzzle Books and any other special promotions and print jobs. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago I decided to write a few stories for the paper, then soon afterwards I jumped in the rotation as a columnist when an opening came about.
I have discovered that the more I write, the more I realize how very therapeutic the process is. This is particularly true about writing these columns. The defining, then public sharing, of successes, failures, life lessons, hopes and delusions in printed words is very real, often intimate and in the next instant hysterical and healing. I guess I write because I have stories to tell and a girdle, or a pair of Spanx (update the wardrobe terminology), packed full of experiences others can relate to! At a time when many who are my age are looking ahead with relief to retiring, I’ve found a new interest. I am crafted of a different putty I suppose, and the idea of retiring along with the “word” itself wells up images of the big slow-down to the end….followed by excessive snacking, jumbo pill boxes, canes and those orthopedic shoes that are the color of chocolate chip cookie dough. I want to keep learning and doing new things, and even make some money while doing them. So what about writing?
Most of us write don’t we? In my school days writing was confined to the mundane tasks of doing book reports, or writing a sentence fifty times on yellow lined paper for having exhibited bad behavior. After graduating from anklets to knee highs there were research papers, followed later by college papers of all shapes and sizes.....but while it was true I was learning basics underneath, none of that was very satisfying on the outside.
I first took a real interest in writing one August after my first husband and I rumbled off to Alaska in our rusty, blue 1966 Delta Oldsmobile. I kept a journal on the trip, writing about the places we visited as we drove through Canada and up the Alcan Highway through the barren Yukon Territory. It was one of those black and white covered notebooks kids bought to go to college. I added illustrations to many of the pages with colored pencils, just because I enjoyed it and had little else to do. There were no radio stations, cell phones or devices....just the winding gravel road and our conversation. By this time I knew the intense value of keeping a diary from hours spent logging the behavior of boys I was interested in back in high school. Now my journal had become our historical record for the trip north, and soon enough would became a means to overcome extreme loneliness.
After four days of travel we arrived in Alaska. The other two couples headed south to Seward and we headed west to Delta Junction to spend time in a primitive sod roof log cabin back in the woods. My husband and friends had built it the summer after graduating from high school. I was already feeling a bit homesick as the group dispersed and I was missing conveniences and comforts too, like a good night’s rest in a comfy bed and a nice warm shower.
The 16’x20’ Delta Junction cabin was an eighth-mile down a hiking trail through a forest of large poplar, tamarack and spruce with little underbrush. When I first saw it I thought how small and forlorn it was. Located to the left of the cabin was a small log sauna and to the right, the log outhouse with a curtain-on-a-wire for privacy and a small log over the hole for duty. Inside, the cabin was dark, dusty and dirty with an empty pink-stained Kool-Aid pitcher and cups still sitting where the last guests had finished refreshing themselves a year or two prior. Mice had pulled the moss out from between the logs on every wall, so daylight peeked through. In the days to follow we put in a few windows, replaced the moss and built a new platform bed, proudly accomplishing our efforts at remodeling.
Soon after arriving, my husband took a job in town as a dishwasher at a restaurant. Prior to leaving for work one day he showed me how to use the gun and said, “Remember, if a bear shows up and there’s trouble, don’t shoot until it’s biting the barrel.” What a comforting sentiment, as he walked off down the trail that led to civilization, but away from me. Oh, I wasn’t alone, we had one radio that completed our “media center”, and there were rabbits, grouse and critters to observe. I made the cabin comfortable by arranging two black vinyl car seats and a few stumps into a cozy furniture grouping. The floor was made of rough-cut 2x6 boards and it was easier to sweep the dirt between the cracks than herd it into a dustpan. Home sweet home.
As I dealt with isolation during the long days of autumn, I started to write frequent letters to my parents. I remember sitting cross-legged against a large poplar tree writing with a carpet of fallen amber leaves surrounding me, listening to the honking of thousands of sandhill cranes overhead, circling around and around in the sky, gathering together for their flight south. I poured myself into long descriptive accounts of where we lived, Alaskan characters we met, and new adventurous things we did. I felt if I could give my loved ones so much detail in my letters it would nearly bring them to me. The loneliness eased in the process. This was the furthest I’d been from home, thousands of miles away. It was me, my journal and my box of colored pencils. I used many stamps during those nine months up north, sending letters to the “lower forty-eight.”
A few years later we’d returned to Minnesota and were living in Ely when I decided to go to junior college. I was bored, looking for something new, valuable and challenging to do. Education was a priority in my family and to me, despite my dad having told me after completing high school that I should just get married and find someone to take care of me. He didn’t believe I was college material and unfortunately did not live to see that he was wrong.
So there I was, a school girl, again back to writing papers. I received very good grades, which I attribute to being an older non-traditional student who was happily applying herself to school studies. When I finished college in Ely, I transferred to Bemidji to get my B.S. degree in Graphic Design. In one English class I took I was told by the professor, a friend of my older brother who was an English major, “You stick to your art pursuits, your brother got the writing abilities, you got the art.” I felt knocked down. A teacher should never tell a student such a thing. This kind of discouragement happens to multitudes of students; I’m no exception but “supposed” professionals such as him ought to shove their foot further into their mouth, thus preventing them from saying such negative and defeating statements like that to people deeply interested in learning.
At age twenty-eight, I graduated with honors and got a job in my field of graphic design. As it turned out, in the decades ahead, aside from writing funny emails to friends and family, I didn’t do much other writing...but I did “live” and like a good-quality sponge, soaked up plenty of things to write about. So now it’s great to have the memories in addition to the opportunity for such variety in my job at the Timberjay doing graphic design and some writing as well.
Scarlet Lynn Stone can be reached at: email@example.com