Birding, Writing, and Who Cooks For You?

Roadrunner. Quail. Red-tailed hawk. White-winged dove.

I don’t recognize very many birds in the Sonoran Desert where I live in Chandler, Arizona–a lack I want to rectify, so on an early morning in June, I show up to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix wearing proper birding attire: khakis, a long-sleeve cotton shirt and a broad-rimmed hat. Around my neck are binoculars that I scavenged from the bottom of a camping bin underneath first aid supplies, water bottles, a hot pink fanny pack, and mosquito netting. The thin strap is already cutting into the skin of my neck.

As a newbie, I am welcomed and handed a tri-fold official birding checklist with the names of 102 birds commonly found on these weekly jaunts in the gardens.

“All the brown birds confuse me,” I admit to Annie, a talkative regular who comes to the gardens at least three times a week.

“LBJ’s,” she says, “Little Brown Jobs.” Annie sports a harness-type strap for her binoculars so the weight is removed from her neck. I make a mental note.

New lingo. New equipment. I have more to learn than just bird names.

A man joins the group who just returned from a quick tour of one of the garden loops.

“Mallard with six babies,” he proclaims, “over on the pond.”

“Whoaaaaa!” the entire group exclaims in unison. If this was a vote for homecoming king, I am convinced he would be awarded the crown.

“Also saw a bullfrog nearby,” he admits.

Heads shake. Tongues click.  Eyes lower.

“Maybe there will still be four or five babies when we get over there,” says a heavy-set woman in a droopy hat. People nod hopefully.

Bullfrogs eat baby ducklings? Who knew?

“Puffin at ten o’clock,” says a man attired in denim.

A puffin! In Arizona? All eyes swing to the spot in the sky where he points.

An untethered metallic balloon floats among the clouds. “Happy Graduation” adorns the silver front.

A puffin. Birding humor.

For the next ninety minutes we explore the various trails. Official birders make check marks on their lists. I make notes in my small journal as I stick close to Andre, a white-haired gal with deep tan lines and a deeper knowledge of Arizona birds.

We see a Gila woodpecker taking a dip into an organ pipe cactus bloom. We count twenty-one white-winged doves looking for food under the palo blanco trees. A Gambel’s quail duo keeps an eye on seven young chicks. We focus our binoculars on a baby curve-billed thrasher in its nest in a cholla cactus, the long thorns warning off intruders, but not deterring its mother who returns with red fruit from a neighboring saguaro cactus.

Binoculars aim. Cameras focus. Pencils record.

“Listen,” Andre instructs. “Do you hear that?”

Woo-WOO-woo. Woo-WOO-woo.

“A Eurasian collared dove,” she says. “The second syllable is the longest. Not native, but it has spread across the United States since it was introduced to North America.”

“How is the call different from a white-wing and a mourning dove?” I ask.

“A white-wing sounds like ‘who cooks for you.’ A mourning dove has a different rhythm to it’s call, usually five syllables. Coo-OOO. Coo. Coo. Coo.” Andre sings the songs of the doves while I take notes.  A cactus wren scolds us from the branches of a mesquite tree.

“Look!” I point to a roadrunner lurking beneath a succulent.

“Good eye,” Andre says. The sun glints off the bird’s feathers as I get close enough to snap a photo of the blue and bronze skin near its eye. Several people pat my shoulder as they mark “roadrunner” off the list.

For a moment I am one of them. A birder.

“Who cooks for you?” a white-winged dove asks as I gather my four pages of notes and head to my car. A LBJ flies over head. I am determined to learn his name the next time I return to the gardens.

Where are you learning new things to add depth to your writing?

 

Lynne Hartke’s first book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May with Baker/Revell Publishers. When she is not writing or blogging, she is out hiking desert trails.

How To Recover After a Big Event

bigevent

As authors we all have deadlines that loom over our heads, filling our brains and our calendars with all the details. For lack of a better term, I am going to lump all those deadlines under the title of a Big Event. How do you recover after a Big Event? I  don’t know about you, but I tend to minimize my need for rest and move onto the next Big Thing.

How To Recover After a Big Event:

Perhaps you are like me. When the Big Event looms in your horizon, you push everything else aside, saying, “I’ll save that for after the Big Event, because everyone knows l will have more time after the Big Event.” 

Well, after the Big Event has arrived. That sucking sound you hear? It’s my calendar about to implode. 

My Big Event was a trifecta: a fundraising event I chaired for the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life, our youngest son’s college graduation, and the release of my first book, Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty, and Faith in the Hardest Places. All three events occurred in a ten-day window–because, you know, all major events for 2017 needed to happen in the beginning of May.

I knew I would be tired.  I was unprepared for the absolute exhaustion I would experience when it was over. 

Perhaps your Big Event was a wedding, a job change, a book proposal, a personal milestone, a remodeling project, a completed manuscript, a writing class or a long-anticipated vacation. The Big Event consumed your calendar, your energy, your emotion, your time. You busted your butt, obsessed over it and spent every free waking minute focused on it and now it is OVER.

The Big Event is over and you find yourself depleted, out of gas, and struggling to make it through a normal day.

So, what happens after an experience like this? You’re exhausted and depleted. You need a period of recovery. Achievers forget this so easily. You are groomed to be industrious and effective, but not to allow for recovery or transition between projects. – Sharon Teitelbaum.

Yeah, that pretty much describes me. You too?

Now what? How do you handle it? How do you recover?

1. Look Back

We live in a culture that tends to look forward. Achievers, especially, find purpose in the next big project, yet taking time to reminisce and celebrate what you have accomplished is important. Process the event with others and keep a visible reminder of your achievement – a photo by your computer, a shell from the family vacation, a framed certificate over your desk.

Last week I spent time loading photos from the cancer event and graduation and enjoyed reading reviews from the book release.

2. Look Inward

Recognize that you might be feeling a variety of emotions after a Big Event, including highs and lows, exhaustion and elation.

“It’s natural, too, to feel sad, disappointed, even depressed at the end of a big project, even one that’s a resounding success. The things we do define us as people, and the biggest things we do are the biggest part of us; losing them, even by choice and design, is hard.” – Dustin Was

Be kind to yourself. Rest when you need it. Go to bed early. Do something therapeutic whether it is baking, gardening, watching endless shows on Netflix or getting a pedicure.

3. Look Forward

After you have had time to rest and transition, it is time to focus on the next event and plan some new goals.

Take a little time to reflect on your finished project. See how you might build on the success you’ve already achieved. Then get ready for the next big thing.

What about you? How do you recover from a Big Event?

Lynne Hartke’s first book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May with Baker/Revell Publishers. When she is not writing or blogging, she is out hiking desert trails and pastoring with her husband in Chandler, AZ.

A Library Located in a Village of Stilted Houses by the Sea

library-story

I loved going to the library as a girl. In the summer, after chores were done, we would go to town once a week, a trip that included a stop at the library.

I would always get the allowed quota–four books. 

At home I would sit in the tire swing under the elm tree and escape to faraway places in the pages.

I never imagined in the shadow of cornfields, alfalfa, and soy beans, that one day I would travel to a library in a village of stilted houses by the sea:

Our driver parked the van at the curve of a road on the mainland, near a dirt entrance across the bay to a smaller village of sea gypsies, the gypsy part of the name being a misnomer because they don’t move from place to place. They live there, a few hundred yards from the mainland in their simple stilted homes, because the lore of their people states that if they would leave, their skin would become diseased; they would grow sick and die.

sea library 1

“Where’s the library?” we asked our host as we passed a group of boys listening to a boombox, while laundry dried outside a simple house with a satellite dish in the backyard. As part of a literacy program we had been invited to check out the library in this small fishing village in Indonesia.

sea library 7

Our host pointed in the distance, to a destination I could not see, because all I saw in front of me was a series of rough wooden planks, nailed together in a single, rickety path above the water.

Walking the plank suddenly had an entirely new meaning as the boards weaved side to side as I shuffled across one and then another. I peered at the water six feet below as it flowed back and forth with the current. What happens when cell phones get wet? I wondered, as I took step after cautious step, on planks number three, four and five.

What happens when library visitors get wet?

My husband comes across

I was thankful for the years I spent as a child balancing on railroad tracks as I imagined being a tightrope walker on my way to our no-boys-allowed fort in a culvert under the tracks, never imagining I would need those high-wire skills four decades later.

Eventually all six of us made it across, some uttering not-very-silent prayers for God’s deliverance.

When we arrived at the library in the village school, we discovered the building was closed. School testing happened that week and the kids had a half day, an education reality that is common around the world. We stood around in the 85-degree heat with 90% humidity. The circle of sweat on my cotton t-shirt widened exponentially with each ticking minute.

“We can come into this home,” our host said, motioning us into a blue house with a corrugated metal roof across from the school.

sea library 4

“Have a seat, have a seat.” The woman and homeowner directed me to a far corner. Our group of six and a dozen children trooped in behind. Candies and other snacks hung down from the ceiling. The home was also a store.

We were invited to tell a story while the woman served crackers and bottled water. My husband told a tale of another stilted house with a boy, his noisy sisters, and their cows. It was a story about gratitude. Our interpreter echoed my husband’s hand motions and side effects, adding a few of his own, while the children listened, entranced.

The homeowner smiled as the children sang a song, moving with the tempo. More children arrived on the front porch, but there was no more room inside. 

In our culture, I hear arguments about the relevance of libraries in a digital world, but those debates were silenced for me in a stilted village where children pressed against the metal screen covering the front window in hopes of getting closer to the words, while the sea and the people swayed.

Do you have a library story?

Lynne Hartke’s first book: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty and Faith in the Hardest Places is coming out with Revell/Baker in May 2017. She blogs at http://www.lynnehartke.com.

Writing for a Superlative Culture

We are an -est society.

Happiest. Saddest. Loneliest. Hardest.

I recently returned from a trip overseas and I was asked, by various people:

“What was your hardest time?” “Give me your happiest vacation memory.”

I had to stop and ponder.

Was the happiest moment when my husband captured a photo of a monkey trying to find another banana under my hat? Was it scuba diving in the waters of Nirwana Beach off the coast of Indonesia? Or climbing the slopes of Mt. Batur for the sunrise and being served tea heated in the steam vents from this still-active volcano?

Monkey Forest

Was the hardest moment going days and days on limited sleep as my body refused to adjust to the fourteen-hour time difference? Or when a person on our team was diagnosed with dengue fever? Or the humbling moment when I realized our young guide didn’t read or write?

I found myself in a quandary as I sifted through my mind to try to come up with the -est story. Not sure if the tale I was contemplating qualified for the perimeters or was just an average, good story, I found myself silent.

We live in a culture of superlatives. Highest. Lowest. Hottest. Fastest.

Yet, as writers, the challenge remains to take what has been written a thousand times before and make it fresh. To take the mundane and ordinary and breathe new life into the sentences. To find a new way to write about a sunrise. Or washing the dishes. Or camping out under the stars.  Skill is necessary to take the images and everyday events and draw the reader into deeper emotions. To tell again the story of love. Of grief. Of redemption. Of faith.

I have lived for over thirty years in Arizona. Same house. Same church. Same husband. 

Same desert.

I have hiked the trails surrounding Phoenix and beyond. This permanence allows me to write from a deep sense of place, yet I am still discovering new things in this desert home.

Earlier this summer I was working on a piece about palo verde trees and needed a photo. The palo verde tree has green bark with each twig terminating in a thorn. The palo verde lives up to its Spanish translation of “green stick,” as the tree tosses aside all its leaves during times of drought. The tree sprouts tiny leaves after rain, but can perform photosynthesis through its green bark, even when leaves are absent.

I needed a photo of the tree after rain. I didn’t have one. Thirty years of hiking in the desert and I didn’t have a photo of a palo verde, one of the most common trees in our area. I had sunsets. Sunrises. Mountain peaks. Cactus. Wildflowers in abundance.

I had photos of the driest. The tallest. The orangest (this should be a word).  But not one picture of the ordinary palo verde with its amazing green bark. (A fact I remedied the next day.)

trunk of a palo verde tree

Thoreau once said that because he could not afford to travel, he was “Made to study and love this spot of earth more and more.” 

Ah, this is our challenge. As our readers settle into the pages, can we–through our words–make them love and study the spot we describe more and more? This story of reunion? This story of loss? This story of returning to God? 

This story of the ordinary and mundane? A story that has nothing to do with volcanoes or monkeys or strange tropical diseases.

A simple story of a tree that sprouts tiny leaves after the rain.

palo verde after rain

palo verde after rain

Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging at www.lynnehartke.com. Her first book about the faithfulness of God in the hardest places is coming out with Revell in 2017. She lives in Chandler, Arizona in the Sonoran Desert with her husband, Kevin. Their 4 grown children and 3 grandchildren live nearby.

Life on the Blank Page: Why I Keep 3 Journals

Life on the Blank Page- Why I Keep 3 Journals

This is a life-as-a-writer post. Or I could say, the life of a creative — that word that encompasses all types of folks who are constantly creating and inventing and pouring out, whose job it is to fill the blank page, the blank screen, or empty air space.

I am in the middle of edits on a project that takes a lot out of me — that turns my brain to mush by the end of the day. I have disciplines that I do to keep the creative part of me exercised and stretched — similar to the months of short hikes I do to prepare for a longer hike in the Grand Canyon. Being in shape doesn’t just happen. Being creative doesn’t just happen either.

Last week I went journal shopping. I’m a three-journal gal. I used to keep one journal, but as my writing life expanded, it became too difficult to find things all crammed in one notebook. These journals each represent a creative discipline for me as a writer.

First, I use a pocket-size journal for hiking that doesn’t weigh a lot or take up much space. It’s about the size of my cell phone. I added some more sketches to the pages this week as I am exploring nature journaling as a way of alert attentiveness.  I don’t consider myself an artist, so drawing stretches my creative muscles in new directions and makes me look at the desert — which I have seen for 30 years — in a new way.

Boojum Tree nature journaling page

Def need work on the birds. The poor white-winged dove looks so very sad. But I like the boojum tree! I like the fact that boojum is from a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll. What writer wouldn’t want a tree named from their work?

Second, I have a writing journal that is only used for writing prompts — questions that stir creativity. The prompt might be about mashed potatoes, but soon I find myself writing about my grandmother in her kitchen with a pot in her lap filled with spuds and a conversation we had about heaven when I was twelve years old. Writing prompts have a way of bringing me in through the back door of my brain. I am currently using the book Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. Questions in that book include:

  • Tell me everything you know about jello. Ten minutes. Go. (Can’t wait to do that one!!)
  • Tell me a memory associated with a bicycle. The spokes, the wheels, the narrow seat. Go for ten.
  • Tell me about how a relationship ended. Go. Ten minutes.

My final journal is the one I use during quiet times with God and to explore future writing posts and projects. This is the one I was shopping for last week. I wanted the journal lined, bound, and large. None of those wimpy diary-size journals! I had to go to three stores to find something large enough and I found it at Walmart of all places.

Life is wonderfull journal

Note: the flowers are there for photo purposes only.

I love the front: Life is Wonder-full and Beauty-full.  In life’s hard seasons, having my eyes and heart focused on wonder and beauty has proven essential.

So, now you know all about my three journals. 

Even for you non-writers out there, we all need places that fill our souls with wonder and beauty. We all need practices and disciplines that feed the creative side of us.

What are yours?

 

 

Lynne Hartke has her first book coming out with Revell in 2017. This post first appeared on her blog at http://www.lynnehartke.com where she writes about courage, beauty, and belonging to a loving God. She and her husband live in Chandler, Arizona, located in the Sonoran Desert, a place where she lugs around at least one journal.

Of Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, and Disappointments

 

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My mother and I didn’t know anything about brussel sprouts the spring we decided to plant them in the family garden, back when I was a girl. We planted an entire row in between the rows of peas and green beans. In the back of the garden we added several rows of tomatoes and pushed cucumber seeds into rounded mounds in the black earth. Mom bordered the garden with zinnias and marigolds and we waited for the fruit of our labors.

We expected the obvious–for the brussel sprouts to appear like broccoli crowns, right up top for all to see.  And because we expected the obvious, we missed the fact that the sprouts were growing.

And growing.

And growing–there under the protecting leaves, hidden from sight.

We finally found them, no longer tender and sweet, but old and bitter. Mom grew up in the Depression, so there was no thought of throwing the brussel sprouts into the compost pit. She boiled them for dinner, where we kids gagged them down with large gulps of fresh milk and tears.

Mom never planted brussel sprouts again.

Which is the danger of disappointments and unfulfilled expectations.

It wasn’t until I moved away from home that I enjoyed the deliciousness of brussel sprouts bathed in olive oil and roasted garlic, an experience I almost missed because of the garden mishap.

This summer I had the grand idea of offering giveaways on my blog during the month of July. I anticipated interest, increased blog traffic, and multiple shares of the posts. Unfortunately broccoli results have yet to materialize. 

But today I boxed up one of the giveaways to mail to a little girl who has brain cancer. I sent another gift to a woman whose husband recently died. She was nominated by a friend for the giveaway. 

Brussel sprouts are growing this summer among the leaves of social media.

So let me ask you:

When things don’t turn out as you hoped, will you continue to plant new ideas? Try new things?

Or will you concentrate so hard looking for broccoli that you miss what may be growing in secret?

 

 

Lynne Hartke has her first book coming out with Revell in 2017. She writes about courage, beauty, and belonging to a loving God at http://www.lynnehartke.com. And brussel sprouts. Sometimes she writes about brussel sprouts. She and her husband live in Chandler, Arizona, located in the Sonoran Desert.

What Are You Afraid to Write?

Fear-Woman

I stumbled into the creative writing class fresh out of cancer treatment, a 48-year-old woman uncertain of her future. I had vague ideas about writing, but I was not even sure who I was anymore.

Cancer had taken all my sentences and scrambled my story.

I didn’t introduce myself as a pastor’s wife. I was Lynne (with an e) on a level playing field with the other college students.

I soon discovered that wearing jeans and a t-shirt like everyone else in the room couldn’t quite cover my wounds. The students wrote of true love and vampires and distant galaxies far, far away and I stared at blank pages. They were 18 and 19. All passion and future.

I was scars. Battle-fatigued. Dried up. Old.

The college professor—a reader of dark stories—disliked pat phrases, cliches, and the status quo. As he stood in front of the class one day, he said:

“The purpose of writing is to put on paper what people cannot say… or are afraid to say.”

Suddenly I discovered I had words. There were lots of things I was afraid to say.

Would the cancer come back? Would I live to see my children grow up? What is the purpose of it all anyway? Where is God?

Maybe that is why I didn’t introduce myself as the pastor’s wife, a careful woman, who would never admit the tumult of doubt, pain, and questions.

So many questions.

I soon realized other students were busy writing too. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with things she was afraid to say.

After writing for ten minutes, we were invited to share what was on our pages.

A heavy-set young man offered to go first and shared about his heroin addiction. A young woman shared about a sexual assault. Another shared about a miscarriage. Another the death of her brother. Another his parents’ divorce.

The readers stepped cautiously into the full noonday sun, all squinty-eyed, with scrunched up faces, unsure, after living in silence for so long, of the reception in the light of day.

As we each emerged, we discovered something unexpected: we were no longer alone. 

Writing is not about life in the suburbs and two perfect children and happily ever after. Ho hum. Pass the butter.

Writing—even from a Christian perspective—is about scars. Questions. Pain. Fear. Redemption is there, but not without struggle.

What are you afraid to write?

Lynne Hartke has a memoir coming out with Revell in 2017. She writes about courage, beauty and belonging at http://www.lynnehartke.com.