Even if you’ve never strapped on a set of skis, think Sundance is something that needs a choreographer and really don’t have a taste for the kind of choral music associated with the Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City has a lot to commend it. I lived in Salt Lake for a year, and enjoyed it tremendously. There was art, the Film Festival and good music everywhere. At the time, bluegrass and newgrass were particularly popular, and if David Grisman, Vassar Clements and Tony Rice weren’t in Salt Lake, you could find them playing the circuit in Telluride or Greeley with groups like Hot Rize and the Seldom Scene.
We didn’t need the pros to make us happy, of course. On Sunday afternoons, I’d travel with friends up one of the canyons into the heart of the Wasatch range and kick back in a cozy little corner where music, cheeseburgers and beer were available and everyone was welcome to play. If you were even mildly proficient there always was an extra guitar or two around, or a bass player who’d take time for a burger and let you sit in. For the rest of us, there were spoons and washboards and tabletops to drum on – some days, it sounded for all the world like the kindergarten rhythm band had been set loose with Bill Monroe or the Foggy Mountain Boys.
Music wasn’t the only treat, of course. Nestled up against the Wasatch Range, Salt Lake is known for far more than skiing. A haven for hikers, mountain bikers, campers and photographers, it’s one of the most beautiful areas of the country. I spent a good bit of time hiking, particularly up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Upper and Lower Red Pine Lakes and the Pfeifferhorn. Part of the Lone Peak Wilderness area, Little Cottonwood offered good climbs, alpine meadows filled with flowers in season, gorgeous vistas and the occasional mountain goat. A flatlander from birth, I was astonished by the mountains. Every time I went out onto the trails, I couldn’t get enough of “up”. Climbing higher and higher, I’d make occasional stops to turn and see where I’d been. As I grew more confident and improved physical conditioning allowed me to make higher and longer climbs, it always was amazing to see how much territory I’d covered, and how far I had come.
Upper Red Pine Lake, Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
This past year of writing has been very much like that year in Utah. When I began The Task at Hand nine months ago, I expected nothing. Like a hiker with no destination, I was interested only in the experience, in the sights along the path and the personal challenge. Could I develop the necessary skills? Could I maintain the effort? Would my energy run low? Would the path prove too difficult? Eventually, a certain rhythm set in, just as it does for any hiker, cyclist or runner. I wrote, and then I wrote again. When I became frustrated, disappointed or insecure, I wrote more. Writing became something I simply did, like breathing. Sentence following sentence, paragraph piling onto paragraph, the entries began to stack up like boulders edging a path. Step after heavy step I made my way along until finally, after months of effort, it was time to stop, to turn around and pause and gaze back over the path I’d been traveling.
Scanning the landscape in December, I was amazed by what I saw. In the mailbox there were checks for my first printed articles: in a magazine called Arrhythmic Souls and in Telltales, the largest boating magazine on the Texas coast. Just before Christmas I was asked to write the story of a couple who survived Hurricane Ike on their boat; there’s a first draft now, and a publisher. I received confirmation that my essay written for National Public Radio’s This I Believe series will be broadcast in February, and it’s time to begin outlining a year’s worth of new columns for Arrhythmic Souls. All of this is quite astonishing and leaves me relatively speechless.
But surprises in the paper-and-printer’s-ink world weren’t the only things I saw as I looked back over my lovely literary walkabout. Re-reading my first WordPress entry, Dazed and Confused, I remember vividly the experience of posting it. Like a first, tentative log-walk across a mountain stream, it made me anxious, tight, slightly off balance and certain I was only a step away from a tumble into the water. Today, I’m back on solid ground, traveling with good companions and feeling far more sure-footed. I’m grateful for my readers and indebted to those who comment, providing as they do the simple pleasure of conversation with friends around a fire.
Over the months I’ve been startled time and again to discover other bloggers linking to my site. From time to time I find a passing mention of The Task at Hand and only yesterday I discovered a reader’s review of my blog. She never told me she’d written it, and I never would have found it had I not received a surge of traffic from StumbleUpon, making me curious enough to go snooping about. As my dear Grandma used to say, “You never know what you don’t know”. Indeed. But I’m learning more and finding more to appreciate every day.
Another recent gift was receiving the Premio Dardos award from Arti of Ripple Effects. Arti’s been with me at WordPress from the beginning. She was the first WordPress blogger I gathered courage to email, and the first whose own blog became a weekly must-read. It’s thanks to her that my literary horizons are expanding a bit, and her blogroll is pure indulgence for Jane Austen fans. The award itself is given as a “recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing” (translated from the Portuguese: “O conceito deste prémio passa por reconhecer valores culturais, éticos, literários e pessoais, transmitidos de forma criativa e original nos pedacinhos rabiscados por cada blogueiro que o receba.”). I’ve seen such awards satirized and ridiculed by bloggers big and small, but in each instance, there has been apparent blindness to one of the important aspects of these awards: they speak to merit, but they also help to build community.
As a Premio Dardos recipient, one of my tasks is to pass the award on to others. Many blogs I enjoy and read regularly certainly deserve such an award, but they’re well known, often with huge readership and probably with a drawerful of medallions and plaques. I’ve chosen instead to highlight blogs I enjoy on a regular basis, but which are tucked into corners of the web where they might not be found by a casual browser. Not all are “literary” blogs, but each is well-written, intriguing, informative or inspiring in turn, and each stands as a reminder that “good blogging” doesn’t have to fit a particular mold or pattern. When I see such lists, I count myself lucky if I find one or two entries which appeal. My hope is that you will find one on this list, and have a new bit of pleasurable reading to carry with you on your own trek up the New Year’s mountain.
A Change in the Wind ~ A tasty bouillabaisse, filled with humor, current events, poetry, criticism and peeks into the crevices of a creative mind. Always a fun read.
Between the Waters ~ Poetry and photography, on an occasional basis. I tease Earl about his “regularly irregular” posting schedule, but those posts always are worth waiting for. His latest poem pulls off a literary feat I would have thought impossible.
Carol Buchanan on Writing ~ Practical tips on writing and publication, mixed with a bit of inspiration and some darned good stories. This is the American West from a modern female’s perspective, and it’s worth visiting.
Casual Astronomy ~ Another eclectic mix of photography, writing and science, geared to the non-professional but meaty enough to be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in astronomy or our space program. Plenty of links, occasional literate musings and an attentive host who can help you discover what “that thing up there” might be.
Day by Day in Northwest Montana ~ Thoreau at Walden or Dillard at Tinker Creek, in a western setting. I’ve followed life on this Kalispell ranch for a year, and now a new one has begun. The daily postings of photographs and condition reports have a mesmerizing quality as the truth gets driven home: you can travel far, or you can travel deep, exchanging a day in a thousand places for a thousand days in one. A beautiful example of learning “one good place”.
Of Books and Bicycles ~ Maybe it’s the bicyling that helps, but this is a “book blog” without pretensions or snootiness. You can browse the shelves or chat with the proprietress and while away (entirely too many) hours. The writing is good and the links alone are worth an afternoon and coffee.
Letters Home ~ All right. So Ian isn’t particularly hidden. But if you’re a fan of satire, irony, beautiful photography, a world-view wide as the horizon and occasional posts as poignant and touching as could be found, expat Ian in Hamburg’s point of view may be exactly what you’re looking for. His Desiderata for Bloggers, 20 Blogging Commandments and What If the Buddha Were Just Some Guy in His Mom’s Basement are as inspirational as a 2×4 to the head. Read him.
Vincent van Gogh ~ A Pair of Shoes