Category Archives: Students

Just a Little Sky

Poet Donald Turner Joins us today with a little sky ditty.

 

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Ana Manwaring 7/2012

Drifting sky of white on blue

Painted sky in Autumn hue

Sculpted sky in shades of gray

Twinkling sky at end of day

 

photo credits: giphy.com, freepik and David K. Prothero

 

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Firestorm

We’ve seen her brilliant and horrifying photo, now here is Cathy’s experience of the terror of the October fires. Please welcome guest blogger, Cathy Carsell.

Cathy Carsell writes from the heart, taking inspiration from natural beauty and emotional essence. A songwriter, poet and editor, she graduated from San Francisco State, becoming an audio engineer in the burgeoning music industry of the Bay Area. An avid sports fan, Cathy breathes and thrives in the captivating community of the Napa Valley.

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Photo by Cathy Carsell

Firestorm

Mid October night
Especially long hot summer
Red flag warning, trees falling
Alarm bells ring in my head

Wild wind whipping
Power lines snap
sparking dried tinder
from years of drought
Look out, look out there
ridge of flames rises
as we stand on my deck

Alarm bells ring in your head
Alarm bells ring in your head
Send up a prayer for the dead
You know you’re going to find some dead

 

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Fire don’t discriminate
You’re in it’s way you’re done
Faster than a man can run
Run everybody run

Grab your kids and grab your dog
No time to hesitate
No warning it’s too late
Like a tsunami wave
Only your life to save

Alarm bells ring in your head
Alarm bells ring in your head
Send up a prayer for the dead
You know you’re going to find some dead

Five fires in one night
How we going to fight this fight
Wind whips a firestorm
Racing over miles and miles
Taking homes, taking lives

 

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cnn.com

Check on Grandma
Roll her down
Load the horses, get the sheep
Pray for all our souls to keep
Through hot blazing nights

Alarm bells ring in our heads
Alarm bells ring in our heads
Sending up prayers for the dead
Know we’re going to find some dead

Check with friends and family
tell them I’m OK
I know I’ll never be the same
after these October days

Alarm bells ring in my head
Alarm bells ring in my head
Sending up a prayer for the dead
Glad I’m not among the dead

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Forgiveness

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Please welcome guest blogger, Dina Corcoran, whose poem, Forgiveness, offers a surprising glance into the subject. Dina is a memoirist, poet and survivor of the 2017 Tubbs Fire. She has won awards two years running in the Jessamyn West Literary contest.

Forgiveness

 

In friends I like a cheerful nature
And honesty enriches the deal.

 

I’d sooner sit with realness
Than suffer the pretentious.

 

Wanda, with her southern accent and fake genteel manner,
 Asks “Why is it you don’t like me?”

 

Gently I caress her hand.
It’s not her nature to understand.

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On Writing and Writing Classes

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Today’s guest  is Noel Robinson, a recent addition to Autobiographical Writing in the Napa Valley. Noel’s essay presents  the cunundrum of incorporating craft into your authentic writer’s voice and the challenges of writing for yourself versus writing for an audience.  Is writing worth it?  Find out Noel’s conclusion. . . .

 

Writing

 

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by Noel Robinson

I want to write, however I am always struggling with deadlines, arcs, and two pages, double-spaced limits.  I can’t always stop myself from self-editing as I write.  Too many adverbs, that’s a weak verb – use an active verb that describes fully the moment, change it up – your audience needs variety.

I accept the challenge of writing.  It makes me feel alive.  I am doing something important.  I am having my voice documented if not heard.  I hear it.

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But! The problems with writing—when is a piece ready to be examined?  Does there have to be an arc every time?   Can I quit stressing and feeling pressured by getting my story out?

I want to express myself.  I love being creative.  Maybe I am in an advanced level class and need to wait, start simpler, and enter the writing world of critique when I have a backlog of pieces.  I started writing in a journal seven months ago without any thought to taking a writing class.   A book inspired me to explore the topic – this would be fun to do in retirement.  I do not have a plethora of essays to draw on for revision.  Everything is “square-one” fresh with me.

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I love the class—the instructor is an editor that is devoted to her writers. This is gold.  The writers are supportive of each other.  This is a precious meld of people, strangers really, which comes together to support me and each other (can’t use that word again – I just used it in the previous sentence.  Oh no, don’t use the word “just” it’s an empty word.  I am sure I used the word “waste” in a previous paragraph…no – I don’t see that I did.)

I need gestalt applied; I use the rules and guidance, however it’s never enough for me. I need to know why I am using that rule and where that guidance is coming from.  I have to process and walk around the entire project to know where I am.

008_036_arc_building_2-128I struggle with the “arc.”  I know what it is (yet I feel there are many ways to approach it.) I have two weeks to write my piece that needs to be two pages, double-spaced.  I feel the pressure to get it right, to nail the feelings and insights; to dig deep and express the nectar of truth. Yes, I am a perfectionist.  I have been placed in a situation where I want to show I learned the craft and respond to all critique on my next piece.  This is a stress to me and in the future may quell my appetite to write.  I may go back to journaling and keep to myself.images-18

I have experienced the journals, memoirs, and autobiographies of others and been deeply touched—responded to their voices with emotion, understanding, and growth.  Writing is powerful.  I am empowered by the writing of other authors, and I am in awe of the things I produce.  I have things to say that surprise me.  I have a plethora of ideas, thoughts, new truths (screw the repeated word.)  Words have given me insights into my own life.

I am interested in continuing this venture.

images-13I can tell a story.  So what? Is that enough?  I respond in the negative; everything has to have a purpose, a reason to exist—really? If I gain pleasure out of writing, that is good.  If I never share it with others—that is good, too. However it feels selfish to deny others the things I enjoyed. (Catholic guilt!)  I can tell the story out loud to friends, family, and acquaintances.  I can write my thoughts in my journal. Reading my written words to others for the purpose of gaining skills in the craft of writing is terrifying.  This is what I signed up for—I wrestle with why I did this to myself.

I am joyous when I write something that tells my story and acknowledges my experience. Why?  I don’t have an answer. . . .

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I change a piece of my writing, remove dialog and see how this changes the story. Oh, it helps to rein it in at two pages. Is this the only way to learn about the craft of writing: to do the assignment and worry about figuring out the arc or meaning later?

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I need to stop arcing!  Just write the story and let the reader find his or her own arc.  That is valid, however I don’t get anything out of it.  I want to be prompted to surprises, new insights; to me this is the joy and importance of writing.  I guess I just answered my previous question.

Do I write a story, make it interesting? Leave out the feelings, emotions, relationships, analyzing…?  Do I write like a scientist: present the facts in such a way that the reader can’t help but draw conclusions?

Is writing for the audience?  Can it be for me?  Why do I pressure myself by participating in a writing group?  When I tell a story verbally, it is just the facts.  The listener knows by my non-verbal cues, expressions, and tone of voice what the story means to me.  They enjoy the stories I tell out loud. They “get” the nuances, absurdities, and comedy.

I take my writing a step further on purpose.  I tell the reader how I feel, how I was changed, why this experience was important to me.  Am I just drilling in a point that is obvious?

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I have come close to quitting this class on a weekly basis.  This is too challenging, my writing isn’t at the level of the class, and it is too hard.  Then I read something or hear someone else’s story I think, Oh my, this is huge.  Stories need to be shared with others no matter how hard or challenging or scary.  I read a few sentences in a memoir recently and was crying—sobbing—at one point, at the description of the Father’s interactions with his daughter.  I have had a different experience than this daughter and I notice the contrast.  I feel the deprivation of being raised by my Father instead of by hers.  It is important to me to recognize this difference. It is my experience and it was different from the writer.  I needed to hear that there are differences in order to make connections to my own life story.

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Open Your Heart to Compassion

Poet Theresa Ortez re-joins us today with her wisdom in the wake of the October fires.

goodtherapy.org

Open Your Heart to Compassion

 

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Napa Valley Fire

Our valley filled with smoke

Hearts with love

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Tomorrow is promised to no one

Bringing joy, sometimes sorrow

At times you may cry

Like a beautiful cloud

Life passes in the blink of an eye

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Shelters filled: men, women, children

Animals running for their lives

No safe place in sight

Flames and smoke in sky

 

Saying prayers for all who died

For those who have lost all

My tears fall

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Open up your hearts and feel compassion

Love and prayers for all

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Part 3 It’s a Miracle

Mary Jane Stevens concludes Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror during the Atlas Firestorm.

…continued from March 27th—

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After hours waiting with a huge knot in my stomach, I heard from Bob.  Away from the fire, off the hill and heading towards town he was relieved to be a survivor, not a victim.  He said he was exhausted, coming down after a night fueled by adrenaline.  Never have I been happier or more relieved to hear his voice. I felt as if I’d been holding my breath for hours.  Finally I could breathe.

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I told him to drive over to Carolyn’s house where, assuming a positive outcome, she had waited up for him.  He could stay as long as he needed.  He headed west, dodging burning debris and skirting around roadblocks. As he drove he told me what he had just lived through.   I wished I could be there to hug him and tell him how glad I was that he was alive, unhurt.

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After talking to Bob, Casey was the first person I called, happy to tell him his dad was okay.  He was ecstatic to hear the news.  He was not so thrilled, to hear that it was almost a certainty that our house would not make it through the fire.  My next call was to Carolyn to let her know Bob was safe and on his way.  I left a message for Kelly.

When Kelly turned on her phone Monday morning, she was bombarded with voicemails and texts containing grisly details about the fire and concern for her family, including some from me.  Horrified and in tears, she called me immediately.  She hadn’t listened to the message I left with the good news about the man she calls “Her cute little Daddy.”  When I told her Bob had escaped, unscathed from the fire and was okay she cried tears of joy.  After a moment she said “Oh no, does this mean your house is going to burn again?  I can’t believe it.  I’m so sorry for you guys.”

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Later when I spoke to Casey I asked if he envisioned Bob’s body burned in the vineyard as I had.  Just as I thought, he told me that was exactly what he had imagined. As a firefighter Casey’s seen the horror of being trapped by fire.  Although he hasn’t spoken to me about how those things have affected him, I know he has hardened his heart so he can live with what he sees on the job.  When he thought his dad might die in the fire his heart was anything but hard.  I know neither of us has ever been afraid for a loved one as we were for Bob the night of the fire.  We both teared up, relieved that Bob had been saved as the fire raged on.

Once the L.A. Fires were contained a strike force was formed to help with the Napa fire.  Casey volunteered to be part of it but was not allowed to join. He was terribly disappointed.  Determined to help us, he was able to contact a Captain friend, part of the strike force, on his way to Napa.  He gave him our address and asked him to try to be assigned to fight the fire still burning there.  Ultimately, he and his contingency from L.A. worked for several days, never taking a break, defending our home and our neighbors’.

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climatechangenews.com

I heard from a neighbor that one day, fourteen fire engines, one for every still intact home, several bulldozers and helicopters were trying to control the stubborn blaze.  Boeing seven-forty-sevens were dumping water and retardant on the fire. Hot shots were digging fire lines as was a corps of bulldozers.  I heard that Battalion Chief Garrett said, “They were going to put the nail in the coffin of the fire in Soda Canyon that day.” I prayed they would.

We got little specific information applying to Soda Canyon. I tried to manage my expectations by telling myself our home must have burned, surviving the inferno seemed impossible, but not knowing was driving me crazy.  When I couldn’t stand it anymore began calling people who might have news.  I phoned a neighbor who was in Reno.  She picked up saying “Your home is still standing Mary Jane! My son didn’t evacuate and is staying at our house. He got word to me earlier today and our homes are okay.”

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You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that.  I burst into tears, delighted.  The following day I received a photo of our unscathed home sent by a firefighter who’d been camping nightly in our driveway putting out stray embers.  Seeing with my own eyes my home safe and sound was unmistakable proof.

***

We later heard that, initially, the command center wasn’t planning to send resources up Soda Canyon until Casey’s friend asked to be assigned to that specific location.  It seems they were stretched so thin they only wanted to send firefighters to areas they were sure could be saved and ours was not on that list. Under those circumstances, why they allowed those men to work the fire by our home remains a mystery.

For many days the Atlas fire and others spawned by that blaze wreaked havoc across Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties.  Thousands of homes have been destroyed, people died and many lives are shattered.

Not one of the homes in Foss Valley at the top of Soda Canyon Road, including ours, was lost, thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, hotshots from around the country, fire-retardant and water dropping  seven-forty-sevens and helicopters.  I will be forever grateful to everyone who had a part in saving my husband and my home. I owe them so much. I’m blessed for such a positive outcome when so many are still suffering from terrible losses.

Many people assumed our home burned, and when I tell them it’s still standing they are as incredulous as I am.  How did we ever get so lucky?

One explanation: it’s a miracle.

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Rameses B- Bandcamp

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Filed under Fire Season, Memoir, Students

Part 2: The Soda Canyon Store stood like a beacon at the bottom of the road.

 

Mary Jane Stevens continues Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror on the night the Atlas fire started.

…continued from March 14th—

Later, Bob would tell me his incredible tale of his experiences that night.

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mercurynews.com

Bob said he felt a little better that he knew they had been located, but they were still very much in danger.  The wind was loud, the sky dark and the smoke was suffocating. In the wee hours of the morning the wind buffeted his bare face, ears and hands when he got out of his truck.  He was anxious to get off the mountain.  When would help return?  Would help come in time?  Everything he saw proved his situation was grim. The black velvet sky was now clouded with smoke and sparkling with glowing embers, some very large, swirling in the howling wind. He prayed those embers would not land on a roof starting a fire that would create a chain reaction taking all the homes down. Ghostly clumps of smoldering scrub dotted the nightscape in the distant periphery, surrounding him like threatening wild animals ready to pounce and devour everything in their path.  An ominous orange glow at the horizon was the most terrifying sight of all.  Would the wind shift again and send the fire over the homes and directly toward Bob?

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tablascreek.typepad.com

Of the entire group of vehicles only three joined the convoy.  Bob wondered why there were only three.  A week later we found out at a party for fire survivors. Before he reached the evacuation area helicopters had evacuated all the people from the parked vehicles. They weren’t able to return to rescue the others because the high winds and smoke made it too dangerous to fly.  Only Bob and the occupants of the three other vehicles had been left behind.

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sodacanyon.org

Bob joined the end of the convoy.  He wanted to get off the mountain, out of harm’s way.  That involved driving through the edge of the fire.  Slowly, they worked their way down, swerving around the glowing detritus in the road  while trying to steer clear of burning branches at the shoulder.  Embers were flying through the air around the convoy.  He said it was a bone-chilling sight when at the steepest part of the road Bob looked out over the canyon and there was fire as far as he could see.  Below him, and on either side of the road, the inferno burned everything in its path.  It looked as if no structures remained standing.  He could see only blackened trees silhouetted against the orange of the hissing, spitting, undulating fire following the road.

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Everything was on fire or already burned.  Then he saw one structure still standing: the Soda Canyon Store, a beacon at the bottom of the road on the corner at Silverado Trail.

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          Miracle at Soda Canyon part 1

Mary Jane Stevens joins Building a Better Story with Miracle at Soda Canyon, A Tale About One of the Worst Fires In California History. Mary Jane, a Napa resident for over 30 years, lives part time in Truckee. A retired business owner, she has begun to write about her life, her two adult children, one grandchild and husband Bob. She feels blessed in her marriage, which recently has survived more than the usual troubles of modern life. Please enjoy Mary Jane’s harrowing tale of fire and miracles.

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cnbc.com

Late Sunday evening, October 8, my husband Bob, called me at our home in Truckee to say that there were helicopters with bright lights hovering low outside our house in Napa; over loud speakers they were saying, “Fire! Evacuate! Evacuate Immediately!” 

Bob asked what he should take and I suggested a few necessities, cash, the insurance policy file, our laptop computers and my good jewelry, all which were in easy to reach places. I said, “Get out of there fast and call me when you get down the hill.”  He wanted to take all the paperwork out of the office but I told him to leave it, his life was the most important thing. I told him we’d made it through a fire in 2011 when the house was gutted, and we could do it again.

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videoblocks.com

About twenty minutes later I saw Bob’s name on my cell phone screen. I was relieved—a little prematurely it turned out. He was calling to say he couldn’t get down the hill—the road was blocked.  He and about twenty-five people, including neighbors and some vineyard workers who’d been picking in the dead of night, were trapped by the fire.  They were at the top of Soda Canyon Road near Atlas Peak Road seven miles from Silverado Trail, close to where the fire may have started.  No way out!

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wvah.com

And no one knew they were stranded.

The helicopters had moved on to warn others.  The group decided to move to a clear area at Stagecoach Vineyards which happened to be near vineyard manager Esteban’s home where they still had cell service.  

 

I sent my kids a text then called them to let  them know what was going on.  Casey and Kelly deserved to know their dad was in serious danger. They would never have forgiven me if something happened to him, and I hadn’t warned them.

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Kelly, as it turned out, had her phone turned off for the night, so she did not get my messages until the following morning. 

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Casey, who is a Los Angeles City Firefighter, immediately hung up and called Bob to get the GPS coordinates from his cell phone. With those coordinates he called someone he works with at the department’s command center. Casey told his contact about the people stranded near a fast moving fire in Napa, gave him the coordinates and asked him to contact the Cal Fire Commander in Napa with the information to rescue his dad and the others. 

 Whenever Casey was not out on calls we talked on the phone during the night.  Both of us feared the worst, but neither said what we were really thinking.  Friends from Napa had told us the fire was huge, and the winds the strongest anyone had seen in recent memory.  Bob told us, in our last conversation, the fire was raging right toward him. It was excruciating not having more information.

 

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Atlas Fire    Napa Valley Register

Earlier my friend, Carolyn, called me from the deck of her home in west Napa as soon as she saw the fire across the valley.  She was supposed to join me, along with several of our friends, at my home in Truckee the following day and knew Bob was home alone. A childhood friend, she’s has known Bob all his life. She was watching the fire scream across the mountain at an unbelievable pace and worried about him.  She stayed on the phone with me, off and on, most of the night giving me much needed emotional support.  Many of my Napa friends texted me throughout the night with words of encouragement and prayers for Bob’s safety.

When we talked, I told Casey how quickly Carolyn could see fire spreading and it wasn’t looking good for Bob’s evacuation. Unknown-4

To be continued…

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THE WHOLE WORLD IS A TELEPHONE BOOTH

 

This week, poet, Dominic “Nick” Triglia, shares his unique experience of the October firestorm.

Nick says this about himself:

I was born a “blue baby” in 1950 at the old hospital on Spring St. in Calistoga.  The owners of the hospital always told me I was the last baby born there.  When I found out they were wrong, I changed it to: I was the last good lookin baby born in the hospital.

I wore the blue uniform of the Postal Service for 34 years. I love blue skies, the deep blue sea, blue movies, listening to the blues, and drinking red wine.

Nick is also a producer of poetry events in the Upper Napa Valley

 

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atlasobscura.com

The Whole World Is a Telephone Booth

15 items or less

express lane

in heavy traffic

woman shares

answers to questions

near the

National Enquirer rack

 

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“We packed the RV

then unpacked

got another advisory

my brother in the urn

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put back in the house”

Mom takes him back

to the RV

can’t decide

to take him or not

Dad said to leave him

“he’s only ashes anyway”

Mom said, “yeah

but that’s all I’ve got

of him, he’s goin.”

 

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khan.com

 

 

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Message Machine

She left his message

of not being home

“to leave a message”

on the phone

seven years

since his passing

his voice lets you know

that he and she

are not at home.

Evacuated

she calls their number

hears his voice

calls five times a day

said  “if he answers

I know our home

is safe from the fire”

Each time she listens

to his recorded voice

she kisses the receiver.

 

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greifhealingblog.com

 

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Smoke over the Napa Valley October 2017.       Marina Torres

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Charcoal

Nathaniel “Bob” Winters continues his impression of the October firestorm in the Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. ~A.M.

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Charcoal           By Nathaniel R. Winters  

10/25/17      My wife Colleen and I came back home from my Parkinson’s disease doctor appointment at the S.F. VA Hospital by going north to Santa Rosa, trying to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic. From Santa Rosa we drove over the ridge to the Napa Valley. Our GPS assured us the road was open after the fire. What we did not know there was a 6pm curfew to keep looters away and to save any local victims from dangers after dark. We arrived at 6:15 and begged the National Guardsmen to save us an extra two hour trip. They relented and we scooted over the pass, driving through neighborhoods of total destruction. What we saw was something out of a war zone, just charcoal and fireplaces. We had seen pictures in the paper and video on TV, but encountering these gates of hell in person was overwhelming. So many left homeless, and so much lost.

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We were the only car on the curvy mountain-pass road borerding the hit and miss decimation. One ridge was burned while the trees of another stood with leaves or needles of green; a house here, charcoal there.

 

As we swichbacked down to the little damaged upper Napa Valley, I gave another silent thank you to the firefighters.

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 SFGate: Carlos Avila Gonzalez (The Chronicle)

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Nathaniel Robert  Winters

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