Writing

Here’s What’s Going On

Howdy!

Three Years With the Cs has been pretty inactive for most of this year. I wanted to tell followers what’s been going on, and what I would like to have happen up ahead.

Last year was an in incredibly productive flurry of activity. I had been planning on putting together a Backcountry memoir for years. I would write some stories here and there, but it was mostly talk and precious little work.

In April of 2014, right at the beginning of the new Backcountry season, I had a great idea. I had my Backcountry journal. I would transcribe entries from the journal to post on this blog on the same date it was actually written in 1987. Then I could fill in between journal entries with other stories as they were brought up by the journal entries. This idea took off. I had deadlines to meet if I wanted a piece included around the date that it actually had occurred. I have to admit that feedback from readers also encouraged me to keep writing. This kept me quite productive through September.

Then the season ended.

I didn’t have these journal-entry deadlines any more. I had gathered a lot stories from a Backcountry season. There are around 50,000 words here. This sounds great, and it is, but right now they are 50,000 words arranged in a spattering of related short, short stories. The next step is to arrange them together into one coherent narrative. To use a trail crew analogy…I’ve pissanted a lot of rocks down here to the work site. Now I have to figure out how to lay them together. I have to admit to some delays as I try to figure out the best way to arrange these pieces, and exactly how to fit them together.

Then there is the technical issue with the blog itself.

When I set the blog up, it looked great, and I had positive feedback on the appearance. However, it has one potentially fatal flaw.

I wanted people to be able to start reading from the beginning of the season and follow through to the end. As you can tell, the current structure does not allow that. I need to figure out a way for people to start at the beginning, not the end, and I need to find a way for it to stay that way. Right now, Three Years With the Cs lacks coherence.

So that’s where we’ve been. Here’s where I need to go:

  • Figure out the narrative structure
  • Make the blog more navigable

In the meantime, as I work those out, I think I can keep posting other stories from my three years with the Cs. I would also like to post reviews for books that I think Backcountry-followers might enjoy.

Until next time…hike fast!

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The Feral Animal

Annie Dillard, author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, wrote an accurate description of what it is like for an author to get back to a writing that has been paused.

A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild stage overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!

Annie Dillard
The Writing Life

Yeah! That’s exactly what it’s like!

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I’m Back

Yeah…it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I had some personal issues come up that interfered with writing. Once those cleared up, I had a hard time sitting myself down to write. I finally figured out why. We are at the end of the season! All I have left to cover in the chronology here is the last weekend. I hated to see the season come to an end…and I’m not comfortable now about writing about the end of that marvelous summer.

Then I realized…it’s not quite the end. After I write about this last weekend, I have to go back and catch up on that time in April at the beginning of the season that I had missed when I started this project. And then…I have to go back and flesh all of this out into a book.

The work is not even nearly done!

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Piecing the Summer Together

As I’ve been writing about my summer on a Yosemite trail crew, people have been commenting “Boy! You have a good memory!” Well, memory is only a part of it. Obviously, I’m relying on my journal from that summer. However, one thing I’ve noticed is what a lousy journal I actually kept. It turns out to be a bare bones sketch of how Summer, 1987 played out. It has been most useful in pointing out dates on which significant events occurred. This allows me to at least go back and fill in the missing pieces that did not get recorded.

For instance, my journal from June, 1987 records:

• June 1: Jen’s story (“I thought you guys ditched me, so I hitched a ride.”)
• June 7: Botched burgers on K.P.
• June 8: Xem’s letters
• June 19: Mention of the climbing school we will be going to tomorrow
• June 27: The Search-and-Rescue

That’s not really very much coverage for the month, is it? How have I been filling in these gaps?

One of the first things I did when I started this project was a Google search for 1987 calendars. I printed out a set of monthly calendars covering April through September and filled in all of the entries from my journal. Then I could tell that Jen’s story happened on Monday, June 1, 1987. The botched burgers happened on Sunday, June 7. That makes sense. Patti, the camp cook, would have been grilling the burgers on a weekday. The Corpsmember K.P. was responsible for the entire meal on weekends. Xem’s letters came in the mail on Monday, June 8. What happened in the twelve days between Xem’s letters and the climbing school?

Fortunately, in the entry for June 19 I mentioned what had happened over the previous eleven days: “another fire, a camp move, and an overnighter on Sentinel Dome”, and then the climbing school coming the next day, June 20. However, they could not have happened in that order. We were still in Wawona when we did the overnighter. I recalled that one of the reasons we went up to Sentinel Dome was to see the full moon rise over Half Dome. The calendar says that there was a full moon on Thursday, June 11. We could not have been up there on Thursday night because we would have had to work on Friday, but after the overnighter we went to Glacier Point to watch the dawn hang glider launch into Yosemite Valley. Therefore, the overnighter must have been on Friday, June 12. This tells me that the second fire we went on had to have been between June 8-11…after Xem’s letters and before the overnighter on Sentinel Dome. The camp move had to have happened the week of June 14, after the Sentinel Dome overnighter, and before the climbing school that we did out of Tuolumne Meadows on June 20. From this, I can write down memories of the fires, the camp move, the overnighter, etc.

I have to admit to being disappointed at how much I left out of my journal even when I did mention events. I mentioned the climbing school. I did not mention that the Yosemite 1 crew drove down to join us for that weekend, and in addition to the climbing school on Saturday, we went to Bodie on Sunday. How could I not mention that?! D’OH!

I am also learning that the journal can be more trustworthy than my memory. In Jen’s story, I could have sworn that it was Wayne who drove the van, dropped the crew off at Comfort House, and went back to wait with Moose. My journal says it was Glen. I have to trust a detail like that which I recorded at the time over a twenty-seven-year-old memory.

This is how I am piecing together the entire summer. I’ll eventually do the same thing with my entire CCC career. I’m glad to have y’all along for the ride!

I’d like to point out that I’m certainly not the only Corpsmember who could do this. Any Corpsmember who kept a journal…even an incomplete one like mine…could do this as well. Come to think of it, you probably don’t even need a journal. Just sit down and start writing your stories as they come to you. This could be a great reason for a bunch of former Corpies to get together and swap war stories! I keep looking at amazon.com for somebody to publish a memoir of his/her time in the CCC, but I haven’t seen one yet. Well…somebody has to put one out there! Our stories…all of them…are just too awesome to let their memory fade away with time.

Start writing, Corpies!

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