Once again, all you kind people have demonstrated kindness and support that leaves me humbled and grateful.
Last night I held a second book signing for Native Waters at the St. Mary Parish Libraryís Baldwin Branch. The first signing was in the spring of 2005, when my memoir was first published. I was stunned and humbled then at the turnout, and when the library asked me to do this one, I agreed but was doubtful anyone would come. I mean, how many people could I possibly interest a second time for the same book?
I begged a couple of my friends to show up, just so thereíd be something less than an empty room. To sweeten the pot a little, I asked my friend Gary Drinkwater to come, too. Gary is illustrating my next book, entitled Chasing Thunderbirds, a collection of short stories dating back to my late teens. Gary brought the illustrations from the book, as well as many examples of his creative process that led up to the completion of each illustration.
Chasing Thunderbirds, I told the surprise audience of some 30 people, is unlike anything people will expect from me, and anyone who isnít interested is automatically forgiven. Iím the kid who grew up on science fiction when other kids were reading Where the Red Fern Grows. I cut my teeth on Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and later, my taste turned to the macabre, Stephen King in his non-slasher days, other well-crafted stories that did not rely on gore and bloodshed but were, in some way or another, dealing with things on the edge of perception, you know, the shadows that dart from here to there out of the corner of our eye, but when we look, are gone.
Garyís illustrations were a hit, as were his winning presentations of them. We did a little question and answer session. There were folks there from all over, and thatís a credit to the St. Mary Parish Libraryís Gail Garcia, who spread the news about this event and every other one the library conducts between the far corners of the earth. Thanks, Gail, for making me look good!
I also put out some of my dadís handcrafted items, and two bamboo fly rods, which got a lot of attention as well.
My two aunts, my motherís sisters, made the trek to see me and get my book. I was blown over by their kindness and support, and can only hope I can be as gracious as they were to some oddball nephew of my own some day. Considering Iím an only child and my spiritual, adopted brother has only girls, itís doubtful.
I remember the first book I read that I considered a "grown-up book" i.e., not Dick and Jane, was Jules Verneís 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Then I read, yes, Black Beauty. I started writing on Big Chief notepads (what else would you use at an Indian school?) clearly plagiarized re-tellings of Star Trek episodes, and eventually my own voice emerged and the stories became my own. By the time I was in high school I had written my first novel, a fantasy inspired by my first winterís devouring and becoming completely enamored by Tolkienís The Lord of the Rings long before Tolkien was yuppie-cool. It was too short, too silly and juvenile, but my junior high English teacher supported me and gave me courage to continue. My senior high school English teacher continued that encouragement, and I kept on plodding away at it.
If youíd have asked me when I was 20 if Iíd ever write a memoir, and a fishing memoir, of all the goldurned things, Iíd have laughed myself silly. But there it is. You never know what the future will bring, do you?
Every winter from that first so long ago, I walked with Tolkien through all three volumes of LOTR. In October weíd leave the Shire for Rivendell; by December weíd be on the journey to Mordor and Boromirís betrayal would have been revealed; January found Gollum alongside a rocky crevasse, and a trio ate herbs and rabbit stew; by March we were staring at the distant shape of the tower of Barad-dur and, by April the Ring was destroyed and the Fellowship on its way home, carrying scars that would never, really heal.
And I think what I took away from Tolkien more than just a fantastic and epic tale is epitomized by a quote from the wizard Gandalf:
"I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil."
And such is life, I guess. Life, in all itís grief and joy, is what we make of it. Holding it all back, I learned a long time ago, just makes for misery. Perhaps, like author Jim Harrison, thereíll come a day standing on a river with a fly rod in my hand Iíll have the courage to admit the entirety of a life, but for now, the kindness and generosity of kind people around me keeps me quiet and content.