Sense of place

Hey, kids.

It’s been a rough week for folks in the path of Sandy. I did a post about that at Women and Words. At the bottom of that post are links to organizations involved in relief efforts. If you’re so inclined, help as you can. Thanks.

Like millions of Americans, I watched storm coverage and it broke my heart to see so many houses lost, and to see the friends and families of those who did not survive. I’ve seen aerial photos that testify to what Sandy did to topography and landscape, and to the memories of people who derived part of their identities from familiarity with their surroundings.

I recall one woman in particular, standing near the ruins of what had been her house on Staten Island. It was a just piles of lumber and what looked like stalk after stalk of salt marsh seagrass, layered in geometric patterns among the detritus of a neighborhood. It looked like a vast field of wheat-colored seagrass interrupted with random pieces of furniture, wood, and other items that had once been the signature of a household, and therein, the indicator of an identity.

This woman on Staten Island told the newswoman that she just wanted to go home, and she gestured at the littered field that had been her house, and said, “but I can’t. I don’t know where to go or what to do.” And then she sobbed, and I cried with her. The newswoman gave her a hug, no longer a newswoman but rather a sympathetic shoulder in the midst of overwhelming loss.

I think a lot about “place” and how we pull from it our sense of selves. I’m a Westerner by birth and soul. I was born in New Mexico, grew up in a ranching town in southwestern Colorado, and returned to New Mexico where I spent about fifteen years of my adult life before wandering farther east, only to be pulled back to the West. I still wander, but my heart and sense of self will always be rooted in Western landscapes, particularly the Rocky Mountain West and the high deserts of New Mexico.

Chaco wall

Photo by Andi Marquette

I think a lot about “place” when I write fiction, as well. For me, it’s different than “setting,” though setting provides threads in the tapestries of “place.” Where a character is from and where he/she has lived since tell me quite a bit about that character’s background, culture, and approach to the business of living. How a character deals with community, and what are important politically and socially are as much a function of place as they are of family. The longer a family has been in a place, over extended generations, is also an ingredient in the formation of culture and soul, and reflects in a character.

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Irene relief

Hi, all–

As many of you have no doubt realized, Hurricane Irene did a lot of damage inland in New England, as well as along the coasts of states like North Carolina and Virginia. Many major roads have been rendered impassable and there are people still stranded because of that. Some people have lost everything in the flooding, and others lost loved ones.

I know this has been a hard and heinous year in terms of natural disasters, but if you could, please consider helping again.

Huffington Post has a good list of organizations that are lending relief.

The Salvation Army has made it easy if you don’t want to go online. Text “STORM” to 80888 to make a one-time $10 donation. Or, if you want to go online, here’s the link.

The Red Cross has also made it easy: You can call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Or, if you want to go online, here.

AmeriCares specializes in getting medicines and medical supplies to hard-hit areas. You can donate here.

Operation Blessing is accepting donations to provide relief supplies to communities affected by Hurricane Irene.

Network for Good has lists of organizations that are helping with relief efforts.

If you’re in those hard-hit areas and you’re able to volunteer for relief efforts, thank you. If you’re not, but you can donate some money to organizations that are helping, thank you, as well.

And please do share this list.


Weather or not: Writing Prompt!

Hi, kids!

Well, it was a crazy weekend for some of you. And the effects of Hurricane Irene may still be a problem (i.e. flooding and power outages). Regardless, glad you made it and hope you’re unscathed or at least able to fix the problem easily.

Along those lines, thought I’d give you some writing prompts/tips. I thought about this because I was worried about all the people I care about who were in the path of Irene, and I got to thinking about how climate and weather can determine what we do and where we go. That got me thinking about the 1948 Humphrey Bogart film, Key Largo, in which Bogart plays a guy who goes down to Key Largo to visit a friend of his. Turns out the friend was a hotel owner, but when Bogie gets there, a gangster has taken control of the hotel. Well, you just know these two are slated for a showdown and the catalyst turns out to be a hurricane.

Or, more recently (though not much, if you’re a youngster), think about how a thunderstorm played a role in a pivotal scene in the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption. Here’s the scene, when character Andy (played by Tim Robbins) makes his escape. You’ll see the role the weather starts to plays at around 1.00 (and not just creepy, tense atmosphere).


And that, in turn, got me thinking about writing prompts.This one, I’ve found, is particularly good if you’re having some trouble coming up with ideas or you just want to work on your powers of description.

Want more? Read on…

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Weather Goest Thou…


Okay, as much as I enjoy tickling my apocalyptic bone, this is not one of those occasions. The Eastern seaboard is in the path of a major hurricane. The size of Hurricane Irene is unreal — I’ve heard that her wind bands alone encompass 300 miles and 29 MILLION people are under a hurricane WARNING. This is a big-ass storm, and she’s working her way up the East Coast. If you are in those areas, please take the warnings seriously.

source: Baltimore Sun

She’s also an extremely unusual storm in that she will maintain her power all the way up into New England, possibly as a Category 1 or 2. That’s unusual because normally, the Atlantic isn’t warm enough that far north to fuel a storm like this. But sea temps have been rising over the past few years, and last year’s were pretty high (relatively speaking) and this year’s are, as well. Third highest on record. Guess what? Warm water is hurricane food. And hurricanes also spawn tornadoes, so please pay attention to the warnings. Flood, wind, tornadoes. This ain’t kiddin’ around time, friends.

And because I am a weather junkie of a sort, I’m fascinated by things like tornadoes and hurricanes. Here’s a great link that can teach you about hurricanes, how they form, and how they manage to move around and do what they do. Sometimes, understanding something on the science level of it makes you understand how very powerful these storms are and the damage they can do.

The NOAA provides a good “basics” list here.

For info about hurricane preparedness and what you should consider having in a hurricane kit or a bug-out bag, here’s the NOAA again.

Here’s a disaster supply kit/list.

Here’s with great info, too.

And it’s a good idea to have a bug-out bag at the ready. Keep it in your closet and check it every few weeks to make sure everything’s a-okay. Here’s a good list of what to include in it and why you should have one.

Keep in mind that key to all of this is planning ahead of time. Figure out the best evacuation route for you and your family (if applicable), keep your gas tank full, and your bug-out bag at the ready. Think about what you personally need in your bug-out bag, and the climate in which you are (e.g. you may want to pack a poncho). So it’s always a good idea to be prepared, even if you don’t end up using your gear.

With regard to Hurricane Irene, the Weather Channel has great updates on that storm, preparedness, and other helpful information. The Weather Channel is a great website to check, anyway, especially when there’s a weather emergency because they make sure people get good information.

And, to bring this back to a book, check out fab writer Eric Larson’s Isaac’s Storm, about the 1900 Galveston hurricane that changed the course of Texas coastal history. Isaac Cline was the weatherman at Galveston.

Okay, all. If you’re in Irene’s path or stand to be affected in some way by her, please take precautions.

Happy Friday, and stay safe.

Shake it UP!

Holy temblors, Batman!

For those of you in the eastern part of the country, you experienced something today, didn’t you? A 5.8 quake hit near Mineral, VA today (about 40 miles NW of Richmond). Its effects were felt as far north as Portland, Maine. South of Mineral, people in South Carolina felt it, while Tennesseans felt it to the west. Some structures in Washington, DC sustained damaage; reports of flooding in the Pentagon basement have hit some news outlets, and apparently the National Cathedral was also damaged.

source: Fox28, Columbus

Wowzers. It was the largest tremor in recent history. Perhaps Virginia was just succumbing to peer pressure. A rare 5.3 rocked SE Colorado the day before, about 9 miles from the city of Trinidad, which is just north of the New Mexico border. I know that area, as I grew up in Colorado and then moved to New Mexico. Whoa!

source: Examiner

And, because I’m a writer and reader, here’s a list of literary treatments of earthquakes, the oldest published in 1807. That book is

“The Earthquake in Chile” by Heinrich von Kleist. Originally published in 1807, Kleist’s novella takes place during the 1647 Santiago earthquake and ends tragically, with a young couple killed after having been blamed, in a sermon, for the disaster. But Kleist has a bigger purpose, which is to highlight the idea that meaning is a matter of interpretation, that what we know is what we see.

I hope everyone is okay, and now, East-coasters, get ready for the next weather event. Hurricane Irene is right around the corner.


So here you go. Hurricane preparedness (scroll down on that page) and, just in case, earthquake safety tips. I am, after all, an apocalyptic-type. 8)

All rightie. Happy reading, and happy safety!