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9781250247636

(Click on the photo to order from the retailer of your choice.)

Don't just take my word for how great this book is, check out what Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and BookPage have to say.

And if those sources didn't tell you enough, how about this review from the New York Times (!), this story from The Lily, or this tweet from Secretary Clinton: 

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Given that we are currently #SaferAtHome, I've been making the podcast rounds. Give a listen to Zestful Aging, where we talked about just doing it,  Mama Bear Dares, where we talked about the importance of local government, and/or The Upstate Regular, where I talk about our county's COVID-19 Challenges. 

NEW: I did an online reading for the Princeton Public Library and talked a little bit about what local government is facing right now. If you've wondered what I look like at a reading, give it a gander.

NEW NEW: The Hillary Clinton story continues...


Izzy Bird, labor

Isabella is still in the Estes Park cabin with the two young men. She’ll be here for a bit so just settle in.

The three are figuring out how to make the workflow easier, especially for Mr Buchan, who is, apparently, delicate.

“You will wonder* how three people here in the wilderness can have much to do. There are the horses which we keep in the corral to feed on sheaf oats and take water twice a day, the fowls and dogs to feed, the cow to milk, the bread to make, and to keep a general knowledge of the whereabouts of the stock in the event of a severe snow storm coming on.”

There is also wood to cut and stack as well as niceties like cooking, washing and mending. The men hunt and fish. Plus, there are two** sick cows to mind.

One died the day before she wrote this letter. “It suffered terribly, and looked at us with the pathetically pleading eyes of a creature ‘made subject to vanity.’” Disposing of the body was the hardest part. The wagon horses are off in Denver and the other horses refuse to pull it. Eventually, the manage to get it outside the shed and call it good enough.

“… a pack of wolves came down, and before daylight nothing was left but the bones. They were so close to the cabin that their noise was most disturbing, and on looking out several times I could see them all in a heap wrangling and tumbling over each other.”***

* Honestly? I don’t wonder that because life on the frontier in the 1870s sounds labor intensive under the best of circumstances.

** soon to be one

*** This reminds me of the old “Dogs in Elk” internet list serve thing.


Izzy Bird, sourdough

After her time in the snow storm with Jim, Isabella returned to the cabin in Estes Park that she is sharing with two young men while she waits for the banks to honor her circular checks.

Her life right now is not glamourous.

“I cleaned the living room and the kitchen, swept a path through the rubbish in the passage room, washed up, made and baked a batch of rolls and four pounds of sweet biscuits, cleaned some tins and pans, washed some clothes, and gave things generally a ‘redding up.’* There is a little thick buttermilk, fully six weeks old, at the bottom of a churn, which I use for raising the rolls; but Mr Kavan, who makes ‘lovely’ bread, puts some flour and water to turn sour near the stove, and this succeeds admirably.”

Which just goes to show you that our recent turn to starting our own sourdough bread during the pandemic is nothing terribly new. When you are stuck, make sourdough.

Isabella is concerned about her clothing, however. She has been in Colorado for three months, during which the season has changed. She has only what she could carry in a small carpet-bag and after “legitimate wear, the depredations of calves, and the necessity of tearing some of them up for dish-clothes,” she is down to a single change of clothes. She needs new shoes but can’t buy any in Denver because of the money situation. She does have a formal black dress and coat, which she has taken to wearing during dinner so that she can spend the evening mending her daily outfit.

* This phrase should be familiar to all Pittsburghers everywhere.


Izzy Bird, storms

Isabella confesses that Jim’s story ended where it did because foul weather closed in. He guided her to a sheltered place and, after some more words (which I’ll detail below), rode off into the storm.

Jim confessed that he believed in God and that Isabella “stirred the better nature in me too late. I can’t change. If ever a man were a slave, I am.”*

Jim then made Isabella promise that some of the things he said must never be revealed, “I promised, for I had no choice; but they come between me and the sunshine sometimes, and I wake at night to think of them. I wish I had been spared the regret and excitement of that afternoon.

“My soul dissolved in pity for his dark, lost, self-ruined life, as he left me and turned away in the blinding storm to the Snowy Range, where he said he was going to camp for a fortnight; a man of great abilities, real genius, singular gifts, and with all the chances in life which other men have had.”

With that, Isabella waited until the worst of the snow had passed, then started her way back to the cabin in Estes Park.

* you in danger, girl.


Izzy Bird, Jim's story part 2

Isabella is still listening to Jim’s story.

He spent years as an Indian Scout, each more bloody than the last. “As an armed escort of emigrant parties he was evidently implicated in all the blood and broil of a lawless region and period, and went from bad to worse, varying his life by drunken sprees, which Brough nothing but violence and loss.”

The narrative jumps then, according to Isabella.* Jim picks up when he is on a homestead in Missouri and would soon move to Colorado. Once in Colorado, he made a squatter’s claim and has 40 head of cattle in addition to his trapping business. “…. but envy and vindictiveness are raging within him. He gets money, goes to Denver, and spends large sums in the maddest dissipation, making himself a terror … and when the money is done returns to his fountain den, full of hatred and self-scorn, till next time.”

And, there, his tale is done.

* and she’s not so naive as to not know that the lapse likely involves drinking and violence and, possibly, the law.


what I want right now

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Scott and I have been watching Britain's Best Home Cooks on Hulu because it is kind and gentle and lovely. Last night, while watching, I realized where I want to go more than anything once we can move about the globe again. It's going to take me a minute to explain.
In 2014, I presented a paper in Cambridge, the one in the U.K., not the one in Mass. It was either before or after the WorldCon in London (intentionally) so that those of us in the field could kill a bird or two with one stone. I had a couple of days to kick around and be a tourist (which is my most favorite thing) so I booked an relatively inexpensive hotel outside of London to use as my base of operations. Now it is the Greenwich Doubletree; it was something else then but I can no longer remember what it was called. Definitely the same place.
By the time I landed at Heathrow, got luggage, cleared customs, figured out which trains I needed, etc., my brain was mostly pudding (both kinds) by the time I made it to the hotel. I wanted to stay conscious long enough for the sun to set -- it was mid-afternoon -- and was starving.
On the way to the hotel, which took much longer than you'd think because I didn't spring for a SIM card or international cell plan and got incredibly lost, I noticed Chutney Tandoori. Once I scattered all of my crap around the hotel room, I wandered back out and went there to get take-out.*
The place was empty because it wasn't really a meal time but the owner was there. I looked at the menu and had reached the point of tired where written words had stopped functioning as a means of communication. I must have stared at it for long enough that the owner wondered about my mental state, he asked if I needed help.
Yes, I said. I just got off of a plane .... and I explained the whole thing, including getting lost and being very hungry.
He smiled at me, then ran through a bunch of binary choices: spicy or no? meat or no? soupy or no? Naan or more naan?
He disappeared back into the kitchen and returned maybe ten minutes later. He handed me a paper bag full of cartons. Ten pounds, he said, which I gladly handed to him and left.
Reader: that is now on my top ten list of best meals I've ever had. I have zero idea what it was called but it was full of just-spicy-enough sauce and tofu and veggies. I had the most naan: onion, plain, unidentified - all delicious. It was a moment of feeling stupendously cared for by a stranger.
That is what I want when our current strife ends (or, more likely, just morphs into a different strife). It's a memory that'll keep me going.
 
* an aside: in the U.K., the servers either really understand take-away and have elaborate schemes for packaging your food or have zero idea what you are talking about and why you would want it.
 
 

Izzy Bird, three hour tour

Isabella is riding to the Black Canyon with Jim. He is sharing his life’s story.*
To begin:
Jim’s father was a British officer stationed in Montreal and came from a good Irish family. His mother was “loving, but weak.” Jim describes himself as an “ungovernable boy” and “imperfectly educated.” At 17, he saw a young girl at church. She was an “angelic beauty” and he fell for her “with all the intensity of an uncontrolled nature. He saw her three times but scarcely spoke to her.” His mother laughed off his love. The girl died.** Jim ran away from home, entered the Hudson Bay Company, and stayed in it for several years, leaving when he found “that lawless life to strict for him.”
At the age of 27, he joined the U. S. Government as an Indian scout on the Plains, “distinguishing himself by some of the most daring deeds on record, and some of the bloodiest crimes….Years must have passed in that service, till he became a character known through all the West, and much headed for his readiness to take offense, and his equal readiness with his revolver.”
 
* I’ll likely break it into a few parts because “the story took three hours to tell, and was crowded with terrific illustrations of a desperado’s career, told with a rush of wild eloquence that was truly thrilling.”
** no idea how

Izzy Bird, creepy guy alert

Isabella is still in Estes Park. Tomorrow, we’ll learn more about Jim Nugent, but first I need to set the scene.
Isabella is alone at the cabin while the two men are out hunting. Jim comes in “looking very black, and asked me to ride with him to see the beaver dams on the Black Canyon.* No more whistling or singing, or talking to his beautiful mare, or sparkling repartee.”
The sky is as dark as Jim’s mood. A snowstorm is gathering.
Jim is silent and strikes his horse often. He keeps taking off at a “furious gallop,” then turns back to ride next to Isabella. He says, “You’re the first man or woman who’s treated me like a human being for many a year.”**
Isabella points out that simply isn’t true because the Dewy family have always taken an interest in him and that he has, in the past, spoken well of them.
His response: “If you want to know how nearly a man can become a devil, I’ll tell you now.”
“There was no choice, and we rode up the canyon, and I listened to one of the darkest talks I ruin I have ever heard or read.”
 
* Is this like coming back to my place to see my stamp collection?
** not gonna lie. When I first read this, I became genuinely concerned for Isabella’s welfare.