Fellow member of Women Writing the West, Amy Hale Auker writes and thrives on a ranch in Arizona where she is having a love affair with rock, mountains, piñon and juniper forests, the weather, and her songwriter husband who is also foreman of the ranch. She is the author of Rightful Place, Winter of Beauty, The Story is the Thing, and the forthcoming Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs.
Amy has very kindly agreed to give away one copy of Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs to a reader leaving a comment. the winner is Judith Grout. Thanks to everyone who left a comment.
My first love is the personal narrative essay, the lyric essay. I have cheated on that first love with poetry, fiction, and even a more academic approach to essay writing. I have cheated on my first love with my day job, earning my living horseback on a large commercial cattle operation. But I always return to writing about my observations of the world around me. In the foreword to his collected essays, E. B. White begins, “The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.” I like to couple that quote with what Mark Twain said, “We read to know that we are not alone.” I believe we write for the same reason. The writer who is constantly observing the world, especially, as in my case, the natural world, and making connections between the inner life and what is growing, living, moving, swaying, flying, swimming, and dying all around, writes these things down to know that she is not alone in this wild wonder of life.
My day job, cowboying on a large forest service grazing allotment in the Santa Maria Mountains of Arizona, feeds my writing in ways that are often inexplicable. Like all writers, I tend to moan about not having enough time to write, and yet, I came to this ranch with an unpublished manuscript going through the peer review process at a university press in 2008. That manuscript of creative non-fiction, Rightful Place, was published in 2011, followed by a novel in 2013 and another in 2014. Now, as Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs nears its publication date, I wonder how in the world I get any book written.
But the answer is simple. I write in the creases of my days.
I write morning pages every single morning, even if it is by headlamp, squatted beside a wood fire while I wait for the coffee to boil. My full journals often smell of oak and cedar and walnut smoke when I stash them in the trunk, shut the lid, and turn to take the next blank spiral from the shelf. Harvesting from those pages as I sit in the relative quiet and peace and clean of my office is one of my greatest joys.
Today, as I write this, I have on my boots and spurs. We rarely wear them in the house, but I just unsaddled for a temporary break. As soon as the day has cooled a bit, we will take some cows with tiny new babies down the road to a pasture where they will spend the rest of their spring. So, as I often do, I am writing in the crease of the day, the moments I have to sit and tap out a few words. Tomorrow we leave for the low country for the last time before summer and I will tuck my journal in the panniers on the pack horse, tuck my phone in my pocket on “battery saver” and “airplane mode” for it is useless as anything but a camera down there where the rock walls of the canyons keep any significant cell phone signal from interrupting our days and nights. And I will come home rich with ideas and connections and words.
We will sleep at Willow Springs, the cow camp mentioned in the title of the new book. Ordinary Skin is, in many ways, a follow-up to Rightful Place, 2012 WILLA Award Winner. I wrote Rightful Place from a different state, in a different marriage, in a different season of my life. I was questioning my roles and my place and the boundaries of culture. Ordinary Skin goes further into some of those questions and leaves some of them behind. It explores a new terrain, a fascinating landscape, and my own re-defining of my role as woman. The opening essay, Glow Time, says it best:
I can think of no greater kick than being transplanted in the middle of life, no greater or more welcome challenge than being bent and softened by a steep learning curve in my fifth decade. Others who have made similar shifts have stories to tell, and mine includes a seven-week camping trip in 2006 as a trial separation from my first husband. I’d never been camping or hiking outside of Texas, never explored public lands. During the transition, I also worked for a pack station in the eastern Sierras for two seasons, served cocktails on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and then circled back around to living once more on a commercial cattle operation. The same, and yet, oh, so different. My transplanting, from Texas to California to Arizona, brought me to these mountains at just the right time.
To learn to love the Texas Panhandle, I had to embrace the wind. I had to make myself go outside and crunch the grass beneath my feet. I was desperate enough to seek out even the beauty of the broom weed. Here in the Santa Maria Mountains, all I have to do is lift my eyes to the rocks, especially during the evening glow time—that ten minutes of magic when the granite boulders turn pinkorange. All I have to do is stumble into the damp crease of a canyon, alive with dripping water and covered over with a carpet of moss. All I have to do is think of my encounters with the bat, the fox, and the Gila monster’s half smile. The mariposa lily and the sego lily. The wasp galls on the oak leaves. The bees resting deep inside the cactus blossoms. The mud and the work.
The release date for Ordinary Skin is JUne 15th. Now in pre-order, you can purchase it at