To my father, I was always “Rock.”
When I was in first grade, a friend who didn’t know my name by sight called me “Rock Sand.”
There’s something about the rock that keeps repeating in my life. I love that word for so many reasons, and I came to love it in a new way last week when I was invited for an author visit on the Standing Rock Reservation in southern North Dakota.
One of my “pebbles,” my youngest daughter, agreed to play hooky to accompany me on the journey — to help with my presentation, take some photos along the way, and glimpse a bit of the writer’s life.
The night before, we did a “trial run” to find our way to Old Highway 1806 from Mandan, N.D., which would take us all the way to Ft. Yates — the place where Sitting Bull perished. On the way, we were gifted by an astounding sky painting:
Beth was impressed with the school, which was on a “campus” that included extra touches indicating we’d arrived in “Indian Country,” as we call it on my old stomping grounds of Fort Peck.
The entrance hall had a teepee dimension, and was filled with images of warriors of the past, including Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull).
When we entered the gym where the first presentations took place, a television camera greeted us. Soon I was asked to do an interview, along with a few of the kiddos.
It’s always a privilege as an author to go out into the world and share the stories behind the stories with those for whom you have labored. And I can’t imagine any better audience, or any better questions, than what you get from a room full of curious children.
One of my favorite questions: “How do you work when it gets really noisy?” Did this child have some kind of glimpse into my life? Some questions tend to repeat at every visit. “How many books have you written? Where do you get your ideas? Why did you want to become an author?” But this was new and, I think, very astute for someone so young. It hits on one of the key aspects of being an artist of any kind: appropriate mental and physical space. Without this, we cannot create. It took me years, though, to discover how important this was.
Another favorite: “Do you have like any pets who like to watch you write?” I thought it was so cute the way he framed his question, as if animals might be interested in my stories. I was happy to share about our dog, Snickers, and our cats, Spice and Skittles. They are often curled around or near me when I’m writing at home.
During a break, some students asked if they could share some of the stories they’d created prior to my visit. I was very impressed, both by the words and illustrations. I love this part of these visits — seeing the spark of imagination and the gleam in young eyes that tell of dreams and hopes.
When I was busy signing the books that had been given away in a drawing, some of the kiddos asked Beth if she’d read their stories.
It’s a big deal, isn’t it, to have our stories read? It’s not easy taking that risk and yet it’s crucial for one who creates to share his or her creation.
The clouds led the way back to Bismarck.
We drove right past the cemetery where my father is buried. I couldn’t not stop and pause to honor the man who called me “Rock,” who taught me the blessing of the written word, and who would have been whistling with the birds and the breeze on a spring day.
I stooped down and closed my eyes, let the wind brush my face, for a little longer than I’d planned. “Thanks,” I said, for all that he gave me — gifts I have only recently begun to appreciate.
And then, just after pulling into my mother’s place in Bismarck, we turned on the evening news and caught the segment about the visit. What a neat way to cap off our adventure!
On the way back to Fargo the next evening, I was lured by the interstate sideline show and had to pull over. The ducks scooted away but I captured a little of the golden and blue.
It’s always such a treat to get out of Dodge and discover corners of our great state of North Dakota I wouldn’t have known otherwise; not to mention absorb the vibrant sky and reawakened land; and all this following a wonderful day with the precious children of Standing Rock.
The rock in me stands steady, grateful, even a little gleeful.
Q4U: What adventures has April brought your way?