Driftwood

He, with his hands tied
Rode wind and set sail in afternoon
Taking pockets of sliced mountain
Running streams of chilled water

He, stuffed on wilderness
Carved animals faces
Knifing features into memory
Piecing together childhoods

He, once stood on street corners
Before resting his bones on limestone
Begging for view, splayed before him like a wife
On speckled sheets, threading silken legs of scenery

He, drawn to edges, laid his ashes
To be carried into horizon and sunset
To saturate earth like the breath of
Green pastures and liquid hills

He, drifted upon land
Unhinged
Untethered
Until he whittled himself into wind

 

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S. S. Hicks

 

 

Flowers in the Cacti

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In a nest of thorns the hummingbird feeds,
Prying open the clenched fists,
Protecting warm fleshy centers
Where sweet nectar rests
In folds of velvet pedals,
Simmering in a pollen soaked bath.

But the hummingbird stays hungry
With nothing to prove, nothing to lose,
Imprisoned however
In a frantic sputter of movement.

If it stops, will it know
Spring is built upon skeletal winters,
Dormant desires, littered masterpieces?
A mulched decay of seasons,
Fallen statues that once wore halos of blooms,
Crowned by Mother Nature
When she set her army to work
In the Sonoran desert;
The soldiers that kept watch, daring dreamers
To extinguish in the bright exposure.
Can you flourish in all that heat? she’d demand,
Or will you slither into the parched earth
And declare silent wars at night,
Rattling and howling in protest?

Does the hummingbird feel the residue
When it suckles the sunbaked blooms?
Feel the thorns as it wedges its
Fluttering body, its receptors heightened?
Do thorns make it sweeter?

Or perhaps thorns are
Expected.
A nuance.
A nuisance.
Bittersweet.
Irrelevant.

One thing is certain,
The hummingbird
Stays hungry.
That alone
Gives it
Flight.

-S. S. Hicks

 

 

Sunset Witness

 

 

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S. S. Hicks (Sunset off Yarnell Mountain)

 

I drove into a sun-drenched,
Arizona sky.
Met the horizon swallowing day.
Hiked for miles to
disappear into the stretch of land.

In blankets of clouds I stood.
Casting a line
to catch shadow puppets
swimming in valley streams,
patterns snagging on reflections.

Surrounded in trees saturated in lichen green,
pillared stalks of the century plant,
dirt threaded in golden grass,
branches twisting into gnarled sculptures,
clawing at the blue tarp sky,
stirring colors to paint
the sweet carnival.
While the earth begged to be noticed,
dwarfing the demons in our heads.

 

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S. S. Hicks

Characters Welcome

When it comes to characters, I don’t have to look too far for inspiration.  My brother’s a cowboy, my other brother is a farrier (horseshoer) and my sister-in-law was a barrel racer/rodeo queen that grew up on cattle ranches in northern Arizona, one being on a Navajo reservation. She has always reminded me of my favorite heroine, Mattie Ross (True Grit). I was at the ranch this past weekend, flipping through old Arizona Highways magazines, and came across an entire spread on “Working Cowboys,” in which her father was featured over thirty years ago. The ranch house is like that — filled with Arizona artifacts, history, books and art, all with rich stories.

In regards to the cowboy world, I’m mostly on the outside looking in, but any romantic notions I had harbored have long been extinguished after seeing work that never ends, or the guys that come and go, looking for working ranches. I do, however, have a profound fascination with the drive it takes to cowboy and the type of person it attracts. There are so many characters that have wandered through our ranch, and I relied heavily on them in my first book. My brother embraces them all. That is the cowboy way.

My View
My View

I was riding on the flats with my sister-in-law last Saturday and came across the tale of “The Goat Who Ran Away with the Cows.” Apparently this goat left headquarters to be with this small herd, shading themselves under the tree. They have either welcomed, or accepted him begrudgingly. Any attempts to bring him back will be thwarted. In his mind, he is a cow. He seemed to know we were laughing at him on our horses, or maybe he was afraid we would attempt to take him back with us. Right away, I thought he’d make a brilliant character in a children’s book.

The Goat Who Thought He Was a Cow
The Goat Who Thought He Was a Cow

Regardless of the harsh realities of hard work and little pay, many cowboys are dreamers. It’s easy to see why, living and working in a room without a roof. The vision of endless sky and land, and the quiet and solitude that follows only activates the imagination. There is little need for possessions when you are afforded this daily view. In fact, possessions seem extraneous in the extravagance of nature.

Here are some photos I took around the ranch with an iPhone . . .

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My nephew is a bulldogger for the high school rodeo. But I think I took a photo of the one who got a away . . .

 

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We are constantly surrounded by inspiration; it just depends on the days in which we choose to see it.

Have a great week.

The Taproot

I spent most of my youth chasing destinations before learning that no matter how far you go, your roots will always follow, dragging around like entrails. I was convinced they were as shallow as the cacti; the saguaro can grow up to 60 feet tall, with only 4-6 inch roots. But then I discovered they extend as far as they are tall. Also, there is a secret that anchors this mammoth two feet deep — the taproot.

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As you can see here, the taproot is unmoving, even in death.
The taproot is unmoving, even in decay.

The desert is in full bloom now. The orange blossoms and acacia flowers ride the winds, swirling around like aromatic tumbleweeds, bowling down the streets while people stop and inhale with closed eyes. Even the cacti hide color like easter eggs, proving beauty will find its way in even the most unforgiving places.

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You can’t beat the Arizona highways. All these photos were taken with my camera phone, without stopping. Imagine if I did stop and had the right camera… (aw, who am I kidding…my kids wouldn’t allow it). Here is the Santa Fe train moving north to Tucson, passing a mine in the mountain.

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A dusty sunset.
A dusty sunset.
Then finally, the lingering glow.
The last swallow of day.

We got a lot of rain recently. The desert responses with greed and gratitude — greed in that you have to watch out for flooding, and gratitude following with a slow absorption.

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I ran into a coyote the other day. He’s hard to spot, but look at the bottom of the saguaro. We stared at each other for a good minute before he was bored with me.

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The fragrant creosote is the signature scent of the Sonoran desert. It, too, is in full bloom, speckling the mountains with color and running like lazy, yellow rivers in the lower basins.

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Spring always comes earlier in the desert. You’re either drunk with it, or heading down the Allegra/Claritin aisle at the local drugstore. Hopefully it’s the former.

Happy spring to you all!

My YA Problem

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Graham Greene once noted that since a novel takes years to write, you are not the same person at the end of the book as you were in the beginning.

Besides morphing into a slothful creature, one who cancels all her hair appointments, manages to go weeks without shaving, or feeding their family anything from the four basic food groups, there is a profound sense of change.

Even stranger is beginning the journey, and ending up on a completely different path. When I began writing my novel, the voice that came to me happened to be half my age and male. And no matter how much I pushed him into maturity, and told him to clean up his room and stop slumping in his seat, he refused to age.

Now this presented a problem. I’m not a YA reader, nor am I willing to shop at Forever 21, talk to my kids as equals, and pump myself full of Botox and denial. And if you’re a teenager, serving me a burger and fries, call me ma’am for godsake! It’s just weird if you say miss. Besides, I’m hungry, not delusional.

So what do I do on my revision to correct this? I added another main character – only younger. …Ah, good Lord. Maybe I am Benjamin Button . . . it would explain why I resorted to the fetal position for the rewrite. Maybe it was that view that helped me see what was prized on my bookshelf: The Outsiders, The Catcher in the Rye, True Grit, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief.

Epiphany! They’re all YA. Another epiphany! With the exception of The Book Thief, they are not current. Call me ma’am, indeed.

Even more troubling is that I didn’t realize The Book Thief was YA until I tried to buy another copy at the bookstore (after my first copy was stolen – no joke!) and was directed to a place where there were witches, vampires, werewolves and zombies.

“Why is this here?” I said to the clerk. “The Book Thief is too good to be in the company of the undead!”

“Yeah, it surprises everyone,” he said. “I don’t know why they put it here. I guess because of the character’s age.”

Yes, yes. YA is an age range, not a genre! (That epiphany really saved me from a rewrite that involved my main character eating the other main character in a case of the zombie munchies. That’s some wicked hunger, too. Whew.)

So once I felt good about that, I really found my character’s voice, which lead to the discovery I’m super immature, and really need to clean up my room and stop slumping in my seat. Besides, it’s making my sciatica hurt.

Why We Climb Mountains

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To escape words and thoughts, embedded like dirt under nails, carried around in fists. They collect at our feet, seep into our dreams — fragmented sentences, snapped like branches of a much larger tree. Sometimes they need to be culled to have sense and meaning. Written and captured. Painted or strummed. Believing their permanence. Other times we want them shed alongside the rocky paths. Hear them scuttle like brittle leaves pushed up by a random wind. Looking like crabs, walking sideways to surf clouds in a mirrored sky.

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Here, thoughts calcify. Words become colorful stones, staking blue, a stairway of stories and time. The tented world of where we live, and come to understand, we are casual witnesses of nature. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Mountains, Lions, and Research (Oh my)

I’m trying to go through years worth of crap in order to move and I keep coming across old photos that give me pause, wondering where the time goes. I will spare you the personal photos (set to the Green Day song “Good Riddance”) and stick to the ones that restarted my writing journey. It began with a longing — for mountains, feeling I was misplaced in New York, my father’s illness, my mother struggling to keep him alive, my oldest brother going through a divorce. My family felt like it was slowly crumbling at a distance. And while doctors and nurses save lives, art saves the soul.

Now, I always loved the Superstition Mountains, a spectacular pile of volcanic rubble 40 miles east of Phoenix. I sat in my kitchen, scanning websites for photos of them when a book idea came to me. Then I spent two long years writing badly, trying to make up for lost time in which I swore off writing. (Oh, writing, I can’t quit you.) I was unsure of what I was trying to say, unsure of my voice, plagued with self-doubt. Little did I know, we all begin here. It’s part of the deal. A way to weed out those that don’t have the stomach for it. Because, let’s face it, it can bring you to your knees until you smell the piss in the carpet. Well, I don’t really have piss in my carpet. Hell, I have hardwood floors. But you get my drift.

At first, I needed to do quite a bit of research for my book; it involves a hundred year old legend, gold mines, and prospectors. I already knew how to write authentically about cowboys, but prospectors were a whole different ball game, as well as, places in the Superstition Mountains, covering 160,000 acres of government owned wilderness.

My older brother Dan was going through a bit of a rough patch and told me he would be my guide in the mountains. He was hired immediately for various reasons. But mostly because he owns a gun and would not be afraid to use it. Of course, when I asked him what if he didn’t have time to pull his Colt 40 on a leaping mountain lion, he just said he could run faster than me. Not the most reassuring answer…

Together, we did a lot of hiking, a lot of talking, something neither of us were used to, as we’re busy with our own families. I’ll write about it someday. There is a lot to tell, because let’s face it — how often do you have a chance to spend time with your adult brother?

In the meantime, here are some photos of our journey.

The Superstitions © SSHicks
The Superstitions
© 2009 SSHicks

I took this off a dirt road to Rogers Canyon trailhead. It was a spectacular morning. Dan and I rose at 6:30 am to begin the day…and I’m not a morning person like him. We drove 1.5 hours to get to the trailhead, hiked 9 miles, and only encountered 1 person. Someone from the Forest Service that said he had already seen two rattlesnakes and to be careful. Yeah.

Windows of sky © SSHicks
Windows of sky
© 2009 SSHicks
Road to Rogers Canyon © SSHicks
Road to Rogers Canyon
© 2009 SSHicks

This was the road to Rogers Canyon. It was a BEAST to find, but somehow we managed. It wasn’t like we could ask anyone directions.

Four Peaks © SSHicks
Four Peaks
© 2010 SSHicks

Four Peaks is visible from Phoenix, but I took this off the side of the road on our way to Tortilla Flat. That’s Canyon Lake.

Hike to Weavers Needle © SSHicks
Hike to Weavers Needle © 2009 SSHicks

This is a view of Florence Junction in the distance. I love the jagged peaks off to the right.

Dan in the Supes © SSHicks
Dan in the Supes © 2009 SSHicks

My guide.

Mountain Lion Kill ©sshicks
A Deer: Mountain Lion Kill
© 2009 sshicks

Dan is an avid hiker, camper and hunter. While I don’t have the stomach for hunting (or guns), Dan can sense animals like no one I know. He found this carcass well off the beaten path by following “drag” marks. I thought he was crazy… To me, they just looked like a small skid in the dirt. Sure enough, he was right. He had a whole theory of how it went down… Maybe that’s his book because he kept trying to turn mine into a Louis L’amour novel.

Weavers Needle ©sshicks
Weavers Needle
© 2010 sshicks

Well, this should look familiar, as it is the banner of my site. Although it looks quite phallic and could invite a bad joke about have a pinnacle in your pants or are you just happy to see me… But it is central to my story. Weavers Needle is named after Pauline Weaver, a hunter and tracker from long ago.

Dan at Angel Springs Ruins ©sshicks
Dan at Angel Springs Ruins
© 2009 sshicks

Here’s Dan at Rogers Canyon Cliff Dwellings. They were built 600 years ago by the Salado people. You can’t tell, but here he’s telling me to “take the goddamn picture already” because I was having technological difficulties with my dying camera. He’s impatient with civilization (too many phonies) and sometimes fares better on ranches and wilderness.

Cliff Dwellings  ©sshicks
Cliff Dwellings
© 2009 sshicks
View from the Cliff Dwellings/Rogers Canyon ©sshicks
View from the Cliff Dwellings/Rogers Canyon
© 2009 sshicks