A Review by Cozy Mystery Author, James Cudney

A Review by Cozy Mystery Author, James Cudney

Approach & Style 
I read this ~300 page book via Kindle Reader on my iPad in 4 hours over three days. It is a cross between fiction and non-fiction, as it is a true account, almost a journal, of a woman and her family’s experiences; however, a few things were changed around in how the story was told so that it reads more like a story. Atwood tells accounts of her life through letters home to her mother, in episodes focused on their trek around Alaska, and via pictures from the entire time period.

Plot, Characters & Setting 
Kate and Tim Peters were recently married, in Alaska during the oil boom of the mid-1970s, several years after college. Picture frontier life in a more modern world (still didn’t have electricity in the beginning, tho!) and learning how to adapt to life in the wilderness where animals — and people — attack. Through building a home, getting to know their neighbors, learning how to adapt to married life, finding ways to earn money and survive, they meet some potentially life-long friends (I only read the first book… not sure of the ending even though I know and chat with the author) in this beautiful backdrop where the moose sleep – in search of seeing the elephant (you’ll have to read the book to know what that means).

Key Thoughts 
Atwood’s voice is the best part of the book. Writing an account of your life, understanding what to include about the mundane versus existing parts of your life, is critical. Through the characters, Kate and Tim, she achieves a charismatic and earthy combination of humanity. Life for many of us who live in a city or the suburbs seems difficult, but you don’t know difficult until you truly rough it on land that’s never been lived on before. Seeing (the pictures are fantastic) and reading about their lives gives you a bit of the goosebumps, worried for their safety and mental health. It can be lonely and cold; it can be dangerous and boring. But through trust and a strong relationships, two people can achieve a lot of success — success which is measured differently when you go through a non-traditional path (building your own house in frigid temperatures with practically no neighbors around in a place you’ve never been and no knowledge of how to make it all work!), but in the end, you still experience that wonderful amazement of knowing you did it all with your own two hands.

This is the kind of book you want to read when you are bored with mysteries or general fiction, when you need something inspirational without being pedantic. It’s a light yet heavy account of a really different side of life, one we should all experience for ourselves at some point. But if you’re not the kind of person who will rush off to Siberia or Alaska, then dive into this book for an intense picture of what it might be like. You’ll enjoy some of the sentimental moments and many humorous conversations between Kate and Tim. I won’t spoil them here, so go read it.

Summary 
I’m normally a fiction reader, who will throw in 5 to 10 non-fiction books each year. When I do, they’re usually based on a famous figure in history or a remarkable informational piece. When I chose Atwood’s book, I knew it would be a different kind of read because it was a personal journey with an incredibly charming voice — that alone makes it worth the read. But once I started it, the story became so much more. I look forward to reading more from this author and will keep on chatting with her to see how everything turns out in her life.

My First Smart Phone Lesson

My First –and Last– Smartphone Lesson, by Kate Peters

 

I’m sixty-eight. I recently plunged, feet first into the 21st century, by purchasing a smartphone. I should have plunged in head first, because now I’m lost in a jungle of ethernet, cyberspace, clouds, and unending and totally intangible options.

In November, my husband and I entered a store, trepidatious but buoyed by many unchallenged claims that my life would be hugely improved if I owned one of these super-mini-computers. Two and a half hours later, we left the service provider outlet with my $700 new B.F.F., and three new user id’s, email addresses and passwords.

Being basically a right-brained animal, I am confused by decisions, mathematical algorithms, and more than three steps in a recipe, but thankfully, they offered classes for free, on the fifteenth of every month, one hour before store opening. We signed up.

 

Our first class was two days later. We both went, but it was to be my instrument. I had two questions:

  1. How do I make the keyboard keys larger?
  2. How do I get my photos off this phone, and onto, or into my computer?
  3. And by the way, am I uploading or downloading, when I do this?

The answers came randomly, interspersed with the needs of others, as this was no tutoring session. We were two, among many confused and grasping silver-haired seniors who had ventured into an alien world.

“Any Questions?”

I raised my hand. “Can you enlarge the keys on my keyboard, please?”

He worked with my phone for five seconds. “No, I can’t. …Next question?”

 

For the next four weeks, the only app. I could use was the one where you speak to a little microphone icon and the phone answers your question, as neatly as if there was a miniature woman sitting right there inside the thing. I still didn’t know how to answer a call, though. Something about dragging your finger with just the correct pressure, in just the right direction… Callers probably thought I was being snobby.

 

A month later, we huddled with a handful of other hopefuls, outside the storefront in a predawn chill. After a while, we were huddling even more closely, as no service provider had arrived to unlock the doors or provide us with service.

I, being a natural ice-breaker in any group, discovered that one woman had driven all the way in from Florissant, while another was deeply concerned about arsenic in old dental fillings. I said I was having trouble downloading (or uploading?) my images of our autumn drive to Deckers.

Not a natural conversationalist, my husband waited in the warm car.

When a young woman in pre-ripped and stoneground jeans came to unlock the door an hour and a quarter later, I helped her to understand that we were all waiting for our free smartphone lesson. She nodded, went inside the store, and locked us outside. Then, she whipped her own phone out of her back pocket, and made a call. Five minutes later, she delivered the bad news:

“Class is canceled, due to a family emergency. We’ll call each of you, when we’ve scheduled a makeup class.”

“Well, since we’ve been waiting here for over an hour, could we just ask someone our questions?”

“Okay. Come in, I guess.”

“Can you show me how to transfer my pictures off this smartphone and onto (into?) my computer?”

She glanced at my device. “Uhh.”

A young male clerk arrived. We could both see his breath in the air as he passed through the waiting zone and entered the store. “Here comes Carl. He can help you.” The lass looked relieved.

“Hi, Carl. Can you show me how to transfer my pictures off this smartphone and onto my computer?”

Carl took a look at my phone, and then at the twenty-pound laptop I’d been holding for the past hour. “You can’t transfer from this phone to a three-year-old computer. You’ll need to buy a new computer.”

“Oh.”

We left. “Well, if I absolutely must update, I do NOT want to update from Windows 7, to Windows 8 or 10. I’ve heard horror stories about them.” I had drawn my line in the sand.

 

The store never called to reschedule the class, and when we called them (three different times) we were told three different dates. So, we skipped December, and waited for January.

 

On the appointed mid-winter morning, we showed up at, but no one else did. A note on the store door read, ‘Smartphone classes are no longer being offered.’

I guess there’s a lesson in there, somewhere, but I haven’t been able to #hashtag the correct ‘app,’ to decipher it yet.

 

Post Script:

 

I recently bought a new computer. It came with Windows 10, which is significantly different from Windows 7. Now, I need some lessons…

 

 

 

Passing Down Memories

PASSING DOWN MEMORIES by Kate Peters

 

Before I started kindergarten, I used to walk up the path to visit my “Grandma and Grampa Folks” almost every day. Grandma was usually sitting by the window, working with her substantial collection of stamps. She also had several rare treasures of yesteryear, including a treadle sewing machine, a Civil War-era parasol, and a tiny shoe from China, that was worn by some unlucky “fortunate” who had been born wealthy enough to have her feet bound, as a little girl.

My grampa, Theodore Abijah, maintained a ‘truck” farm on a flat space near the top of our hill. He had lots of hobbies. He had been a teacher and a high school principal, by trade. Now retired, he was a rock collector and an inventor. He even had a little mail order business in rudimentary spectroscopes coming to T.A.Cutting.

Sometimes he would let me come up into the attic with him, to see his little inventions. You had to be careful not to step off the two planks, or you would fall through the ceiling into the living room, below. He had a box of colored gels framed in white, with little handles. They were shaped like suckers. Looking through one made the world turn a completely different color. It was very fun.

He taught me to read. We read a book about a little girl with blonde hair and her black cat named Smoky. When I got my first kitten, I picked the all-black one, and named her Smoky.

Grampa also wrote books and printed them on a huge peddle-operated press in the old barn. It was fun to get going really fast and ride the peddles, while I stuck my hand down into the press and withdrew it just in time, over and over again. I’m lucky I have a hand today, I guess.

In his study, Grampa had a small bookshelf with some books and a bowl of fossils and half-rocks. The half-rocks were some he had sawn in two with his rock saw. A rock saw was harder, even, than a rock, because it had real diamonds around the edge. The fossils were from a long, long time ago.

Somehow, I was fortunate enough to inherit his bowl of rocks, and I still have it, after an Alaskan odyssey and a dozen other moves. Whenever I pass it, I am reminded of my Grampa Folks. Today, I’ve brought one rock to show you. I don’t know how he acquired it, but I picture the episode as a hot dash, a quick press, and a rapid withdrawal. I think he “made” it on Mt. Lassen in 1915. Was this one of his brightest moves, or one of his dimmest? Who’s to say, but I feel proud to be its present owner. One day soon, people won’t even recognize the head of Mercury on the face of a dime that was pressed into the belly button of this piece of lava rock. I wonder, where will my Grampa’s prize go from here? Maybe my story can go along with it. I’m glad I’m telling it while I still can. I think writing is one of Humankind’s greatest inventions.

Bear in Camp!

Here’s a bear story for you, from Kate Peters.

For those of you who are watching the last embers die in a largely burnt-out fire pit, here’s a memory from my childhood.

We were camping in Yosemite and I was sharing a pup tent with my sister. Awakened in the night by my sister’s rustling, I watched  as she started to leave the tent, then returned very quickly. I guessed she’d gone to “water a tree” and was now ready to continue her delightful night’s rest atop the pine cones and granite chunks. No, I was wrong. She hadn’t accomplished the task. There was a bear in camp!

I laid there, listening to the snufflings and shufflings outside, and to my sib’s moaning and suffering inside, until it was impossible to ignore anymore. Then I extruded from my own sleeping bag and started out of the tent, to “take care of the matter, once and for all.” My plan was to break into an operatic aria and drive the intruder from the arena. (I was about seven years old, I think, but blessed with gigantic lungs.)

It’s probably lucky that our dad had heard my sister’s distress and just then he roared out of the other tent to drive the bear away. My dad (stark naked) was waving his arms and shouting, and that did the trick. The bear hightailed it, my sister got her relief, and I got a memory of my father that I’ll never forget.

Camping, ah what a great life treat. 🙂

Does anyone else have a yarn to share?

My best to all campers and campfire sitters. Kate

Stories Around the Campfire

The idea of a cabin secluded in the woods sounds attractive to many of us.

In fact, nearly everything about the woods seems so beautiful and perfect that I still fantasize of living in a forest home beside a cascading stream. The sounds there would be perfect: woodpeckers and loons, frogs and wrens all punctuating the Zen of flowing water continually rounding stones. The smells of pinesap, ripening berries and wood smoke coming from the chimney would be heaven on earth. I could watch the changing colors of the sky each hour, and the flora each season, right from my front porch. And the fauna…

If good souls should come a-visiting, I’d light a campfire so we could sit in the quiet of evening and share life stories while watching fiery blades duel between their oranges and blues. Snap. Snap. The conversation would quiet, as flames contract into orange-red glowing coals. Then would come the tall tales, told in the dark and packed with drama. Like television for prehistoric peoples, it would be magical.

Today, campfire tales and memories still sound swell, and I’m certain we all have some stories to tell. So, let’s get together, and I’ll light a fire. Each week we can share a short story by the pyre.

Lighting the campfire

May this original short story generate many future contributions to our campfire arts and dialogue group:

Once upon a time, there were two hikers following a trail that ran up and over a remote corner of Life’s Lessons Mountain. On the far side they’d been told, lay a valley of unsurpassed beauty. Neither had ever seen anything but “surpassed” beauty, so they were both hiking with abandon to see what lay over the summit.

Just as the first hiker rounded a hairpin turn on the steep ascent, he saw a huge bear lumbering down the trail toward him. “Look out, ahead!” he shouted back over his shoulder as he leaped sideways into the trees and began climbing one. “Better step off the trail. There’s big trouble a-coming your way!”

But the second pilgrim never faltered. He just kept on climbing. “I’m not afraid,” he called up toward his friend in the tree. “I figure, on Life’s Lessons Mountain, every man will have his own bear to cross. This one’s mine, I guess.”

When they met up on the trail the hiker jumped up on that beast’s back, spun him around and galloped him over to the land of unsurpassed beauty. Although not possible, the view seemed even sweeter from the top of that bear.

By Kate Peters, retired Alaskan pioneer, 2017

I hope to hear from you soon. You can attach your own photo of a campfire if you’d like, and we’ll post it right here,

 

We’re lighting a campfire. Please sit down and join us.

Mahalo, Kate Peters

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Sharing our Story about Pioneering in Alaska

 

       

 

 

This Sleeping Moose trilogy started as a simple documentation of my own parents’ pioneering experiences in Alaska. I had envisioned writing down several episodes, simply to satisfy all curiosity among my descendants. But by the time I’d finished the first draft, it was obvious that our family’s twelve years on a remote mountaintop had the makings of a real American odyssey adventure.

After this realization, we had a Peters family pow-wow. It was decided that nominal fictionalization would be the best course, since some families might still have descendants living in the old town. My mother stressed a need for kindness and my father insisted upon global anonymity. So, it’s Historical Fiction that one gets here.

My mom and I have been collaborating on this memoir since that meeting at the beginning of the century. Together we’ve culled the family albums and come up with hundreds of photos, each one worth at least a thousand words, and Kate Peters’ stories have been committed to paper for all future generations, not just mine. Sleeping Moose Saga is our contribution to the noble libraries of America’s great pioneering histories.

Our tale is about two anachronistic romantics who feel that they were born one hundred years too late. Independently, they have ventured north to Alaska, each in pursuit of their Utopian dream. A young, and somewhat disillusioned Tim Peters has recently returned from Vietnam. Kate Cutting, a seeker, fresh from the tropics, loves the tranquility that she experiences in the north woods.

As construction begins on the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Tim asks Kate to jump aboard with him when the modern-day gold rush roars through town. The prospect of being part of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure is too enticing to be ignored and the young woman takes a sharp left turn, signaling the beginning of their life’s quest together. They sign on with the Pipeline, elope while on R&R and drag up one year later with a substantial nest egg. Now to find land.

Tim’s desire is to build a cabin with his own hands. And truthfully, a cabin sounds perfect to his “Brook Farm” beguiled bride. They settle soundlessly on the pristine spot where a moose has recently slept. Here they will begin to build their own version of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliance model. Instantaneously abandoning all social support systems, and most modern conveniences, the couple melts into the Alaskan backwoods with the notion of living life in total privacy, and on their own terms. The result of this rash decision is a biographical saga that relies heavily upon my mother’s journals, the stories she told me, and many of her letters sent home to Hawaii.

It is especially fortuitous that my Hawaiian Grandma Tutu kept many of these letters, as they provide us with a firsthand perspective of one frontier wife perched on the cusp of a technological revolution. Within two decades, the silicon microchip will explode onto the forefront, rendering moot most of the hardships that she describes in her writings. It was the end of an era, but you can read about 20th century pioneering here. The details will ring true.

If you had the privilege of growing up without modern facilities, the inconveniences will be nostalgic. But for millennials and those born later, Kate’s tales will be quite educational to all who may never, unless they dare, experience the thrill of using an outhouse.

The read offers delicious diversion for those who suspect they may have missed the golden opportunity to seize their own mountaintop moment. And may it be inspiration for those who hear the calling of the life adventure that awaits them.

“Oh, you’re going to see the elephant!” My grandma Tutu, herself a descendant of the 1850s covered wagon migrations, said, ecstatic when she heard their news. “Seeing the elephant,” what would that mean?

 

There are three parts to the saga.

Building a cabin in the woods using retro tools turns out to be a lot of work. This is largely what Part One is about. The newlyweds also began building a family at about that time.

Part Two: Nature is a relentless queen. Will winter be what sends them home? The dreadful weather of 1979 offers no respite. How is it possible to survive all that Mother Nature throws at them?

Part Three: with conclusions by Atwood, in which Tim and Kate meet their “elephant” in the bush. If you possess a trustful spirit, beware! For in the wild one will surely meet the savage sides of both Nature and of Man. As more and more people move onto the mountain during the 1980s, all the smart moose move out. They know it will be dangerous to mix with humans, especially humans in the woods carrying guns.

Many folks on the wagon trains of the 19th century reported encounters so fierce that they turned around and headed back for civilization. For some, it was a terrifying animal bearing down on them. For others, the ferocious weather and the impassible terrain. Cabin fever, the creeping insanity of social isolation took its toll on many, as well. But can the encroachment of humans themselves cause the tender soul to break and run?

No one can describe “the elephant” comprehensively. An existential reckoning takes on innumerable forms. Recognizing one’s insurmountable limitations creates a collision between idealism and reality that can be pivotal. Such acknowledgement —such enlightenment— carries a bittersweet payoff.

In American pioneering lore, “going to see the elephant” is the story about pilgrims daring to reach out in search of a better life. Unfortunately, the result of “seeing the elephant” is a lot of stunned pilgrims. But take heart. Wisdom will seep like syrup from the cauldron of disappointment, and life can be sweet again.

I guess that’s it. If you’d like to read this saga, it will be available soon.

 

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