Prairie to sea. Mountains to strings of palm trees. The West to the Caribbean.
You know those rare, rare moments in life when things actually unfold in ways that you hope, work hard for, and plan? Those moments when in the midst of all of this working and planning, you allow yourself a few glimmers to hope for, but the thought of allowing yourself to truly believe feels like you’re setting yourself up for failure, so you just get back to work.
This past week one of those rarest of rare confluences of life actually came together in ways the years of working, planning, hoping, dreaming, and working actually unfolded in ways I’d allowed myself to think about only in rare, private moments—before getting back to work.
First, I have to share this shirt with you. My dear friend and author, Pamela Keyes, sent this to me. I may never take it off. Decades from now, friends and family may be begging me to wear something other than this shirt. And, I’ll just nod, rub my hand along the fabric of my worn, tattered, an faded garment, and smile.
As I write this flying at 30,000 over the Atlantic on my way back to the US, what lifts again and again to my mind is sheer wonder.
This week started at the Prairie Edge in Rapid City, South Dakota.
From the first time I stepped foot in Prairie Edge, nearly 20 years ago, this place has been a portal that took me into other worlds—worlds of art, beauty, textures—past and present. This is a space of presence. We visit Prairie Edge nearly every time we’re off the ranch and in town. As my daughter, Wynn, said to me this year, “Mom, we always come here and you always take pictures of the same things!” I realized that is true. Somehow everything feels newly beautiful each and every time. Their bead library inspired the descriptions of Daisy Standing Horse’s beading by candlelight in the novel.
I have spent hours in their bookstore, searching the shelves for books about the turn of the century, the time period of Meadowlark, or any book about the prairie or West that caught my fancy.
Every once in a great while I’d allow myself to think for a moment about the worn manuscript of Meadowlark as a published novel, and holding an event for in this place that was full of meaning. I’d allow myself an Imagine if…
That Imagine if happened with a reading at Prairie Edge last week. Along with dear friends and family, Grace’s descendants, we read. Mom brought Grace’s wedding dress and riding jacket in from the ranch.
On to the South Dakota Festival of Books with Mom, Noé, and Wyatt. In attendance at the conference was one of my writing heroes who with such generosity of spirit wrote a blurb for Meadowlark. I was able to meet and thank Kent Meyers, author of one of my all-time favorite books The Work of Wolves (South Dakota One Book 2005), in person. What a gift! Meyers wrote about Meadowlark, “Dawn Wink writes in the tradition of O.E. Rolvaag, Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, and Mary Clearman Blew, with a clear-eyed understanding of the connections between isolation and oppression, especially for women, on the Great Plains. Wink is not afraid to look at difficult and uncomfortable issues such as domestic violence, Indian boarding schools, or the law’s corruption. She also surprises us by writing about intimate and hidden issues like early 20th-century contraception. She has a fine sense for characters and a deep understanding of land. The scene where Grace Robertson, her protagonist, makes a punching bag out of a feed sack in order to work out her anger, and then returns to work and love, is worth the price of the novel by itself. This is a gritty novel but also a hopeful one, exploring the ugliness of power and the ways despair can drive good people to do awful things but also exploring compassion’s ability to bind, rejuvenate, and redeem.”
Then, from Deadwood to the Dominican Republic for the Annual Conference for Teachers of English 2013. 600 teachers from across the country gathered in Santo Domingo for a day of community, ideas, and inspiration. My first impression as I walked out of the airport and into the country was overwhelmingly about the air. The air, the air is so soft and warm. I felt as if I could palm this air in my hand and run the softness over my skin.
My hosts, Grisel Del Rosario and Rosa Rodríguez, treated me to a tour through the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, including the first cathedral of the United States, and such an array of beautiful windows and doors that me throwing my arm out to the side of our tour train to take photos at every opportunity. Join us:
“You’ll here us say ‘First’ all the time.” And I learned this is with good reason. Columbus landed first in Santo Domingo. “We are the belly button of Europeans coming to the Americas,” the school director, Don Rafael.
This is a country drenched in history, the past pulses barely under the surface of the people, the buildings, the cadence of the language. It is a land of deep contrasts, the beauty of the land and people, the wrenching history of slavery, the era of the dictatorship, extreme wealth alongside desperate poverty. The people reflect every epoch of the past and present. -Aquí nos mezclamos todo – Los Españoles, los Africanos, y hasta los indígenas. “Here we mix all – the Spaniards, the Africanos, and even the Taino, the indigenous people who the Spaniards wiped out. They say they’re all gone, but my father had their straight hair, dark skin, full lips, and green, green eyes.”
We ate dinner in a candlelit subterranean cave. Beyond lovely.
And the teachers , the teachers with a generosity of spirit, warmth, and smiles that elevated the day into something extraordinary. I spoke on “Teaching Passionately” and “Freedom Within Structure: Composing an Engaged class (PowerPoints included below). I am forever enriched by these experiences.
I fell in love with the artwork of Jorge Severino, whose pieces hang in the hotel and I’d noticed when I arrived—bold, evocative pieces of the women of the Dominican Republic.
Imagine my delight when El Domínico-Americano gifted me a piece of his – a Dominican woman with the wings of a butterfly. How beautifully poignant and meaningful from the land of las mariposas Mirabal.
On the ride to the airport, I hadn’t yet touched the sea. I said to the driver, Nicolás, Por favor, no me dejes ir de éste país sin tocar el agua de la mar Caribe. (“Please don’t let me leave this place without touching the waters of the Caribbean.”) Yo sé exactamente en dónde. La playa por mi barrio. (“I know just the place,” he said, “near my neighborhood.”) We stopped near a cove on the beach, so I could touch the Caribbean Sea. Look at this cove… Places like this actually exist in this world. Dressed in jeans and long sleeves for what are always cold plane rides, I waded in jeans and all. Yes, the water really is as warm and delicious as it looks in this photo. Around us, fishermen brought in their catch for the day, boys jumped off rocks into the water, and a couple floated, swam, and flirted. I stood and stared around me, hardly able to believe I was there. This was out of a dream.
The connecting threads of life that had brought me here began with the School for International Training (SIT) TESOL Certification course. The idea had been to create opportunities to supplement my income, in ways that fit with the college and in ways I loved, to support my family. The road to certification turned out to be intensely bumpy, with unexpected events that had me wondering if this was a path I wanted to take. I came close to stepping away from this path a number of times over the three years of the certification, not at all sure that the investment of time, emotions, and expense was going to lead in a positive direction. Thanks to the angel-like appearances of Mary Scholl, Beth Neher, and Noemí Villarreal along the way, I held on to complete what I’d started.
There were so many times, years, during the writing of Meadowlark and going for my SIT TESOL certification that the most logical thing in the world was to give up, the universe seemed to be sending clear messages that these were not meant to be. Life does this, in its ebbs and flows.
I watched the ebb and flow of the tide swirl around my feet, the sand flowing in its tow, and the bubbles brought back up again. Somewhere beneath it all sparkle shards of hope that maybe, just maybe, if we hangs in there and keep working, maybe, just maybe things might turn out as we dream. And at sometimes, for brief, treasured moments in life, maybe, just maybe….definitely, most definitely, they do.
PowerPoints from presentations:
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