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Last month I took a road trip with my kids Elijah and Beatrice, my sister Constance and her daughter Jane.

All roads lead to Grand Teton National Park, or they ought to.

We’d heard that Teton Pass might be closed due to wintry weather, and that temperatures were dropping below zero at night.  We decided to try and squeak in a quick visit before winter arrived, and were so glad we did.

The National Parks are among this country’s greatest treasures, but Grand Teton is the jewel in the crown.

It teems with history…

…and more history.

Wildlife…

…and more wildlife.

And beauty.

So much beauty.

Like my four sisters before me, I studied geology in Jackson Hole at the University of Michigan’s Rocky Mountain Field Station. I became a dedicated pedestrian, and spent a season hiking the trails in the park while waiting on tables in Colter Bay.  For more than fifty years it has been a place of pilgrimage for our celebrations and family reunions, as it has surely been for others.

Some things never change.

The town of Jackson has mushroomed, with strip malls and box stores everywhere.  Its old-fashioned drug store soda fountain has been turned into an overpriced rug store.  But Grand Teton National Park is as pristine as ever.

Every day, as we drove to a new trailhead, we popped a CD into the player and sang along, practicing our yodeling with Roy Rogers, Bill Staines, and Ranger Doug.  Every night after dinner, out came a bottle of wine and the musical instruments, usually in that order.  Back in the Saddle, Don’t Fence Me In, and My Sweet Wyoming Home were at the top of our playlist.  When we sang about a home where the buffalo roam…

…and the deer and the antelope play…

…we were really feeling it.

It had been years since the cousins had met up.  They were a little shy at first, but there’s nothing like making music to break the ice.

Music, for many of us, has come to mean the pre-recorded tracks on CD, iTunes, or the radio.  We experienced the joy of playing music, however imperfect, and being part of a creative endeavor larger than just ourselves.  It helped us tune into the soundscape all around us, ever changing and shifting…

…yet timeless.

©2017NaomiBaltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Pedestrian.

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Fifty Shades of Yellow

Purple is my favorite color, and it always has been.  But I love yellow for its cheerfulness.

It’s my daughter Bea’s favorite color.

And she wears it well, don’t you think?

She isn’t the only one.

Whether yellow comes as a tasteful accent…

…a warm background…

…a pleasing bit of contrast…

…or a big splash of color…

…Ma Nature wears it well too.

…and so do her children.

We’ve borrowed this sunny hue from nature to brighten our homes on the outside…

…and on the inside too.

It shines a cheerful light through the darkness…

…and lifts our spirits.

It warms us from the inside out.

Yellow comes in many eye-catching colors and goes by many names…goldenrod, schoolbus, taxicab yellow…

Maize, saffron, lemon…mmm, yellow never smelled so good.

 Yellow means different things to different people.  Does this signal mean approach slowly?  Or go very very fast?

It might depend on whether you’re coming…

 

…or going.

Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?

Never mind.   That’s neither here nor there.

Want to dance?

All images and words copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow.

Staff Infection

As a newly graduated English Majorette, I headed Out West to seek my fortune, and arrived in Seattle just before the holiday season.

While I decided what to do with the rest of my life, I landed a temp job selling shoes at the downtown Frederick and Nelson’s to pay the rent.

The shoe did not fit.  Most of the saleswomen spent their paychecks on new clothes, using the employee discount, of course.  I had two and a half presentable outfits, and rotated.  I didn’t wear make-up or high heels, but I did have a decent pair of leather boots that went with everything.  I was competent and polite, except to the imperious bitches who mistook the fitting chair for a throne and were used to being waited on hand and foot.  They were the ones who came in five minutes before closing, ordered me to fetch four different pairs of shoes in three sizes, then stuck out their feet for me to remove their own shoes for them.

That six week position seemed an eternity, but I had a secret superpower to get through it.  Long before the invention of Photoshop, I had mastered my own techniques for photo doctoring.

It was crude, but effective.  And my family was very forgiving.

All it took was a pin to scratch away here and a red marker to color in there, and voila!   I turned my Frederick and Nelson’s staff pin into a Frederick and Nelson’s staph pin.  No one even noticed, but somehow it was a sign, and it made all the difference to me.

Then one cold December day my boss called me into the back room.  I was sure she was going to fire me for badge tampering.  But she said, “I want you to work here on a permanent basis beginning in January.”

Before I could tell her, “Thank you, but I want to check out job opportunities in Hell first,” she leaned forward to stare at my bosom.  Or at the badge on my bosom, to be more precise.  “I think there’s a typo on your badge.”

“So it would seem,” I replied.

“That’s never happened before.  Go get a new one, and then let me know as soon as possible about the job.”

I never did trade in my Little Red Badge of Courage for a new one.  As for the job selling shoes… those boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they did.  They walked on down to Grand Teton National Park, where I waited tables, and to King’s Canyon National Park, where I taught canoe.

And they brought me back to the home of my heart…

…where I became a professional storyteller

…and author.

Along the journey, I have learned to pay attention to my instincts, and to read the writing on the wall.

But I still keep the badge as a reminder that sometimes one must relish the tiny victories along the way.


c2013 Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs.

You Mean It’s NOT a River?

Some people say life is a river.  I think it’s more like a mountain.

 

It has its ups…

…and downs.

It can be glorious.

Mysterious.

Precarious.

Fraught with fire…

…and ice.

No one can climb it for you.

But, oh, what a trip.

As you find your way…

…the climb can be difficult.

But there will be beauty all around you.  In little things….

…or stretched out before you in all its grandeur.

Life is a delicate balance, a precious jewel, a piece of work.

May there be friends to share the journey.

Look before you leap.

Wear the proper footwear.

And remember, we don’t trip on mountains.  We trip on molehills.–Japanese proverb

All words and images Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Theme:Path.

Fly With It!

When my daughter Bea was a little girl, she found a seed in a seedless Satsuma, and planted it in a paper cup.  Our little Satsuma tree has lived on our kitchen windowsill for years now, as a reminder that with a little faith, anything can grow.   Creativity is like that too.

Sometimes we see beauty in the ordinary.

Or, upon reflection, we take the ordinary and transform it.

Sometimes inspiration comes to us in a flood.

Sometimes in a flash.

Or even in hindsight.

More often,  it comes in disguise.

Or as a creative response to something we feel passionate about.

Perhaps we are inspired by another artist…as in Bea’s sculpture, The Ice Scream.

I love working with a creative team…

Sometimes it’s a process.

…but the end result is worth it.

However it comes to you, wherever you find your inspiration, you are never too young…

Or too old….

…To fly with it!

May all your ideas and inspirations be fruitful!

All images and words Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of A Word a Week Photographic Challenge.

Steppingstones (and the Kreativ Blogger Award)

On the river of life we look for steppingstones and move forward one step at a time.  When the river is raging, sometimes it takes a leap of faith.  I thought when I graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in English, I’d have my path laid out for the rest of my life.  Wrong again!

1. My sister Constance and I didn’t know we wanted to do, but we did know where we wanted to do it.   We threw our bikes in the back of a drive-away pickup truck and headed Out West to seek our fortunes.

Biking down the Washington and Oregon Coast was an adventure.  We were drenched much of the time–“rain forest” printed on a map doesn’t mean much to a Detroiter until she actually gets wet.  Once we built up calluses in all the right places, we covered our miles, laughed a lot, met many kind people along the way, and filled up our story banks.


…until I was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

2. I was banged up, but not as badly as my poor bike.  Just like with my birdwatching adventure on Mt. St. Helens, I’d never have wished it to happen.  But if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon the opportunity to teach “Eastern Canoeing” at Montecito-Sequoia High Sierra Camp for Girls in King’s Canyon National Park.  My best friends there were Twinkle, Sneakers, Scoop, and Aspen.  But that’s a story for another day.

3. Camp ended, and I determined to make a fresh start in Seattle.  My first job was with Northwest Airlines as a reservation agent.  I would earn more than ever, plus free airline travel!  I felt like a VIP when they flew me to Minneapolis for my interview.  Then the training began.  That job lasted three days.  They sat me in a huge hall with all the other trainees lined up in row after row of desks, opposite a wall of blinking lights.  Each light represented an agent whose every call was recorded.  Every second was accounted for—how many calls, even how many seconds per call.  I didn’t even look before I leaped!

4. I took a job as a plumbing radio dispatcher, plotting the course for eight plumbing crews throughout the city of Seattle.  “KYL  97 to 88, we have a clogged toilet in Wallingford…”  I couldn’t help myself—it took me a while to figure out that my boss had a radio in his car too, and I kept getting chided for dramatic communications (think “Enterprise to Bob, red alert!  We have a sewer backing up in Federal Way…or my favorite,”Captain Kirk out…”).  My boss said he never expected me to last as long as I did—I quit after eight weeks.   The next steppingstone took me all the way to….

5.  …Wyoming.  There I waited on tables at the Chuckwagon Restaurant at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park.

It was a grand summer in the most beautiful place on earth.

I could never remember whether to serve from the left or the right, but I could spin a yarn.  I’d already been to 49 states, and had something in common with everyone who sat in my section, wherever they hailed from.  They loved the customized sketches I drew for them on the back of their checks.  I hiked, camped, biked, canoed, and filled up my story banks with each cup of coffee I poured coffee for the local cowboys, park rangers, and tourists.  From tips alone I earned more than I could have working for Northwest Airlines…

…but being the best waitress in the world wasn’t enough to hold me.  I was looking for something more, although I didn’t know what.  As soon as the tourist season ended, I grabbed my jackalope and took another flying leap.  Strong currents and prevailing winds always carried me back to Seattle.

6.  I took a job teaching at Community Day School.  I loved working with kids so much.  I didn’t think of myself as a storyteller, although our Book Nook was a very popular place for reading and storytelling.  I stuck around CDS as head teacher, helping to establish their first summer camp program.  I was able to apply all I had learned at Montecito-Sequoia and the other camp where I was a counselor, the Bar 717 Ranch.

I took a puppetry class to enrich my teaching, but I was invited by our instructors, master puppeteers, Jean Matson and Betsy Tobin, to join the Seattle Puppetory Theater.  I am still grateful to them both for recognizing and helping me develop talents I might never have known what to do with.  Puppetry was my steppingstone, and my toe in the door to the performance arts as well as writing.  I co-wrote some of the material I performed.  The piece I was proudest and most passionate about co-writing and producing was commissioned by Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons, a play for adults called Peace Porridge Hot.  It was exhilarating, whether I was behind the curtain manipulating puppets or in front of the stage, interacting with them. My favorite role was Yo-Yo the Clown.

7.  I retired from puppetry and teaching in 1985, but they were my steppingstones to a career as a full-time professional storyteller.  Discovering storytelling was a little like falling in love.  It was as though I had come to a bend in the river, and I could look up and see which direction to follow all the way to the horizon.  For three decades I’ve been telling stories at libraries, schools, museums, festivals.  When the kids were old enough, they joined me on the stage for tandem telling.  My husband Thom is a teacher librarian and a great storyteller.  When he jumped into the act, we began telling as the Baltuck/Garrard Family Storytellers.  I still teach storytelling and do most of my performances solo, but my favorite gigs involve the whole family.

Even if you know where you’re going, you still have to put one foot in front of the other if you want to keep learning and growing, personally and/ or professionally.  I believe there are many ways to tell a story.  Storytelling led to writing.  First I adapted traditional folk tales, then began with original short stories.  That led to storytelling publications, including an award-winning anthology, Apples From Heaven, that I am very proud of.  Then came my first novel, co-written with my sister Deborah, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, a Doubleday Book-of-the-Month-Club selection.  Eventually I found my way to writing this blog, which has opened up a whole new way of storytelling, and introduced me to blogging friends all over the world.  Where to from here?  I will keep the keyboard clacking and the feet moving one step at a time, and see where I end up.

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Now there was a point to this story.  I was nominated for the Kreativ Blogger Award by Holly Michaels, a writer and a storyteller, a traveler and a mom.  Thank you, Holly Michael, for this honor. Check out her inspiring blog, Holly Michael’s Writing Straight.

Now that I’ve already told you seven (or eight or nine facts about myself), I get to recommend seven other bloggers for this award, and I hope you will check them out because they have so many stories to tell!   I have made so many wonderful blogging buddies and I have a backlog of awards to pass on, so if you did’t receive a nomination for this one, I’m sure you will for the next one!

Honesty  is a blog written by a writer, a teacher, a nurse.  She writes what she thinks, which is refreshing.  She is also looking for writers who are interested in sharing stories on her blog.

Scillagrace is written by someone who loves history and dancing as much as I do, and she spins a good yarn.  I love her voice.

The Teatime Reader is another Naomi who writes intelligent and interesting book reviews.  She always chooses intriguing books and my reading list is a mile long since I discovered her wonderful blog!

Seventh Voice is an important blog that addresses Autism and Asperger’s through poetry and prose, but more than that, it is about being human.

P ART ICI PATIO N is a blog by Dorotee Lang, who shares photographs of the world as a part of her daily journal.  I really like her work.

Sofacents: From Adman to Diaperman  follows the adventures of a 46 year old stay-at-home Dad.  It is fresh and funny, and I love the pictures.

Joy in the Moments is written by Char, a wife, a mother, a writer, and a reader who believes life should be lived for joy It’s a joy to read her blog.

Check ’em out!

Harrison Ford and The Wildlife Report

In 1981, at the theater debut of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I whispered to my boyfriend Thom, “Honey, if I couldn’t have you, I’d have Indiana Jones.”

A few years ago, my sister Constance and I spent a week in Jackson Hole, WY, where Harrison Ford has a ranch.  I gave a goodbye kiss to my kids and Thom, my husband of twenty-some years.  “Dang!” I said.  “I forgot to get my hair cut.”

“Why bother?” asked Thom.

“I want to look my best, in case we run into Harrison Ford,” I joked.

From Grand Teton National Park I called in the daily Wildlife Report.  “We saw a moose at Willow Flats, a bear, skunk roadkill, and a doe with triplets.”   Next day it was a coyote, an osprey with a fish, and a bison that peed in public.  The folks at home were very impressed.

One rainy day, after having lunch in town, we walked down the street.  I picked at that last stubborn bit of tuna between my teeth, and noted my reflection in a shop window.  My wet hair was looking pretty scraggly.  “Stimudent?” I asked Con.

She didn’t answer–I turned and followed her gaze–she was staring at the back of a man in tan cargo pants and a matching jacket.  “That’s Harrison Ford.”

“Good one,” I said.  ” But that guy’s too short.”

“Honest!” said Con.

I’d only glimpsed the guy’s back on a crowded sidewalk.  It could be.   “Swear.  On our mother’s grave.”

She wasn’t lying.

“Oh, my God!” I cried.  “They will never believe this back home!  I need proof!  Photo-documentation!”

I drew my camera and followed, elbowing small children and little old ladies out of my way, but I couldn’t catch up.  He jaywalked through traffic and I saw only the back of his head as he went into a ski shop.  My face pressed discreetly against the glass, I saw him walk to the back wall, and the display of…no, not whips, knives or even hats.  Stuff sacks.

He still had his back to me.  I had to know.  I entered the store, but panicked, and went straight to the rack of sunglasses on the front counter.  A clerk  hurried over to help.  But there was no help for me; I had just stalked a man who might or might not be Harrison Ford through the streets of Jackson.  I bolted for the door.   As I escaped, the man glanced over his shoulder.

It was Him.  That night the Wildlife Report included a Big Game Hunt and Worthy Prey.

©2015 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Entertainment.