What is a Windshadow?

Over the next few days, I will post information about each of the four books I have available. All of them will be part of the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste.

Today, I feature my first published book, a memoir titled In the Shadow of the Wind. Though I have aspired to write books as long as I can remember, it was this one that had to come first. It uncorked the bottle of my creativity, so to speak. Released in 2014, I continue to be amazed at the response of new readers. It seems to connect with new folks scattered from coast to coast, and I am humbly grateful to the Winds of the Spirit for making the story known to those who struggle with their own personal grief and need encouragement.

What is it about?

Following a series of tragic losses, at age thirty I found myself in a strange world, anticipating a lonely future.  Widowed, and grieving the loss of two infants, I retreated to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, I set up a solitary camp on the Neosho River bank of my family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood water after only a few days, I had to face my own mortality.

I discovered that there is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells my story: how an ordinary woman learned to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in my inner resources to conquer adversity.

Prologue from the Book

“It’s okay, Daisy Pup,” I said. The small spaniel whined. I drew her to my chest and we cuddled together. Thunder exploded in the air above our little tent. The after-rumbles faded. Seconds later rain pelted the nylon roof of my fair-weather shelter. Daisy shivered in my arms. “It’ll be okay.” I tried to convince myself.

I felt foolish. How could I have thought this was a good idea? How could I have dreamed that I would be able to withstand forty days in the wilderness? The rain turned my plan into a futile effort that bordered on the edge of insanity.

A drop of water stabbed my forehead. In the gray afternoon light, I saw hundreds of droplets hang heavily from the inside of the tent roof. The threat of a cold shower hovered  inches away.

“Good Lord, Daisy—it’s going to rain inside the tent.”

There was no escape from the chill in the air. No escape from the fingers of cold that crept up from below. No escape from—“Oh, my God, the sleeping bag is wet.”

I shifted sideways in the orange tent and discovered we huddled in a growing pool of water, now about an inch deep. “Oh, God, this is crazy.”

My canine companion stood and shook.

“You need to go out?”

She wagged her stubby tail and shook again. I unzipped the door and she jumped into the deluge. I grabbed my boots and began to pull one over a damp sock. On second thought, I tied the laces together, removed my socks, and backed out of the low-slung tent. I pulled my backpack into the soggy afternoon, zipped the tent door shut, and stood barefoot in black ooze.

Daisy splashed through standing water. She located a slight rise, squatted, and relieved herself. I glanced at the sodden landscape. Water stood everywhere, and I was already soaked in the downpour. What were we to do? I turned in a circle and searched for shelter. An old wooden railroad boxcar, the only structure that remained on the abandoned farm, stood right behind the tent.

I stooped to look under the boxcar. We could wiggle under it. I quickly discarded that idea. The prospect of lying in muck was no better than sitting in a wet tent. Padlocks secured the sliding doors of the boxcar. Even if I had a key, I doubted I could budge them enough to allow entrance. The aged wooden sides looked weathered and soft. One ragged gap at the leading edge of the north door panel appeared almost large enough for me to wiggle inside.

I slogged to the side of the boxcar and grasped the lower edge of one ragged slat. I tugged on the worn end. With my entire weight behind my efforts, I ripped off inches at a time until the opening had grown twice as large.

“Come here, Daisy. Let’s check this out.” She was instantly at my mud-covered heels. I patted the dark floor of the boxcar, standing forty inches off the ground. Daisy leaped. With an assist from me, she scrambled into the dark interior. I stuffed my backpack behind her, slogged to the tent and pulled my boots and the bedding into the storm. I struggled to maintain balance as I slipped back to the hole in the door and crammed the bundle of blankets inside. Then I leaned into the darkness of the abandoned car and jumped. On my stomach, legs dangling out the opening, I snaked forward a few inches. With flailing arms, I reached into the darkness in search of something to grab.

There. Something metallic. Perhaps an old piece of farm equipment. I didn’t know. I could see very little. But it didn’t budge, so I was able to pull myself into the relatively dry interior of the old boxcar. Across the car, Daisy snuffled and sneezed a couple times. I stood and felt my way around the area. After locating a pile of old shingles along the south wall, I propped the backpack on the floor beside them. I shook the damp bedding. My clothing was soaked through, so I wrapped the blankets and sleeping bag around my shoulders. I sat on the shingles and leaned against the wall of the boxcar.

Daisy bounded onto my lap. We shared each other’s warmth as the deluge continued outside. Moments after we both settled down, I heard scratching noises inside the boxcar. Light-footed creatures scampered about the interior. I hugged Daisy a little tighter. I could see pinpoints of light here and there, small eyes that reflected the afternoon light filtering in through holes in the wall. Oh, my God.

Rats. Lots of them.

 I screamed. “I am such a fool, Daisy. Why do you put up with me?”

She licked my chin.

I spoke to my late husband Craig. “What am I going to do? I don’t think I can do this. I can’t live without you.”

He, of course, didn’t answer. I was on my own.

Daisy whined softly and licked my chin as if she understood. The storm mirrored the anguish in my heart. The entire universe wept with me. “What are we going to do, girl? I don’t know where we’re heading. I only know where we’ve been.”

When I met Craig, we thought we had all the time in the world. A decade was hard to visualize. Had we known that all our joys, our plans, and dreams, would have to be packed into one decade, would we have spent our days differently? Would our choices have been laced with more love and wisdom, or with desperate lunacy? Based on the law of averages, we had every reason to expect several decades together.

Yet there was barely one.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I railed against the universe.

 

 

It’s here!

Yesterday, the arrival of my copies of In the Shadow of the Wind signaled a rite of passage for me. My book, a glossy paperback with my name on the front and my photo on the back, is finally done. But my journey is far from complete. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Will anybody want to read it? And if they do, will they treat it with favor? Perhaps I’ll never know, but the story is there, offered for anyone who might be struggling, who has experienced the tragic loss of a loved one far too soon in life. I feel a little arrogant to think that anyone would want to read a memoir of my life. After all, who am I? I’m just Ann, plain and ordinary.

Perhaps this describes the vast majority of us. Within our small circles of life, each of us makes our mark. We live. We love. And we die. Some of us complete the circle sooner than others. Some of us travel parts of the circle more than once. Most of us, sooner or later, will feel the pain of a loved one’s death and question what purpose remains in our empty lives. And we must find a way forward. Pup on the prairie Anticipating questions from friends who read the story, I offer answers in advance.

Q:        How long does it take to write a book?

A:        This one? Thirty years. In the Shadow of the Wind was a project begun decades ago, in another place and another time in my life. When events of life intervened, and my new life started, I put this project away and literally forgot about it. Without the detailed journals I wrote at the time the events occurred, it would have been impossible to write this memoir.

Q:        Why did you decide to write it now?

A:        In 2010, my father died suddenly after a heart attack. He had supported me during my earlier losses with unconditional love and encouragement. At his memorial service, I mentioned how much it meant to me when he endorsed my forty day retreat into the wilderness. Afterward, people wanted to know more about the retreat. It was like somebody from beyond tapped me on the shoulder to say, “It’s time. Write.” Perhaps it was a last gift from my father. Perhaps Craig himself had something to do with it. But at that moment, I knew my life had just changed. I would write again.

Q:        A lot of the chapters in your memoir are very personal. How can you put such personal, private details out there for strangers to read?

A:        I think a story like this has to be personal, or it will be very dull. Readers need to feel the emotions, to laugh and cry with the writer, in order for the writing to ring true. Yes, it’s personal. Some of it is so personal that I didn’t tell a soul about it when it happened. But I did tell my journal. And the story is about a different me, the young woman of three decades ago. As I worked with these words, I could feel what she felt, and think her thoughts, but it was almost like they belonged to somebody else. Perhaps the insulation of time, the passage of these decades, was necessary. I couldn’t have written it when the emotions were fresh. It was too painful.

Q:        How do you know you’ve been called to write?

A:        Just a feeling, I think. How does a pastor know he or she has been called to preach? There is a notion from within, a driving force you can’t ignore. And then there are some signs along the way.

I like to think the Great Spirit still speaks to us. The timing of events at two places in my life led me to believe that someone somewhere was sending me a message. When Craig and I lived through repeated crises, the arrival of Phoebe Dawn was a miracle. Timing was critical. She was born on March 2, 1984. We met her and brought her home on March 5, three days later. Before the end of March, Craig was in the hospital. Had she been an April baby, we’d never have met the precious child who gave Craig the inspiration and drive to fight for his life and gave me purpose to carry on after he was gone. I thought, and still do, she was a gift from God. 4 Phoebe Dawn, a ray of sunshine

Q:        And the second place when you felt a supernatural nudge?

A:        That has to do with my efforts to record the story over the last four years. During the year following my father’s death, the very same pastor who had been with us through the loss of our babies, who had preached at their graveside services, came back into my life. He was sent to my current church. I felt it was a sign.

Additionally the year 2012 was the year I was pulling the story from my journals. Much of the tale takes place in 1984, a leap year. The year 2012 also was a leap year, the seventh leap year since 1984, and the very first year since then when the calendar days exactly meshed with the days of the week all year long. As I wrote, it was almost as if I was reliving that time twenty-eight years ago. Every event became vivid in my mind. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if so, a strange one I could never have foreseen.

Q:        Where do you go from here?

A:        I’m not sure. The books are printed. Once again, my shy nature balks at putting them out for strangers to read. But if someone wants a copy, they are available. Someday, there may be an e-version. That will be another adventure for me, a new learning experience.

Q:        You’d just let the books sit in your closet?

A:        I still find it a little bit hard to believe anyone would actually want to read it. I have been operating for the last four years under the premise that I was supposed to write the book. I was directed—ordered—to do it. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Somebody somewhere needed my story or would need it. When it was ready, they would be led to it somehow.

As I get older, I find fewer and fewer things that I am certain of. There are so many differences among us, so many opinions, so many arguments. But one thing I still firmly believe is that we are here to help each other. Whether neighbors in our home towns need assistance, or people in Bangladesh and the Maldives who are watching their homes disappear under a rising sea, we are called to help.

Other creatures might need help too. Perhaps a wild kitten has fallen between bales in a haystack, Monarch butterflies can’t find the milkweed they need to feed new generations, the birds on Midway Island strangle in human trash, or the arctic ice of the polar bears recedes further every summer. These fellow passengers on spaceship Earth also beg for assistance.

Or maybe it’s a mother, grieving for a lost child, or a young widow facing an uncertain future. If we’re not here to help, what are we doing here anyway? The needs are there. The opportunities to get involved are endless.

5 Silhouette for wedding invitation

Q:        Do you have any parting words?

A:        My wish for each of you is that you will be able to meet the winds of your life head-on, and learn how to soar through troubled times.

For myself, I feel most satisfied when my days include time spent writing. I’ve already started a novel about a piano tuner who solves a mystery by uncovering clues hidden in various pianos she tunes. It’s received hearty endorsements from instructors at two writing workshops I attended this summer, and I’m excited to continue writing. I’ll have to step up my time table, however. I may not be around for another three decades—and I have more ideas hatching all the time.

Q:        What about your memoir? What’s it really about?

A:        A short summary of In the Shadow of the Wind: A Story of Love, Loss and Finding Life Again:

Following a series of tragic losses, thirty-year old Ann Darr struggles alone in a strange and frightening world.  The young widow and bereaved mother retreats to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, she sets up a solitary camp on the river bank of her family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood waters after only a few days, she faces her own mortality.

There is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells how one ordinary woman learns to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in her inner resources to conquer adversity.

Part 3 Forty Days in the Wilderness

Q:          Where can I find a copy of this book?

A:          Right now, they are in my closet. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, either reply to this post or send me a private message on Facebook (Ann Fell, FHSU) to let me know how to reach you.

There is Life After Loss

A year ago I launched The Bridge, following advice of several writing friends. It’s been an adventure for me, providing fulfillment in my life. I’ve learned a lot about the blogging world, but I admit I’m still a novice and have a lot more to learn.

This year, The Bridge is receiving a facelift. Again, advice from various writing sources convinced me that it should be narrowed in scope. The book I’ve labored to write for the last three years is nearly complete. I’m polishing a proposal. I’ve pitched it to a couple literary agents and a few small publishers. Excerpts from my memoir have won awards in writing contests in both Kansas and Oklahoma, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfirst place in non-fiction in the 2012 Kansas Writers Association contest, and first place in non-fiction at the 2013 Rose State Writing workshop contest in Oklahoma.

I believe my story might help someone. I’ve done my best to write and polish the prose. I’m confused at times. Blog-related advice runs the gamut from “You can’t sell a book without a blog” to “Don’t start a blog until you know what you’re doing.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever know what I’m doing, but I believe I’ve been nudged from beyond— from across The Bridge—to proceed. My purpose in this venture seems to run counter to all the workshop advice. My goal has never been one of personal enrichment, of financial gain. Publishers and editors need to assess the marketable aspects of a manuscript. All I want to do is help somebody who needs a friend, somebody who might be going through a particularly rough time, somebody who might be struggling with a life-or-death crisis today. In some ways I am terrified to stir up the past and serve it to strangers. But if I can help someone, I need to find the courage to step forward. That is one of life’s big adventures—meeting your fears and laughing through the terror.

Let me tell you a little bit about the bridge photo in the header of this blog. More than three decades ago, I stood with my husband in the basement morgue of the hospital where our daughter—our precious child—had been stillborn. We gazed at her tiny face, stroked her cold cheeks, fingered her tiny hands, and bid her farewell. We had not thought to bring a camera. That was the one and only time we saw our baby girl.

After her memorial service in a windy hilltop cemetery, we wound our way through the hills of our county, just driving, not saying much. We did have our cameras though. Every so often, something caught our attention and we stopped to take a picture. The scenes were bleak, lonely, cold, PICT0548showing life buried by death, and dreams receding across a bridge. Together they expressed our unspeakable grief. The collage of photos became our picture of little Gabrielle, and the header of this blog was among them. It is a picture of my baby girl. Isn’t she amazing?PICT0547

Since the day three decades ago when I stood on a lonely road taking a picture of a bridge, I’ve bidden farewell to Gabrielle’s little brother. I’ve been widowed. My grandmother passed on, as well as a few friends. Most recently, I’ve been orphaned. Each loss opened a fresh wound and shook my faith in the goodness of life. Each loss was different, leaving a new kind of hole in my heart. Sometimes I thought I could not bear the pain. To watch someone you love die is to watch the world stop turning.

And yet, I survived. I’m here to say there is life after loss. All of us who love somebody risk the pain of loss and we will all have to bid that final farewell to our dear ones someday. After the frenzy surrounding a loss comes to an end, one thing that remains is the certainty that your life has changed forever.

But there is still life after loss. And it can be a good life. After losing my first husband, I met another wonderful man. After losing two children, together my husband and I have raised four. Now we are enjoying the antics of a grandson, and our youngest daughter is expecting a baby girl very soon. Life can be good indeed.

I offer The Bridge, re-designed, to feature topics related to grief and healing, to memorial tributes for my loved ones now gone, and to cover writing topics. Other facets of my life belong in another place. For those who may be facing terminal illness right now, or the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, my heart goes out to you. I hope entries in The Bridge may provide a small bit of comfort and help with your healing journey. At least you’ll know you’re not alone. You have a friend.