Renée Carrier lives in the northern Black Hills of Wyoming with her husband. Published credits include a collection of creative nonfiction essays, A Singular Notion, published by Pronghorn Press, 2006. Straight and Level: A True Story of a Young Man’s Quest to Become a Flying Cadet in the U.S. Air Corps, is Renée’s first foray into editing and compiling. Her father’s aviation memoir is available from Braeburn Croft Press. Her essays have appeared in anthologies, including one compiled by her writers’ group, Bearlodge Writers, entitled In the Shadow of the Bearlodge, published by Many Kites Press, 2006.
Straight and Level, by S. Paul Latiolais, Colonel, USAF (ret), Edited and Compiled by Renée Carrier, Braeburn Croft Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-615-37147-4, $12.95 plus s/h, 199 pp, softcover.
Excerpt from Renée’s Conclusion in Straight and Level:
A Quicksilver Flash in the Sun
I have relied on my father’s comprehensive résumé to help me sort through his rich and full life. So much followed Korea that is only outlined therein.
In December 1950 at the behest of Air Force General Hoyt Vandenberg, Dad served as technical advisor for the RKO film One Minute to Zero, starring Robert Mitchum, Ann Blyth, William Talman, and directed by Tay Garnett. He coordinated and executed believable air combat scenes, in addition to advising on military protocol. His childhood love of picture shows and a discerning eye converged. In his reminiscences Marilyn Monroe was “a sad little girl;” Elizabeth Taylor used petroleum jelly on her eyebrows—he had asked her how she kept them so beautiful; and Hoagie Carmichael played his song “Stardust” for him on his piano one evening. Robert Mitchum traded cars with him for a day (Mitchum wanted to drive my father’s MG-TD.) I ask the reader to excuse the name-dropping—it serves to underscore the glamorous aspect of this particular assignment. He continued to enjoy films until the day before he died, having viewed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off yet once again.
Throughout the years Dad managed to retain his enthusiastic, childlike wonder and extraordinary capacity to be delighted, further demonstrated by his style of writing (and use of exclamation marks!). On balance, however, life also brought him many tragedies and difficulties. Why he chose to stop writing when he did I do not know. I ardently hope it wasn’t for lack of encouragement or support on the part of his family and friends, but after his retirement from the Air Force life continued to bring trials and cares, and I expect he simply let go of the task . . .
. . . But the magic of flight yet interceded. I remember Dad taking me up in a glider over the French countryside when I was five or six—an exceedingly quiet thrill. As a favor to him by the French before we returned to the States in 1961, he was granted permission to fly the length and breadth of his ancestral country in a jet. I remember our mother with my infant sister Nancy in arms, quickly gathering us outside our home in Veneux-les-Sablons, craning our necks up to the sky, shielding our eyes and watching, while Dad dipped the wings of his plane as he flew over, a quicksilver flash in the sun.
In the early eighties he decided to recount his story in aviation. Except for a few personal mentions, and to satisfy a question of interest for the reader (without which the work would be left “barren and sterile,” as he phrased it), I have tried to respect his privacy. Dad loved people and was genuinely interested in them. By the same token, complete strangers often would tell him their life stories, which he considered a privilege, remaining bemused by the phenomenon. He never lost his keen interest in aviation, nor in people and politics—the business “of the people.” But flight, it seemed, was second nature.
Countless subjects enthralled him and he continued to learn all his life, while striving mightily to impart his enthusiasms. It is not surprising that one of his grandsons, now a pilot, also dreamt of flying as a young boy.
I reiterate Dad’s wish that perhaps his account may serve to encourage and inspire some other youngster to follow his [or her] dreams.
There lies exceptional Beauty in Duty after all.
A Singular Notion by Renée Carrier
“In a collection essays the author chronicles her journey from her journey from a magical childhood though adulthood by relying on her “antidotes” of music and spiritual longing. Later, in Wyoming, a remembered encounter inspires a philosophy of living, loving and learning, whether from stones, kindred spirits or through her parents’ deaths and joy returns through listening, noticing, and acknowledging connections.”~Annette Chaudet, Editor, Pronghorn Press, Greybull, Wyoming.
“Like a finely faceted gemstone, A Singular Notion reflects the light of the outer world while at the same time illuminations the complexities of inner thought. Renée Carrier writes elegantly of both the natural and spiritual realms, inviting the reader into Wyoming’s remote landscape with skill and grace”—Page Lambert, In Search of Kinship and River Writing Journeys for Women
“An enticing book about an intriguing journey through inner and outer landscapes, both achingly familiar and poignantly strange.”—Susun Weed, author of The Wise Woman Herbal Series: Healing Wise, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years, Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way and New Menopausal Years
Excerpt from A Singular Notion:
The Road to Braeburn
The road home from Hulett, a small town of 405 in the northeast corner of Wyoming, heads north towards Montana, twenty-eight miles away, a ribbon erratically lain along the valleys and hills of the Belle Fourche River watershed; French trappers in the 1700’s named the stream the “pretty fork” of the Cheyenne River farther south. On one stretch of the highway, all of which is barren of billboards, the land slopes and spreads south for forty miles towards Warren Peak, the highest point in the Bear Lodge Mountains of the Black Hills. Ponderosa pine and scrub oak trees seemingly float like fleets of tall ships, anchored on swells of grass. In the spring, before the oaks bud out, the color of their bark reflects a deep shade of burgundy against the almost chartreuse hue of young leaves on the ash trees, which open first.
Highway 112 wends through prime deer country, where the posted speed limit is too high to prevent the often-disastrous run-in. A drive home at twilight requires a heightened attention as buck; doe and fawn make their way back to evening grounds and water holes. Turkeys crisscross ranch borders, often spending a winter month or more in one locale—especially if they are fed. A flock resides on our place much of the time. Some evenings their raucous flights up to the pine crowns near the base of the cliff bring out our calls to see if they will reply, which they often do. The half-circle formation of rim-rock to the east of the house (and highway) amplifies their gobbles and hen calls, and the occasional echo-seeking aria singer.
Nineteen years ago we moved into this valley below geology the locals call “wall-rock.” The crescent-shaped high natural boundary, composed of various Sundance formation shales and sandstones, was eventually deposited during the Jurassic age when the sea played back and forth with the land about 160 million years ago. A sheer-faced buttress juts away from the receding, eroding steep hillside. “Lovers Leap” it is named on the county map, legend says for someone who leapt to his death two hundred feet below to the hard shale. Is the land cursed or blessed by his sacrifice? I have wondered, by the sad coos of mourning doves nesting above in the rocks. Their calls haunt the hillside—a brae in Scotland; a burn is a ravine or creek. Dry gorges break up the back of our land, and in early spring snowmelt, or rain, gushes downhill to refill a habitually muddy pond that we had excavated. Not a ranch, nor a farm per se, I love the Muiresque definition of “a place” as being a part of the environment claimed by feeling. I think of this place as a croft, again, Scottish for farm. Crofters often practiced cottage industry; they were ancestors of today’s tele-commuters.
Perhaps a mere function of my age, or from having finally lived in once place these many years, the seasons have coalesced into one spring, one summer, one fall and one winter—their differences only adding particulars in my memory. Each spring when I spot a neighbor’s new-born calves as I head toward home, a peculiar déjà-vu feeling nudges me out of my complacency, and reinforces this impression of time as a circle, or spiral at best. Seeing cavorting calves against a splendid pastoral landscape has become a spring tonic; I am flushed through with a joy and a hope; it is spring once again.
I am mystified by the idea that only so many humans have inhabited this landscape, that only so many lives and dramas have influenced this countryside where I, too, dwell. While not entirely pristine, the land here remains largely ignored and left alone …even the timber industries in town manage their take so as not to leave the forests denuded. I have no quarrel with them, but a certain knee-jerk reaction to environmentalism from some loggers saddens me.
A Bald Eagle catches a thermal uplift above the rim-rock, soaring in a widening, upward spiral, while the mate hovers near their treetop nest. Goldens migrate through the area as well; here they are not an endangered species. My father explained the difference between a vulture’s wing tip shape, and that of an eagle’s; using his fingers he spread them out wide and lifted the tips for the vulture’s, while the eagle’s bend back. “You could look it up,” he adds—his characteristic comment to encourage scholarship on any given fact. Another of his maxims is his definition of an “intelligent” person—“she may not know something, but she surely knows where to look it up.”
I look up and follow the eagle’s flight until he disappears behind the cliff, then turn and walk back to the new cabin.
It is dusk and I am at peace in the dense quiet hanging over the land. I sit on the new cabin’s porch learning a different habitat from that which I have memorized around the house a hundred feet away. My gazing out over the green landscape, softly muted with the coming darkness, becomes an evening contemplative prayer. Eternal perfection of silence in punctuated stillness. Why are birdcalls so poignant at nightfall? Because their plaintive cries only accentuate the quiet? Now frogs begin their throaty staccato night song, while someone drones up the valley road a quarter mile away, in arco violin accompaniment.
Anyone might sigh at this solitude, this seeming exile, and this self-imposed time in a cultural wilderness …where is the stimulation? The goad? The thing to push against? The holy struggle? The angel wrestling with our earthly nature?
My husband is retired as superintendent of the county’s schools. Our two children have left home; here they were raised from the time they were eight and five. They are permitted to take it for granted, as “grace,” and do not yet distinguish a veil between worlds; I believe it must be all one to them in their push to maturity, or, most likely, I hear, they have their own ways of perceiving and recognizing the numinous . . . while my husband simply longs to be able to take a breath, breathe out, part the veil, and be one with the land, gardener that he truly is. He cherishes his time at home, this precious gift of peaceful solitude, “far from the madding crowd.” He is a Gabriel Oak.
In the French film Jean de Florette, Jean tells his rustic neighbor, “Je veux cultiver l’autentique,” I want to cultivate the authentic. The neighbor wonders what sort of new flower this is. As someone who has moved to the country, Jean is suspect, especially his education. I find many parallels of this attitude here. The words, “provincial” and “rural” may or may not be interchangeable. When we moved to this corner of Wyoming, my father-in-law quipped that the area was “about fifty years behind the rest of the state”—not necessarily derogatorily, he called it “Old Wyoming.” We sold our home in Douglas and moved a mobile home to Hulett where no rentals were available—nine months later we happened on forty acres north of town where we could begin to “cultivate the authentic.”
I could list pros and cons to rural life; instead I try to seek balances—unexpected joys and sorrows happen anywhere. I have found, however, that the dramas in a rural area seem more concentrated to me—fewer people to dilute them perhaps. You are somehow involved by default. Even the old western tradition of staying out of others’ business is really just a sort of discretion. The dramas become local weather.
As parents we tried to offer our children a wider experience while living rurally. One summer we toured France for two weeks where I lived as a child, and their grandparents gave them unique opportunities for travel. We wanted them to learn discernment, that subtle quality of recognizing differences between two possible goods, and to be able to draw comparisons and contrasts between their daily lives—which were often circumscribed socially, culturally and academically, and those of other cultures—as well as the inherent possibilities of life. My own observation is that not as much is expected from the rural student, and I wonder if it has more to do with a simple lack of competition, of numbers of students, than with opportunity; on the other hand, our son and daughter grew up in a beautiful and tight community, where, as in the proverbial village, everyone’s children are everyone’s responsibility. We hoped to hold the contradictions in some sort of perspective, but it required attention, and a lot of work …
Rural students often experience a type of culture shock upon entering the University of Wyoming, and while our kids may have felt homesick, they were able to ride it out. I attribute some of this resiliency to a sense of expectancy we tried to inculcate in them—not “great expectation,” but rather, an open-ness and trust. They will no doubt learn some things the hard way as well . . . as do we all.
My own roles are necessarily varied here. A teaching certificate in French goes unemployed—there not being a French program in the county—but I have found work, as the saying goes; the usual farming chores aside, I am able to write and study music.
One of our answers has been to become planters—of an orchard of apples, plums, cherries, stubborn apricots, a large strawberry bed, raspberries, herbs, a kitchen garden for corn, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, squash and green beans. We gather wild lamb’s quarter to eat fresh in salads, or to cook as a green. In fall we collect hawthorn berries, dig Echinacea root, and harvest wild catnip and bee balm— to make nourishing vinegars and healthful tinctures. Homemade Elderberry syrup stands ready against colds and flu. We learned that garlic is a good crop against the often-violent summer hailstorms, and while “vineyard” may sound ambitious, even ostentatious, we tend grape varieties that grow well in this region, Zone 4: St. Croix, Marechal-Foch, Labrusca, Sabrevois, Elvira, Reliance and Frontenac, to name a few.
“I can’t decide if he’s Dionysus or Apollo,” a friend once remarked about my husband and his gardening and winemaking ventures. A cellar was dug last fall, ostensibly for the apples, potatoes and winter squash, but it is referred to as “the cave,” with a French accent, and holds bottles and bottles of the aging and hopeful stuff. Pressing apples for cider has become an autumn tradition when Raccoon leaves us enough.
The cabin by the pond is a recent addition. Even in this most rural setting, called “frontier” by government standards, the cabin offers that certain separate peace that only being away from the distractions of one’s home, including the telephone, television, and laundry can. It is a work in progress—not unlike us. I anticipate being able to walk down in the morning, light the stove, go do my chores and after, spend the morning writing within its sheltered embrace.
It is tempting to liken one’s soul with the cabin, with the notion that only so much can appropriately fit within its ten by sixteen-foot dimensions, while acknowledging a soul’s unlimited, boundless capacity; choose wisely how you intend to furnish me, I hear …what are the tools you truly require?
On a post in front of our home hangs an old school bell that my father and mother brought us from Georgia; under the bell on the post hangs a sign, on which I have painted “LISTEN.”
The Gateless Gate at the Croft
This year I am concentrating on the meaning of “Perspective.” And I am exploring fiction. The two could be intertwined in a future endeavor. Meanwhile I am luxuriating in our new grandson, Parker. Being called “NéNé”—now that gives one perspective!
Get to know Renee
Quote Me: "I write to try to understand the
natural world and to engage mystery. I find teachers
everywhere. Writing is about discovering glories and waking up
in darkness, filtered through experience and sensibility."