We woke up to a cool morning, 52 degrees, which is unusual for the first of August in northern Wyoming. As we sat on the porch with our cups of coffee, the sun rose over the red cliffs and shone out across the meadow where the buffalo were grazing. It’s always a quiet moment for us. The sight of grazing animals seems to touch something deep in the human soul that generates a sense of peace. Maybe it’s just the presence of the Wild so close. Maybe it’s because everything is connected to everything else and, for just a few moments, the boundary between animal and human ceases to exist, and we share the land and air as One.
It’s been very dry here, but not as bad as other places in the West. We’ve had enough afternoon and evening thunderstorms to keep the grasses from going completely dormant. We hiked up to Long Ridge yesterday to look at a tipi ring site with our friends Laura and Shannon, and were relieved to see some green blades in the middle of the bunch grasses. Not much in the way of seeds this year, though, which means the food sources for many animals and birds are way down. Every night we have mule deer in the yard browsing on our recently flowered nightshade, and raccoons knocking around the bird feeders. The good thing about living in the middle of nowhere is that no scrap goes to waste. We just put it outside at night, and some hungry creature is happy to fill his empty belly.
What’s happening with Pia and Stardust?
Thanks for all your notes asking about Pia and Stardust. For those who don’t know, Pia was an orphaned buffalo calf that we raised of bottles on goat’s milk. She’s fourteen this year, happy and healthy. But she’s always had a special place in her heart for babies, probably because she had a hard time growing up. After all, first she lost her mother, then she lost her herd, and had only two humans as parents and a Shetland sheep dog named Jessie as her best friend. The result is that Pia is very protective of her calves, and Stardust, born in 2011, is a good example. Ordinarily buffalo cows nurse their babies for seven or eight months, then they start kicking them off, weaning them. Not so with Pia. In July, when Stardust was fourteen months old, Pia was still nursing her. Mother and daughter were very attached to each other. The problem for us was that Pia’s physical condition was declining. With the drought, the nutrition in the grasses didn’t provide enough calories to keep Pia healthy if she was nursing…so we caught the buffalo and separated Pia from Stardust. We brought Stardust down to the pasture in front of our house, along with two friends, where we could keep an eye on them. Stardust seemed to be fine. Every day she romped and played with her friends, and ate well in the irrigated meadow. Pia, however, was heartbroken. She wandered away from the herd and spent lonely days and nights by herself with her head hanging low. When she walked, it was as though she barely had the strength to put one hoof in front of the other. We’ve seen buffalo cows do this when a calf dies, but this was different. We’ve weaned Pia’s calves for eleven years and never seen her in such despair. So…after two weeks of being apart, Pia’s milk has dried up, and yesterday we reunited Pia and Stardust. It was a sight to see. When Pia entered the pasture, she couldn’t see Stardust, but she could smell her, and mother and daughter started calling frantically to each other. Then Pia broke into a run, found Stardust, and after licking her all over, heaved a sigh that sounded very much like utter contentment. This morning Pia’s eyes are shining and happy.
What’s Happening in the Rest of the World?
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. After listening to the story on the news, we went into the library and pulled out our copy of An Interrupted Life, the story of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jew in her thirties, who was taken to Auschwitz. Here are just a couple of passages that struck us. In the deportation camp, Etty says goodbye to a friend, and writes, “We were both able to bear our loss…what is so desperate about this place is that most people are not able to bear their lot and they load it on to the shoulders of others. And that burden is more likely to break one than one’s own.” Later, she says, “Whenever yet another poor woman broke down…or a hungry child started crying, I would go over to them and stand beside them protectively…force a smile for those huddled, shattered scraps of humanity…for what else could one do? Sometimes I might sit down beside someone, put an arm around a shoulder, say very little and just look into their eyes…People said to me, ‘You must have nerves of steel to stand up to it.’ I don’t think I have nerves of steel…but I certainly can stand up to things. I am not afraid to look suffering in the eyes…. Against every new outrage and every fresh horror we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness…”
Incomprehensible acts of violence generate feelings of rage, even hatred. Etty reminds us that love and goodness are the only real solace for horror.
What’s Happening with the Books?
We are hard at work on People of the Morning Star, and awaiting the September releases of the paperback editions of A Searing Wind and The Broken Land. People of the Morning Star will be our second novel about Cahokia. Twenty-two years of concentrated research on Cahokia and the American Bottoms just across the river from St. Louis have provided us with a stunning new insights to this largest city in pre-contact America. Imagine a city it would have taken five days to walk across. The place became a polyglot concentration of population, all come to share the magic of Cahokia. Entire villages in a five-state area packed up and moved lock, stock, and barrel to help build the great city, play chunkey, worship Old-Woman-Who-Never-Dies, and the resurrected “Morning Star,” the bodily reincarnation of the legendary hero of the Beginning Times, known to archaeologists as Bird-Man because he’s portrayed as human with wings, and maybe snakeskin.
We’re fortunate in that People of the River, which has long been a favorite of so many of our fans, now acts as a prelude—a good description of what archaeologists are calling “Old Cahokia.” Readers who digest People of the River and enjoy their time with Lichen, Nightshade, and Wanderer, will be amazed at the changes wrought in the next two generations. But then, a lot can change with a civil war and a religious transformation. As archaeologists, we’ve always been fascinated by messianic movements. People of the Morning Star should be delivered to Tor/Forge sometime this fall. We’ve already written over 400 pages of the draft.
In October, People of the Black Sun, the fourth and final book in the Iroquois saga, will be released. We honestly love this book. Of course, we love them all, but keep in mind that we’ve spent around a half million words with these characters, and it’s hard to let them go. We hope you feel the same way when you finish the last page.
Have a wonderful time during the remaining months of summer…
We send our best regards,
Michael and Kathleen