While I was working as a seasonal, college-student employee at Glacier National Park, my father said, “One day you’ll write a book about this.” As I walked the mile between the hotel and the camp store for Cokes, candy bars and other “health foods,” I visualized long nature articles about the park for National Geographic Magazine that would combine with proposed climbs of K2 and Mt. Everest and canoe rides down the Amazon into a hiker’s guide to exotic trails.
Little did I know I would one day set three novels in the park.
Like most college students, I was used to walking—and sometimes running—across a campus to get from one class to another. While working at the park, I not only walked around every lake near the hotel, but hiked to every waterfall, tunnel, mountain pass, and alpine meadow. Why? For a lot of reasons. For a Florida boy, the mountains were an exciting new environment. Plus, in those days, seasonal employees weren’t allowed to bring cars into the park. So, we talked. Going to the camp store was child’s play. By the end of the summer, a 25 mile hike as an easy stroll.
A Sack of Guidebooks
There used to be a wood box on a post near Many Glacier Hotel with a handfull of walking guides for tourists taking their first hike around Swiftcurrent Lake. If you wanted to keep the guide, you put a dime in a slot. If not, you put the guide into a similar box where the trail neared the camp store. I kept mine and along with it, brought home a sack full of guidebooks.
These materials are a writer’s dream. They allow me to merge my imagination and memories of the trails and mountains with specific factual information about the trees (subalpine fir, willow), wildflowers (fireweed, beargrass), and mountains (Grinnel, Allen). Even though I write contemporary fantasy, I want the setting to be as realistic as possible, and while I didn’t know it when I was a hotel bellman, all thosde after-work hikes were taking place in a world that would one say be part of The Sun Singer, Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, and my new novel Sarabande.
I never wrote those National Geographic Magazine articles, much less climbed K2 or Everest, but I did write a few articles and essays about the Swiftcurrent Valley in Glacier National Park. Looking at the valley from a journalist’s or feature writer’s perspective helped me collect my thoughts for the fiction I would set there later. Unfortunately, I haven’t been back to the park for many years, but all that time walking around in the setting of my future novels rather engraved the sights and sounds in my memory.
Sarabande Excerpt – from a Fictional Cabin at the Park’s Lake Josephine
The bright yellow of a late morning sun filled the bedroom when Sarabande awoke. She felt the light move before she opened her eyes and pulled the tangled folds of the quilt away from her face. A summer breeze followed the light, fluttering the blue curtains with a breath that smelled of fir trees, larkspurs, gentians, and stones from snow-melt streams. Pine siskins chirped to each other amongst the ferns and mosses, olive-sided flycatchers pipped from tree-top perches, and children laughed. The laughter came and went with the coming and going of a rumbling, technology-sounding hum. Sensing no threat in the sound, she projected outside and found that a boat traveling up and down the lake with visitors was powered by whatever made the pervasive hum. The visitors got off the boat, looked around, laughed, and then got back on the boat and went away. They surrounded the cabin with their smells of strange soaps and fabrics, completely unaware of the magic in their midst. Whether it was the good night’s sleep or the rhythms of the water in the box of warm rain, her normally sharp senses intensified while she slept. Within the quilt of interlocking rings, she acquired—or was acquiring—Bear’s sense of smell, Eagle’s sight, and the quivering alertness of chipmunks and butterflies.