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Here’s a little story for you. It’s based on fact, but it’s been folded, spindled, and mutilated nearly beyond recognition. Enjoy!

It all started the summer the rancher I worked for, Joe, decided he needed a new bull. He wanted a Semental, a hybrid of several older strains that supposedly combined all their best qualities. He had Hereford bulls for the older cows, Angus bulls, which produced smaller calves, for the heifers, and for a while he had flirted with the a few Charolais bulls, until it turned out that not only could they jump like deer, but the long-legged calves were too big for many of the Hereford cows to deliver safely. After one devastating winter when cows were dying left and right, taking their beautiful, long-legged taffy-colored calves with them, he opted for the heavy, placid, stocky Semental strain.

While bulls have a bad reputation—and in some cases it is richly deserved—under most circumstances I have found them predictable, reasonable animals, though I knew better than to trust them. After all, something that weighs more than half a ton can inflict considerable pain in even a fleeting moment of pique. In general, though, if you feed them well, don’t grab them in unseemly places, and don’t block their access to cows you will get along fine. With most of them, most of the time, that is.

When Dad and I left for the cattle auction late that summer to buy the new bull I had no idea that Casanova—which is who we would be bringing home, though we didn’t know that until much later—would be any different. He looked like your average thickheaded premium bull: heavy muscles, stocky legs, impressive equipment, blunt face covered with wavy white hair. He was an investment.

The handler led him around the show pen while the auctioneer reeled off his pedigree.

“Do I hear ten, ten, ten anybody give me ten?”

Dad raised his hand.

“Eleven, eleven, eleven…”

Another hand drifted up across the ring.

“Twelve, twelve…”

Dad’s hand lifted.

In the end, Casanova went home with us. Dad backed our truck up to the loading chute. The auction yard hands opened the gate at the bottom and flicked Casanova’s back with their whips. He turned slowly, hooves thudding on the boards. Our Australian Shepherd/Cattle Dog mix darted into the chute and nipped at his heels. Casanova swung his head ponderously, but the chute was too narrow—something our smart if cowardly dog had been banking on. What he hadn’t banked on was Casanova’s determination. The heavy swinging head hit the timbers lining the chute. One plate-sized cloven hoof lifted and came down on the bottom timber. Another rose and stepped on the next.

“Damn, he’s climbin’ the wall!” yelled a cowboy.

“Toby, get outa there,” Dad snapped at our dog. Toby, shocked by Casanova’s unprecedented athleticism, darted out of the chute and scrambled into the truck cab, where he sat grinning and panting behind the wheel.

Cowboys and ranchers came running, whips in hand. By this time Casanova’s face hung overhead like a placid white moon, his front hooves balanced on the top timber. The timber creaked, then cracked.

The whips rose and fell, slashing at his tender nose. He shook his head and snorted, puzzled. Finally the head turned. The hooves slid off the timber, and Casanova crashed down into the chute. Toby leaped out of the truck and darted for his heels again. “Get back,” Dad snarled. Toby veered off course and scampered back to his observation post in the cab.

Men lined the chute, climbing the timbers to reach over and flick Casanova’s back and hindquarters. He lifted a heavy foot, then another and plodded up the cleated, manure-smeared ramp and into our truck, then stood, placid brown eyes peering inquiringly through the slats. Casanova might be dynamite with the ladies, I decided, but he was clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

“Welp, better get this bull home to the cows,” Dad joked. “Thanks for the help.” The cowboys, ranchers, and auction hands were already striding back to the ring. We pulled out onto the narrow, twisting strip of blacktop that climbed the steep hills out of town and wound through the rolling wheatfields and sagebrush-choked gullies toward the ranch.

Dad drove smoothly, gliding gently around corners, slipping to a stop at the junctions, ever-mindful of Casanova the Investment balancing in back.

Thump. The truck shuddered. I twisted and peered out the tiny back window that looked into the truck bed. A massive cloven hoof rested on the bottom slat. As I watched the truck shuddered again, and another hoof appeared on the slat above the first.

“He’s climbing out, Dad,” I shouted. The auction yard with its helpful whips was far away. So were the loading chutes. If Casanova actually scaled the sides of the truck, as he clearly intended, we were lost.

The first hoof disappeared, then reappeared a board higher. The truck shuddered again. Dad stomped on the brake. I swung out my door as the truck slowed, grabbed the frame, planted one foot on the running board, and looked up. Casanova peered down at me over the cab. As I watched one hoof appeared on the top slat.

“He’s coming over,” I shouted.

“No he’s not,” Dad gritted. “Sit down and hold on.”

I did.

Dad jerked the wheel. The truck slewed across the road. He jerked it back and we slid the other way. There was a mighty crash in back. The cab shook. “That’s taught him,” Dad grinned. We started for home again. Thump. One hoof appeared in the window. Thump. The other joined it. Dad’s lips tightened. “Brace yourself.” I grabbed Toby and braced my feet. Dad slammed on the brakes. Casanova crashed down again. Dad drove on. The hoof appeared again. Dad slammed on the brakes, veered over the center line and then back, Casanova thudded down again, and home we went, lurching and swerving, and Casanova singlemindedly pursuing his dreams of Freedom.

At home we backed up to the loading chute. I opened my door and swung out. “Move it, Bodie,” Dad yelled, even though I was already running. I scrambled up the heavy, creosote-soaked timbers, dropped into the chute, yanked back the bolt holding the box bed door shut, and jumped back out of the chute. Dad climbed up onto the truck cab, whip in hand. Casanova eyed him appraisingly. Dad flicked his whip. Casanova stood stolidly, then slowly turned and ambled down the chute and out into the holding pen. He headed straight for the water tank, where he dropped his head and slurped. White foam drifted on the water’s green surface. The float dropped. Water ran. Dad swiped the sweat off his forehead.

“Welp, we got him here,” he panted. “You girls get him out with the cows before he tries climbin’ the fence again. He’ll be fine once he sees the cows.” Bulls are simple creatures, after all.

I found Pam and we saddled up, opened the gates to the pasture, and flicked Casanova to get him moving. We let our horses slouch along behind him, flicking him occasionally to remind him that he had somewhere he needed to be, but not often enough to make him mad. Casanova might be dumb, but boy, was he ever big. We followed his square, muscular backside until he had spotted a group of cows, then turned and rode back home, thinking our troubles were over.

Ranching’s busy work, and given the normal bull’s to-do list—find cows, find grass, find water—we figured we could leave Casanova unsupervised for a few days. What else could he want? True Love, as it turned out. Casanova had a romantic soul. It would have been all right, had he found romance at home. But like Gauguin, Casanova yearned after the exotic. He lusted after strange women in his heart, which, as everyone knows, always leads to trouble.

A few days later a neighboring rancher called.

“Hey,” he said. “Nice bull you got.”

“Yeah. He’s registered Semental. When did you see him?”

“Right now. He’s in with my cows.”

“You sure?”

“I think he’s yours—come look when you got a minute. Take your time, though. No rush.”

We rushed. Every cow Casanova seduced at the neighbor’s was a calf that we wouldn’t take to market.

Sure enough, it was Casanova, looking goofily at the neighbor’s cows. As we watched he mounted one and pumped contentedly. Dad’s lips tightened.

“You girls get him home,” he snapped.

Pam and I rode over that afternoon with cattle whips and drove Casanova home, where he stood surrounded by timothy grass, water, and willing prime registered Hereford cows, looking forlorn.

The next morning the neighbor called again. And the next. And the next.

“You wanna buy a bull?” Dad asked him, half in jest.

“Hell, why should I?” he laughed.

Dad’s lips tightened again. Pam and I rode over and drove Casanova home.

The next morning the neighbor called…

A month later we drove the truck over to the neighbor’s, loaded Casanova from the neighbor’s chute, and Dad drove lurching and swerving back to town, where Casanova went back up on the auction block and Dad replaced him with a less handsome but more reliable Family Man type bull, one blind to the blandishments of the neighbors’ cows, one who would remain true to our herd.

While I was having to drive Casanova home every morning I considered him a pedigreed pain in the neck and a prime registered screw-up. Sometimes, though, particularly late at night, I can understand what drove him, and I feel a wry admiration. He refused to settle. He knew what he wanted and he went after it. He didn’t let fences, or inconvenience, or disapproval stand in his way. He had a dream, and he fought for it.

When we’re children we all want to be brain surgeons, painters, astronauts, presidents, queen of England, writers, sculptors. And then we grow up, and become technicians, clerks, hacks. Does anyone fantasize about selling insurance? We let our dreams die. We settle.

And sometimes rightly so. One must eat. Artistic and literary endeavor feed my soul, but my son needs cereal and bananas, too. Dreams don’t build good bones. I think of Joshua Reynolds, who dreamed of painting sweeping historical grandeur and ended by painting chubby ladies dressed up as Aphrodite. He became rich—one of the few painters ever to do so—and funneled his creativity into experimenting with fruits in his paints. On the other hand there’s William Blake, who hated Reynolds for his success—and blindly pursued his dream of excellence into starvation. There’s got to be a balance.

How do you know when it’s time to stop striving, stop jumping the fence, and settle into bovine contentment? I’m not even sure I want to—maybe, like Ulysses, and like Casanova, it’s my nature “to strive to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Perhaps I’ll be jumping fences throughout my life and into a cranky old age. Perhaps I will die, feeling that I have never really lived, or never really achieved the thing of which I wanted to be capable. Maybe, like Casanova, I will never get to live my dreams. But maybe that’s not important. Maybe it’s not the cows in the next pasture, but the act of jumping the fence that’s important, the striving, and not the succeeding, that feeds my soul.

I suspect that, like Casanova, I’ll never settle. Oh, from time to time maybe I’ll let them throw a quick rope on me and lead me home. I’ll stay there long enough to let everybody get some sleep—and then knock up a few cows on my way to the fence again, in pursuit of the siren cows beyond the horizon.

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Here’s something a little cheerier. This one didn’t come from the regression exercises, but from a dream. If you haven’t done it already, consider keeping something by your bed to write with. Dreams can be a wonderful source of ideas. I tend to dream in stories; I’ve gotten several short stories and even the starts to novels that way. Dreams are often odd. elliptical, and evocative–all of which makes for a wonderful, rich source from which to draw. But enough–meet Amanda Miranda, the The Girl Who Could Fly. Amanda’s a favorite of mine. You’ll meet her, folded, spindled, tweaked, and under another name when I get my young adult novel, The Flying Walinski’s, published. But for now, meet her as I met her first, in a dream:

She leaned forward, eyes closed, arms spread, pressing her body against the baking wind sweeping up from the valley below. Grasses rustled tawny against her tanned, chubby legs. Her starched cotton skirt and stiff white eyelet petticoat pressed against her flat chest and round little belly and belled out behind her like a sail. She opened her mouth and the hot wind rushed in, tasting of dust, of flour, of grain, and under it all just a hint of river. She leaned harder, trusting the wind.

“Manda, Momma said don’t.”

Amanda opened her eyes but kept her arms wide and leaned even farther, pressing her luck beyond the danger point.

“You’re gonna fall…”

The wind cradled her, hot, purifying, and immediate. She stared out beyond the tumble of rocks that plunged from just below her feet down into the valley. She looked past the roofs faded to soft pinks, gray greens, charcoal blues, past the dusty green squares of parks patchworking the city, past the Round-Up Pavilion with its faded red, gold, and blue sign, to the glittering mansions set in splendor on North Hill. She had only ever seen the mansions from outside, when Momma drove her and her sister Polly to the High School pool for Red Cross swimming lessons. The mansions were old, with columns, porticos, stucco, and half-timbering, backed by lombardy poplars, oaks, and evergreens.

North Hill was impossibly out of reach from here  behind the church, with  Momma inside helping the other deaconnesses wash the tiny cups from Quarterly Service. The ranks of the deaconnesses weren’t populated by wives from North Hill. North Hill belonged not to the wealthy, of whom Amanda’s church had a few, but to the Wealthy—people whose pedigrees stretched back to the days when hotblooded town partisans had stolen the Umatilla County records from the city of Umatilla twenty miles downriver. They held the records hostage until Umatilla reluctantly conceded that Pendleton should be the county seat, since after all, the county records were there…Pendleton prospered, booming on lumber and county and later state business.

Umatilla withered into a quiet backwater along the Columbia River. They had the Port of the Umatilla—a towering grain elevator built on the Columbia River banks—and that was all. Grain trucks from all over Morrow and Umatilla counties drove to the elevator in the summers, carrying the grain grown on the rolling golden hills to be loaded  onto barges, floated down the river to Portland, and then to the world. Umatilla still had the Port of Umatilla—largely because Pendleton hadn’t yet devised a means of diverting the Columbia River to Pendleton. The Port employed a grand total of three men—four in a good year—and was run by Umatilla County Grain Growers (headquarters, Pendleton.)

The hot blood had cooled, but such decisive action shapes a family. People capable of acquiring a county seat by theft tended to thrive in a place like Pendleton, but enough of that. This is not a story of a town, but of a girl, Amanda, who we left leaning on the wind and staring out across the faded, misty, ozone-blue valley to the mansions of the children of bandits, and beyond to the tall white spires of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—because that was who else North Hill belonged to: The Mormons. It seemed right to Amanda. She was just old enough to understand some of her mother’s outraged comments about polygamy, and the Mormons who practiced it in defiance of the laws of the Lord, the Land and Common Morality. That the lawless Mormons would choose to build their big, beautiful church in the back yards of men whose fathers had stolen prosperity and now flaunted it seemed right and natural. North Hill was rich, lawless, and wicked.

But Amanda wasn’t thinking about Mormons and stolen prosperity. She was wasn’t really thinking at all. She was seeing the white spires turn misty against the pale blue horizon. She was hearing the trees rustle in the parks far below her. She was hearing the chorus of birdsong—sparrows, crows, larks, and gulls. She was tasting the dry, dusty, faintly floury wind, and above all, she was feeling the wind hold her up. Gulls swirled and screamed, riding the updrafts like eagles and vultures. She leaned harder, stretched farther, and for just a second her feet left the ground and she hovered, airborne.

“Amanda Miranda, stop that right now.”

The spell was broken. Amanda’s feet thudded back to earth. Her arms dropped. “Sorry Momma.”

“Get away from there. What have I told you about playing past the guard rail?”

“But  I was just picking bachelor’s buttons.”

“No you weren’t. You were pretending to fly,” said Polly in her Holy Child voice, the one Amanda hated because it usually got her into trouble.

Momma clicked briskly across the parking lot, her good, dark, modest church dress neatly covered by a ruffled bib apron. The apron looked strange to Amanda. Her mother wore aprons often, but they were usually cobbler’s aprons, almost smocks. The bib apron was holy; Momma only wore it on occasions like this, when she was working with the other deaconnesses to clean up after Quarterly Service.

Momma was carrying a big metal pitcher in her hands now. She carefully stepped over the guardrail at the edge of the parking lot and  picked her way through the tawny grass and bachelor’s buttons, nearly to the edge of the cliff, almost as far down the slope as Amanda herself had been standing. Then she squatted and carefully poured a stream of purple grape juice out over the rocks. She poured slowly, so it wouldn’t splash her Sabbath dress, her stocking-clad legs, or her pointy, patent-leather pumps.

“Whatcha doin?” Amanda asked.

“What are you doing?” Momma corrected her.

“What are you doing?” Amanda parroted impatiently.

Momma looked awkward. The juice poured a little faster. Tiny reddish purple flecks appeared on her shins. “Never mind.”

“But why are you pouring out the juice? Can I have a drink first?”

“No.”

“But I’m thirsty.” The grape juice pooled in the dust and stained the grasses and bachelor’s buttons like dark, rich blood.

“Be quiet. You know you can’t have this. It’s from Quarterly Service.”

“But it was left over. Can’t we take it home and drink it?”

“No.” Momma looked uncomfortable, and a little irritated. She stood stiffly, teetering a bit on her spike heels, the empty, purple-filmed pitcher balanced on one hand, steadied with the other.

“But—”

“It’s been blessed,” Momma snapped. She looked embarrassed at uttering what sounded very much like something a Catholic might say. “We can’t drink it after it’s been blessed. It’s the Blood of Christ. We can only use it for Quarterly Service.”

“The Blood of Christ? No it’s not. It’s just grape juice.”

“Symbolically,” Momma huffed, “and don’t contradict. It’s not nice.” She stepped carefully back over the guard rail. “It would be sacriligious to just drink it after it’s been used in Quarterly Service to represent Jesus’ blood. We have to throw it out.”

“But isn’t dumping it out just—”

“No,” Momma cut her off.

“Why didn’t you just put it down the drain?” Amanda asked.

“Because it has to be gotten rid of in a special way. It’s supposed to be poured out  where no one will walk on it.”

“But animals—”

“No people—” Momma hissed.

“But people don’t walk in drains—”

“Enough,” Momma snapped, both embarrassed at being caught doing something that looked so ridiculous, and irritated at having to explain the ritual disposal of ritual materials to someone for whom the ritual was still, like sex, a forbidden mystery. She turned to go. “Now stay on this side of the guard rail, or go sit up on the hill by Polly.”

Amanda turned to look. Polly sat primly in the tawny grass, her blue dress and white eyelet petticoat—the twin of Amanda’s—immaculate and lovely. It pouffed up around her as she sat prettily braiding the bachelor’s buttons into long garlands. A coronet of the purple, pink, white and blue flowers sat on her golden head. She was the sort of child at whom adults automatically smile. Amanda was not.

She scuffed over to Polly and flounced down beside her under Momma’s steely gaze.

Satisfied, Momma turned and clicked back into the church, her generous hips sweeping her full skirts into an exaggerated sway that Amanda admired enormously. As the door closed she jumped to her feet and tried to make her skirts sway, too. She swung her hips like Momma, but the wind defeated her. Her skirts still just belled up on one side and tangled around her legs on the other. She gave up and went to inspect the puddle of grape juice.

“Manda, Momma said not to.”

“I’m just looking.”

“Manda…”

But Amanda was Daddy’s girl, and need not obey Momma, just as Polly was Momma’s girl, and obeyed gladly. Amanda clambered over the dusty white guard rail and stood in the tall grass, feeling it swish against her legs, liking the look of the bachelor’s buttons against her cotton skirt and eyelet petticoat. She stepped carefully through the grass and squatted next to the puddle. It had already soaked into the dry ground, leaving only a dark spot of earth and a few purplish stains on the grass. And far below, on the rocks, a few dark splashes like blood. Amanda plucked a grass stem and sucked it experimentally. The ghost of grape tickled her tongue.

Then Polly sucked in her breath and Amanda, a veteran of situations like this, leaped up and over the guardrail just in time to see Momma appear in the church’s doorway.

“What were you doing?” Momma—also a veteran of situations like this—asked suspiciously.

“Nothing,” said Amanda defiantly. She heard Polly draw in a breath to tattle. She turned so Momma couldn’t see and gave Polly Stink Eye. Polly let her breath out in a long, martyred sigh.

“Come on, girls, time to go home.”

Amanda and Polly followed Momma back into the church. She locked the door behind them, and then they walked quietly, reverently, down long, dark echoing hallways.

Sometimes Amanda saw other deaconesses’ children running and shouting in the dark hallways, playing tag and hide and seek, but she and Polly walked slowly, carefully, and respectfully in God’s House, even though Amanda knew God wasn’t there. God was at home, with Daddy, probably taking a nap. Walking the dark hallways always left Amanda with the feeling of having missed something crucial, a sad, hopeless, and weary unto death feeling. She wished Momma would let them walk straight from the hot, free hilltop to the car, but Momma said she needed to lock the doors. The minister trusted her with the church keys. She must not fail him. Amanda and Polly must, therefore, pass through the Valley of the Shadow of the Church Basement on their way from the heavenly pleasures of the back parking lot back to their regular earthly existence.

They navigated the warren of dark hallways and emerged at the steps leading up, then up again, around the landing and up yet again to the foyer. Momma let them all out the big wooden front doors, then locked the doors carefully while Amanda and Polly waited. They walked down the sweeping front steps and across the street and up the hill to the front parking lot. In the car on the way home Polly hissed, “I’m telling,” into Amanda’s ear.

“Go ahead,” Amanda hissed back, lifting her chin and giving Polly Stink Eye again. Polly glared back, but there was fear behind her eyes, and Amanda knew she would not tell.

Amanda rode the rest of the way home in silence, breathing in the ripe-wheat-and-hamburger-scented wind, holding onto her amazing, joyful, secret, the memory of that split second she had been airborne, before her mother’s voice had brought her crashing back to earth. What might have happened if Momma had not come out just then?

Amanda’s soul trembled with the wonder of it. Beside her, Polly sat neatly, hands folded, staring out her window at nothing. She looked lovely. Even though they looked exactly alike, were exactly the same age, and dressed exactly the same, no one except perfect strangers ever confused the two girls, nor did anyone except perfect strangers think of them as identical, though technically they were. Polly was the Good one, who sat quietly and looked beautiful. Amanda Miranda was the Bad one, the girl who could fly.

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