Life lessons learned at summer camp

Camp Eagle Island

In 1970, my two best friends and I went to camp where we learned life lessons we’ve never forgotten. Jill is second from the right in the bottom row, Shelly is first on the left in the second, and I’m leaning on my elbow, top right.

The news is universally depressing, as anyone who’s been keeping up can attest. But one particular story today made me sad. It was parents trying to recreate the summer camp experience at home, since many programs have been cancelled in the wake of Covid-19.

Some of the suggestions were to play camp games with your kids, make low-stress outdoor meals, and create camp crafts. I suppose the sentiment is nice, but fashioning the wonderful world of sleep-away camp at home is simply not possible.

As any avid camper will tell you, camping is about being away from home. For many of us that first experience on our own – mine came at the tender age of eight – can be magical. Mommy and Daddy aren’t around. There are new adults and new kids, all who need to find ways to connect. Yes, it can be scary, but we learn so much in the process.

My dear friend Jill, who I practically dragged to camp fifty years ago, remembers that experience today.

“I learned to come together with girls from all over – different towns, races, religions – and finally felt and understood the camaraderie that everyone always talked about when they talked about camp,” she said.

Our mutual friend Shelly also joined us, and though like Jill she was uncertain that first year, she quickly fell in love with camping.

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The lodge at Eagle Island peeks out over Saranac Lake in Upstate New York.

“The camp was on an island in a huge lake in the Adirondacks. Maybe the place was just too beautiful,” Shelly said. “But honestly, I think the reason I enjoyed it so much and came to understand how much I loved being outdoors…is because it was a Girl Scout Camp. The place was built on traditions, stories, special kid rituals, and camping lore.”

In my case, camping, especially those first few years, gave me a new perspective on who I was. I was overweight until I was 14 and was sometimes bullied. I am a low-level dyslexic which back then got me called stupid and lazy. The cool kids didn’t invite me to their parties. So, imagine my surprise when I became a cool kid at camp. The fact that I was an excellent swimmer was a big deal. That skill allowed me unfettered access to every water activity available at Eagle Island: canoeing, sailing, water skiing, scuba diving. Then there was music. We sang all the time and since I played the guitar, I felt admiration whenever I toted the instrument to the campfire. Yep, I was popular at camp, which made returning home to that other life difficult. Tears were usually involved.

“There was unlimited opportunity to learn about myself,” Shelly said of camp. “What I valued in a friend, in a group, in a leader, in myself. I went back two more years. In each subsequent year, I could feel myself emulating the counselors more and more. Like them, I wanted our group to learn new things and have fun and take care of each other, and the more I knew what I was doing, the better time I had.”

All these years later, my friends and I recall the one time none of us can forget.

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Our canoe trip took us through Blue Mountain Lake and led to a string of other lakes in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

“The highlight of camp was the canoe trip through the Blue Mountain chain – the mist rolling off the flat, silvery lake, the quiet slip, slip, slip of the paddles, dipping in as we shoved off the pine-needled shores of the campsite,” Jill said. “I learned how to recover when falling out of the canoe and how to carry a canoe on my head. I learned to help pitch a tent, how to cook spam over a campfire. And how to lay on a flat rock amongst wild blueberry bushes in the pitch black and look for shooting stars “

“(The) canoe trip of my life, where we almost gave up, but didn’t and completed the whole lake chain,” Shelly recalled. “Because all of that gave me incredible memories of shared joy and improved self-confidence and deep appreciation of time spent adventuring.”

On that canoe trip — eight days of never being indoors or sheltered from the elements — I learned not to give up the moment I most wanted to. We’d spent the night on the rocky ground in a rainstorm. No tents. No blow-up mattresses. My flannel sleeping bag soaked and heavy. No one slept, so we were tired and cranky the next morning as dark clouds massed over the water. Our food was running low. We took a vote in that drippy, pine forest on the edge of a lake. Should we call the trip or continue on? I’m embarrassed to admit here that I voted to end our adventure and head back to camp, but I was overruled. For the rest of my life, whenever I faced a decision to quit something that felt too difficult to finish, I have remembered that moment and the joy I felt when I guided my canoe to that final beach.

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The time my friends and I shared in the Adirondack  Mountains changed us forever.

“Camping taught me that if someone gave me a job, then other people needed me to do it, or hey, maybe we wouldn’t eat,” Shelly said. “If I didn’t paddle, the canoe didn’t get to the campground. If I didn’t hold on, I couldn’t water ski. If I didn’t get wood, we wouldn’t have a campfire. If I wanted to be good at something, I had to do the work.”

My friends and I have carried the life skills we learned at camp with us through half a century, and I sense we will never give them up, nor will we forget where we learned them. In fact, we have decided to return to our island camp. Three women now in their sixties, back in a canoe with the bow pointed toward Eagle Island. I do believe when we step on that beautiful rock again, there will be tears marking our return to the place we learned so much about life.

Does anyone still believe you can recreate summer camp at home?

 

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sports in the age of Covid-19

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What will become of sports in the age of the Covid-19?

It’s been a while since I’ve had my sports hat on, still considering I spent about 15 years as a sports reporter and another 40 as an amateur official I thought I’d add my two cents to the sports conundrum we face in the wake of the Covid-19.

Today, sports are imperiled as never before. Professional leagues are grappling with their deep desire to return to some sense of normalcy – see dollar signs here – and with keeping the feeder lines that supply them with athletes open and healthy. But how can this be accomplished in the age of Covid-19?

Does anyone really believe, as Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have suggested, that they can test and secure their players, keeping them locked down between contests? I’ve seen the groupies massed outside of professional locker rooms, and while I’m sure their presence could be curtailed at the arenas, does anyone really believe those healthy young men who play the games will keep their hotel rooms firmly shut when those pretty girls come calling.

Note that I’m not being critical of the adult parties involved. I’m just pointing out the obvious. Curfews will be broken. Infection will spread. What then? If one player has the virus, will games be cancelled? Will whole teams be quarantined for weeks at a time? What happens to the season then?

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More resources are needed to provide and process reliable Covid-19 tests. Should we be utilizing hundreds of thousands of tests to keep athletes healthy just so they can play games?

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of tests will be needed to make sure athletes are healthy enough to compete. When you consider that average people have to jump through a multitude of hoops to get tested, is this really a good use of our healthcare resources?

Then there’s college sports. Fall athletes are now in the process of signing release forms, documents saying schools are not culpable should players contract Covid-19. This is a bad look for colleges that pretend to care about student-athletes. Athletic programs hold a great deal of sway over their young charges, so athletes will be coerced to “do it for the team” and will fall in line because that’s what they’re trained to do. Dissenters who struggle with playing during a pandemic will be labeled outcasts by their teammates and coaches and subsequently shunned. I doubt many will follow that route even if suiting up terrifies them.

Last Game Touchdown

I’ve been a football official for 40 years and I can’t see a way to make athletes on the gridiron safe from Covid-19.

And what of high school sports?  Currently, it’s football that gives me the most concern. I officiated on the gridiron for four decades, and from my vantage point as a referee I could see spit flying on almost every play, especially from the lineman who go head-to-head on every snap. No way to social distance there. And those big guys up front are often overweight, making them more susceptible to complications from Covid-19. Yet, many people, even the parents of these young men, are screaming for football to begin. One wonders what the reaction will be when the first kid dies.

Youth sport parents are probably a bit more reticent about letting their little ones play. I sense the number of participants at the youth level will continue to decline, a trend that has been happening over the last decade as children have become more entranced with video games than actual ones.

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The sports officiating population is aging at a rapid pace. I think many of them will not return until a vaccine for Covid-19 is available.

The kicker here is one most athletes, parents and coaches often don’t consider. If they set up a season’s worth of contests will there be enough officials to go around? After 40 years of wearing stripes, I can confidently say no one cares about us unless we’re not there at game time. Note that even prior to the pandemic games were being cancelled or played without the full complement of officials because there just aren’t enough arbiters. The officiating population is aging and young people are not stepping up in large enough numbers to fill the gap. On top of that, many of those that do are quitting after just a few years on the job citing the decay of sportsmanship as the main the reason. Statistics show the average age of an American sports official is 52, with many working well into their 60s. When you add the dangers of  Covid-19 into the mix, it’s likely many who blow whistles and call balls and strikes simply won’t return to the field.

What happens to your plans for a sports season then?

 

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Horses on the Salt is a “fantastic page-turner.”

My thanks to book blogger Anu Menon for her kind words about my new novel Wild Horses on the Salt.

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“Fast-paced, adventurous, and thoughtful story of the survival of Becca’s wounded soul. Her struggles, experiences, passions, fears, healing, and the truth of her chilly silence are wonderfully portrayed.” — Anu Menon

https://anoomk.wordpress.com/2020/06/25/book-review-wild-horses-on-the-salt-by-anne-montgomery/.

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Happy Fathers’ day to those special dads

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My dad, who died a year ago, had lots of interests, including fly fishing. He taught me to love the outdoors and to cast into a garbage can lid in our driveway. I was lucky to have such a great dad.

I decided to ignore Father’s Day this year.

My dad died a week shy of his 96th birthday last June following a long and interesting life. He was a World War II Navy veteran, an industrial engineer, a fly fisherman, an ice dancer who in his later years turned to ballroom, and a lover of animals, wild places, baseball, and musical theater.

I miss him every day.

With Dad gone, I felt Father’s Day had no further meaning for me, but of course I was wrong. I can’t believe I didn’t see what was right in front of me.

I have written about my three sons before. All former students who spent time in the foster care system before calling me Mom. Young men today, all in their twenties, out in the world, discovering what they want to do and where they belong.

But let’s backtrack a little. My mom journey began with a phone call when I was 55. A former student contacted me, frightened and hungry, shortly after he’d wound up in foster care. I loudly complained to a fellow teacher. She stared me down. “If you’re so upset perhaps you should have him live with you,” she said.

Me and the boys at the book signing

I’m sure the boys will say I can be tough on them. The good news is they have Ryan too.

I told her the idea was ridiculous, since I’d never had any children and didn’t know the first thing about being a mom. And still I made the call to Child Protective Services.

But here’s the thing. I neglected to explain my soon-to-be mom status to my partner, a man I’d been dating for almost two decades.

“Don’t you think you should have mentioned that you were bringing a child home?” Ryan asked, obviously troubled by the upcoming change in our lives.

In retrospect, the fact that I didn’t discuss the situation with him before I made the call seems absurd. My defense was that we lived in different houses, separated by a two-minute walk. I rationalized that the boy would be living in my home and I shouldn’t have to ask for permission.

Clearly, I’d missed the point. I failed to see that my opting into motherhood placed him squarely in the fatherhood department. I will admit here that while I waited for the 15-year-old to be ushered to my door, Ryan and I were at odds. I don’t think he could see himself as a dad, since like me he’d never had any biological children. As parents we were both complete rookies.

Troy, Brandon and Ry Dad's funeral

Ryan with two of our boys at my father’s funeral celebration: Troy on the left, Brandon on the right.

Under the circumstances, it’s funny that Ryan took to parenting more easily than I did. Even today, he sometimes has to remind me to say please when I ask one of the boys to do something or to back off a little when he thinks I’m too hard on them.  I defend myself saying that I want them to be happy, healthy, and successful, and since none of them came to me before becoming teenagers, I have to make up for lost time, so occasionally I must be stern.

Then he smiles and says, “Let it go. It’ll be fine.”

I should not be surprised that when the boys get themselves into some kind of pickle it’s Ryan they want to talk to. While it used to bother me, I have now accepted my role as bad cop and am grateful Ryan is here to talk me down whenever a boy-induced cliff presents itself.

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Happy Father’s Day to all the foster dads.

While all good dads deserve a hearty Happy Father’s Day, I can’t help but feel that accidental fathers like Ryan – those who’ve chosen to raise other people’s children – deserve a few extra accolades.

So…here’s to you Ry and to all the foster dads out there. Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

Wild Horses on the Salt Cover 2

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

 

 

“I recommend Wild Horses on the Salt to readers of great fiction!”

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My thanks to reviewer and author Anita Dawes for her kind words about my new novel Wild Horses on the Salt.

“The author’s brilliant world building soon had me relaxing and enjoying the desert, the wilderness with so many horses. This was the kind of story I knew I wouldn’t want to end.” Anita Dawes

Our Review for Wild Horses on the Salt by Anne Montgomery #Women’s Action & Adventure Fiction @amontgomery8

 

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

My magic wand inspired book launch

Anne Montgomery HeadShot 3 copy

This is my serious-looking author pose.

It’s a strange time to hold a book launch, quarantined as we are, stuck with the feeling that there is no safe place to go. How long will this isolation last? There’s simply no way to tell. We long for a signal, like the one Punxsutawney Phil delivers each year when the furry rodent surfaces from his den to tell us when winter will morph into spring.

Alas, there is no miraculous creature to mark the end of our confinement. Which brings me back to the book launch for my new novel, Wild Horses on the Salt. Normally, I would host a book signing and a Q&A session at some lovely bookstore – Don’t you love bookstores? – but, of course, that wouldn’t work considering our current situation.

With that in mind, I popped on my thinking cap, and decided we could have a book signing of sorts right here. So, let me get my magic wand.  I’ll be right back.

Dodeedodododeedo…

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Yay! I found my magic wand!

Whew! Found it. It was tucked in the back of a closet and it’s a bit dusty. But I think it’ll work. Let’s see.

Swoosh………………..

Oooo! Sparkles everywhere!

And now…here we are! Look at all those pretty books. You want to touch them, I know. And this bookstore – lucky us – also has a bar. What a brilliant idea. So, everyone get a beverage and then sit in those rows of chairs.

Oh my! We need more chairs. So many people! (A girl can dream.)

I take my place at the podium and lift the mic. Unlike a lot of authors – many of whom tend to be introverted types – I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like. Could be my massive ego, but I digress.

“Thank you all for coming. I am overwhelmed.” I smile. “And now, I’d be happy to take your questions.

Hands shoot up all around the room and I blush. (Really.) “In the corner. Yes, you, sir.” A dapper-looking man with a gray beard smiles.

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I write books about subjects that interest me.

“What kind of books do you write?”

“Good question. I write fiction, though not in any specific genre. My stories are based on subjects that interest me. In the past, I’ve written about a former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress, child abuse, polygamy, domestic terrorism, cults, archeological looting, the black-market sale of antiquities, and a serial rapist. In Wild Horses on the Salt, themes include the problems associated with the over population of wild horses in the West and the struggles involved in escaping from domestic violence. However, all my books have one thing in common: the amazing landscape of Arizona, from the Sonoran Desert to the Verde Valley to the high country of the Arizona strip.”

I spy a few younger members of the audience and am delighted, as a just-retired teacher, to see some of my former students. “Makayla.”

“Ms. Montgomery, what inspired you to write about the wild horses of Arizona’s Salt River?”

“You can call me Anne.”

Makayla and the rest of the kids look like I’ve asked them to serve detention for a week. I sigh and realize I will be Ms. Montgomery for the rest of my life.

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The horses that roam along Arizona’s Salt River are beautiful but problematic.

“The horses that roam free along the Salt River have been the subject of much controversy in Arizona, primarily because their numbers have grown too large to be sustainable and they too frequently encounter vehicles, events that result in accidents that have killed the animals and injured humans. Though millions of wild horses once roamed free in the United States, today approximately 82,000 remain. Because their ancestors were brought here by European explorers, there are some who believe these animals are an invasive species, a creature that should be culled to safeguard native fauna, fragile grasslands, and riparian habitats. Others believe the wild horse should be defended, protected, and allowed to roam free. The debate is ongoing, with those on both sides of the issue often unwilling to compromise.”

I scan the room and focus on a young woman dressed in a turquoise T-shirt, jeans, and strappy sandals. I nod.

“The protagonist in Wild Horses on the Salt is running away from domestic violence. What made you write about the topic?”

“Thank you for asking. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly 1 in 4 adult women and approximately 1 in 7 men in the U.S. report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.

The often-silent scourge of domestic violence invades all walks of life and, though the poor are disproportionately affected, no one is immune. I felt it was important to point out that domestic violence does not discriminate. People of all kinds, young, old, rich, poor, white, black and brown are subjected to its wrath.

The life of Rebecca Quinn, the protagonist in Wild Horses on the Salt, seems idyllic from the outside. She’s a smart attorney with a handsome, successful spouse. She comes from wealth and privilege. And yet, Becca is repeatedly brutalized by her husband.

I created Becca from personal experience – I’ve been subjected to domestic violence myself – and from statistics. The point is no one should have to deal with this abuse and there is always a way out, though that does not mean leaving is easy. One needs support, both emotional and financial, to get away, as well as a plan to survive the split. It’s my hope that those reading about Becca’s journey will be inspired to make changes in their own lives.

I take more questions. Everyone is so interested in my book, I’m giddy with delight. Eventually, however, the manager of the book store taps her watch.

“Thank you so much for coming everyone. I will be signing books at that table in the corner.”

Me and Andy signin books

OK. You got me. This is me signing books at a previous book launch. There’s only so much my magic wand can do.

A long line of book buyers forms as I take my seat. When the last book is signed – of course, it’s a sellout – I have cramps in my hand, but it’s pain I will savor.

After everyone leaves, my sweetie pie appears with a glass of wine. “Thought you might need this,” he says, and I remember why I love him.

That said, the first person in the contiguous United States who contacts me will get a signed copy of Wild Horses on the Salt.

And, again, thank you for coming.

 

“Ms. Montgomery weaves an intricate parallel tale, portraying the struggles of one woman, and that of a lost wild stallion—both fighting to rise above the cruelty of an unkind world. Her unique writing style, incredible knowledge of her subject matter, combined with her ability to create vivid scenes of the East Valley, and particularly the Tonto National Forest and Salt River area in Arizona, takes the reader on a fascinating (and educational) journey.” —Author Margaret Millmore

51TMG11M-rL

Wild Horses on the Salt

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be a friend to the bees

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We need to rethink our reactions to bees.

Most of us have had a run in with the bees, times that left us with sting or two. My first memory of the stinging part came when I was sitting in some bushes in front of my house, concealing myself from a bunch of neighborhood kids playing hide and seek. I accidentally became that girl in the book, the one who kicked the hornet’s nest. (OK. I know hornets aren’t bees, but the idea is the same. Wee stinging creatures that attack when agitated.) In any case, those hornets surrounded me, then crawled into my clothes and all over my skin. I yelped and ran into the house, frantically trying to get them to stop stinging me, doing my own version of Riverdance in the process.

As this was in the 60s, no one seemed upset. No one said, “Maybe we should take her to the doctor, just in case,” despite the 17 or so stings I suffered. Back then kids just had to suck it up. The motto in my house was, “If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t hurt.”.

I mention this event because I understand many people have a visceral reaction to bees and their stinging cousins. But we need to reconsider, because without bees and their brethren, we humans could die out.

Really. People could starve, because here in the U.S., honey bees alone pollinate $30 billion worth of crops every year. Bees, their fuzzy bodies laden with pollen, promote the growth of all sorts of plants that other creatures depend on, as well. Without the pollinating skills of bees, those plants will die out and the animals that depend on them will too, and then the dominos will fall.

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Without bees, we might lose half of the fruits and vegetables we have access to today.

Our planet, that’s now pushing eight billion residents, could face severe food shortages, if we don’t take care of our bee brothers and their insect cousins. To put it simply, if all the bees in the world suddenly disappeared, it’s estimated that our supermarkets would provide half the fruit and vegetables they do today, and while those in first-world countries might survive, those in third-world nations would suffer depleted food sources. I mention this because, while researching my new book Wild horses on the Salt, I learned about beekeeping and the good the little guys do. I also came to understand that many of the world’s insects – a group of creatures that don’t give folks the warm and fuzzies and that few people march to protect – are dying out at alarming rates.

I recall a day in the Arizona desert when a strange sound made me look into the sky. A dark cloud approached, moving swiftly above. A massive swarm of bees undulated, a twisting shadow of creatures looking for a new home. I’ll admit here, my heart raced at the sight. Still, I knew not to run and understood that the thousands of bees approaching could kill me. So, I crouched down in a gully and remained completely still. Then, they were above me, the buzzing like that of a helicopter. I held my breath and watched as they passed by in a huge, dark swirl, my heart pounding in my chest.

Despite my momentary fear that day, it’s my hope that we can begin to look at bees in a new light. Yes, they sting us, mostly when they feel threatened or to protect the hive. But when you consider all they do, it’s time for us to say thank you.

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Groups around the globe are asking governments to place limits on pesticides that harm bees.

So, what can we do to make the world more hospitable to bees? First, farmers should try to leave some wild lands on the borders of their fields, areas with native flora that attract bees and other pollinating insects. We should think hard about using pesticides that injure bee colonies, like herbicides and fungicides and neonicotinoids, the latter of which leads to bee colony collapse disorder. Gardeners, if they want to help, can plant bee-attracting plants among their flowers and vegetables and go organic. Shoppers can buy from local producers, since small farms tend to engage in less destructive planting policies than large, commercial producers. And home owners can set up bee watering holes. The creatures work so hard at their jobs, they easily get dehydrated and need locations they can count on to get a drink when they need one.

Every little bit helps. And when you consider all they do for us, it makes sense to be a friend to the bees.

51TMG11M-rL

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

“Ms. Montgomery weaves an intricate parallel tale, portraying the struggles of one woman, and that of a lost wild stallion—both fighting to rise above the cruelty of an unkind world. Her unique writing style, incredible knowledge of her subject matter, combined with her ability to create vivid scenes of the East Valley, and particularly the Tonto National Forest and Salt River area in Arizona, takes the reader on a fascinating (and educational) journey.” —Author Margaret Millmore

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Horses on the Salt: An Excerpt

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My new novel, Wild Horses on the Salt, is scheduled for release on June 14, 2020. With that in mind, I thought I’d share an excerpt. 

1

An unfamiliar place.

Becca blinked at the mid-morning sun that streamed through the room. She closed her eyes and opened them again. White painted walls. Thick, unfinished beams crossed the ceiling. Where was she?

She longed for a drink of water and was surprised to see a bottle on the square-topped table beside the bed. She sat up, grimaced at the pain in her side, and hugged the blue-and-white patterned blanket to her chest, noting the string of horse figures that galloped along the edge. She reached for the bottle, popped the top, and gulped.

Then she remembered her aunt making the frantic phone call and paying for the plane ticket. The woman’s tears as she placed a few folded bills in Becca’s hand. The red-eye flight: four and a half hours in the darkened cabin and the rumbling white noise that purred her into a series of uncomfortable dreams. The bleary arrival at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, where a tall man wearing a tan cowboy hat held a piece of cardboard bearing her name in black marker.

She’d been surprised by the chill in the air as she was ushered to the front seat of a pickup. Wasn’t this the desert? The place the TV weather folks always talked about when the temperature hovered near 110 degrees? She shivered, and the man turned up the heat.

Later, under a star-splashed sky, she mounted several steps. The man motioned for her to follow, so she trailed him across a pathway composed of smooth river rock embedded in cement. When they arrived at a small cabin, he removed his hat and held the door open. He smiled, nodded, and disappeared.

Becca studied the now bright room, which boasted an intricately designed Native American rug hugging the hardwood floor. A three-drawer pine dresser topped with a mirror rested between two large windows framed with white curtains. A radiator kicked on. Rebecca eased under the warm covers and quickly fell back to sleep.

 

A knock on the door.

“There’s still some lunch left. If you’re hungry, you’d better hurry.”

Becca curled into a ball beneath the soft cotton sheets and the horse-adorned bedspread. She didn’t want to move, but then her stomach growled. How long had it been since she’d eaten?

She stretched, and her assorted injuries made her wince. She crawled from beneath the bedding, holding her side, surprised to see that she had fallen asleep in her clothes. Becca eyed the small garment bag that rested unopened on a chair in the corner. She needed to brush her teeth. She eased herself slowly off the bed. The bruises on her hip and shoulder were still fresh and achy. Becca didn’t glance in the mirror as she crossed the room. She’d had a black eye before. Understood the rainbow transformation that would render the area purple, green, then a sickly yellow-brown before the wound would finally disappear from her skin, but not from her soul.

Becca ran her fingers through her hair, then opened the door.

“Hello, Becca.” Gabriella Strand was tall with streaks of gray in her dark hair that was cut short and looped behind her ears. She wore teardrop-shaped turquoise earrings set in silver, a black sweatshirt that boasted a herd of galloping horses, black jeans, and a pair of worn black cowboy boots.

If the woman standing before her was surprised by her appearance, she didn’t show it. Becca turned her bruised eye away. “Ms. Strand.”

Gabriella laughed. “Oh, honey, no one has called me Ms. Strand in a very long time. It’s Gaby. Didn’t your aunt tell you?”

“Yes. I’m sorry. She did…Gaby.”

“No need to be sorry. Now, let’s get you something to eat.”

Later, Becca stared at the empty plate before her. She’d devoured the ham, egg, and cheese scramble, four pieces of thick smoked bacon, a stack of fluffy pancakes smothered in real maple syrup, and a large pot of hot black tea.

Gaby sat and wrapped her large hands around a mug of strong coffee. The older woman gazed at Becca with dark eyes, her face etched with fine lines that indicated a lifetime spent outdoors in the Arizona sun.

Becca didn’t know what to say to this woman who she knew only through stories told by her Aunt Ruthie. The two women had been college roommates, both history majors at Northern Arizona University. After graduation, a continent had come between them, with Ruthie moving back to New Jersey and Gaby remaining in her home state. But the two women never lost contact, had often visited over the years. When it became clear that Becca needed to leave, her aunt had insisted she would be safe with Gaby.

“You don’t have to say anything.” Gaby smiled. “I left some towels in your room. You can shower or take a bath, if you’d like. Then, rest. We’ll talk later.”

All Becca could do was nod.

51TMG11M-rL

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

“Ms. Montgomery weaves an intricate parallel tale, portraying the struggles of one woman, and that of a lost wild stallion—both fighting to rise above the cruelty of an unkind world. Her unique writing style, incredible knowledge of her subject matter, combined with her ability to create vivid scenes of the East Valley, and particularly the Tonto National Forest and Salt River area in Arizona, takes the reader on a fascinating (and educational) journey.” —Author Margaret Millmore

 

 

An ode to teaching

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This week, I left my classroom for the last time. I turned the key and walked away after 20 years of teaching in the same Title I high school in Phoenix, Arizona.

I did not join the teaching ranks because I thought I might enjoy standing in front of a bunch of kids hours on end. I’d been forced out of my career as a sportscaster, a victim of ageism, no longer pretty enough to be in front of a camera. I did a great deal of feeling sorry for myself as I stumbled around, trying to find a job that I loved as much as I loved being a reporter.

Because of my history as an amateur sports official, which had me dealing with young people on a regular basis, a number of friends and acquaintances suggested I go into teaching. Did I jump right in? Not at all. I just couldn’t see myself running a classroom.

Finally, with no other options, I went back to college, my bachelor’s degree in communications not enough to get me through the education door. I spent two years earning a teaching certificate. I entered my first classroom saddled with college debt and ready to teach my students journalism and video production techniques. At least, I thought I was ready.

Montgomery TV .75

When I was a reporter, nice never entered into the equation.

What I never expected was just how hard teaching is. My 15 years of reporting in both television and print had turned me into a driven sort, anxious to get whatever I needed to accomplish done quickly and thoroughly, since one never knew when a story would pop up and all of my well-thought-out plans would be shredded, leaving me with just a few minutes to make adjustments before that red camera light went on.

Looking back, I can see why my students hated me. I demanded they produce their completed work on time without exception. I was blinded to the fact that I was dealing with children not professional adults. Most of my students lived in poverty and were saddled with living conditions that made homework far from the top of their to-do list. They found me abrasive and rigid. At one point, an entire class revolted and walked out, leaving me alone. I’ll admit here that I cried in front of that empty classroom.

Eventually – I’m a stubborn sort – I came to realize it was my attitude that had to change. I will be forever grateful to my fellow teacher Ann Miles for sitting me down one day. She stared across her desk. “You know, you could be … nicer.”

“Nicer! What’s nice got to do with it?” I shot back.

Last Game Touchdown

As a sports official, I never expected people to be nice, so changing my attitude was difficult.

To her ever-lasting credit, my not-so-nice words didn’t ruffle her a bit. When I left that day, I thought about what she’d said and mentally defended myself. No one cared if I was nice in the newsroom! Are people always nice to me when I officiate games? Of course not! When coaches and fans scream at me, I don’t walk off the field. I just do my job.

But gradually I came to understand that Ann was right.

Now, I’d like to tell you that being nice is all one needs to be a good teacher, but that is far from the truth. Students are individuals with their own hopes and dreams and problems – personal, academic, and social. As a teacher, I had to determine the best way to reach each student, and frankly sometimes not so nice did work. Think freshmen boys, here. They seem to respect tough more than nice.

What I’m trying to say is teachers need lots of personality traits in their tool belts, attitudes they can quickly access when needed. A teacher needs to be thoughtful, firm, flexible, accessible, compassionate, trustworthy and, yes, nice. And though I worked on nice all the time, I was not entirely successful.

I paused in my classroom and reflected on the children I met there over the years.  I realized that some of my students loved me and others hated me. There didn’t seem to be too many in the middle. I mention this because maybe I never got the formula completely right.

As I pulled my classroom door closed, I hoped my students, especially those who didn’t particularly like me, might someday understand that I tried.

I guess that’s all I can ask.

51TMG11M-rL

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

 

Southwestern wildfires fueled by invasive species

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Arizona wildfires, fuled by invasive species, are becoming more problematic every year.

A wildfire plays a prominent role in my new novel Wild Horses on the Salt, which will be released on June 14, 2020. For those of us who dwell in the desert, brush fires have become all too common, and though fires in the Southwest are a normal phenomenon, today they are stronger and hotter and more long lived than in the past.

What happened? People. The desert Southwest used to be sparsely populated, the result of searing summers and scattered water resources. Then, the draw of copper, silver, and gold enticed fortune hunters to the area. Large-scale population growth did not occur until the end of World War II when returning soldiers began looking for affordable housing. Then, an incredible invention changed the face of the desert: home air conditioning. From that time forward, the warmer climates of the Southwest began to draw people who were tired of the long, dark winters in other portions of the country.

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Phoenix, Arizona is the 6th largest city in the U.S. and it contiues to grow, sprawling into the surrounding desert.

Today, the Phoenix metro area is home to about 4.5 million people. The city is the 6th largest in the U.S. And here is where invasive species and their effects on wildfires come in. Some people, unaccustomed to the strange desert plants they encounter here, bring their favorite foliage with them, reminders of the homes they’d left behind.

Desert blooming 1

Beautiful desert wildflowers and grasses become food for widfires when the die and dry out.

While there is certainly no malice intended by those who revel in bright green lawns and non-native plants, their choices are irreparably altering the desert environment. Seeds are devoured by birds and transported to open areas where they are deposited. Seasonal heavy rains allow the plants to grow and spread, filling the empty spaces between desert trees, shrubs, and cactuses. In the past, a wildfire might eat up a relatively small area because the barren ground between these plants prevented the fire from spreading. Today, non-native grasses and shrubs give flames a clear pathway, resulting in massive infernos that consume huge swaths of land and burn for weeks at a time.

Add to that the fact that people keep moving into previously wild lands that were once allowed to burn, but which now require fire suppression to save lives, homes, and businesses. The problem is deserts and forests need fires to clear out brush and promote growth. For too long we have tried to extinguish all fires, which has led to much larger and more destructive blazes.

With the addition of climate change exacerbating a decades-long drought in the Southwest, the wildfire situation is already dire. The solution will surely be complicated and expensive.

51TMG11M-rL

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.