A thirty-year adventure in art

Nov 10, 2016 By Betty Starks Case

It all began with this newspaper column

Thirty years?

Yes, today's publication of this column marks its 30th year of existence. The first column, of which I still have a Ranger copy, is dated November 10, 1986.

Readers may expect something about politicians (yuk), or veterans (love and honor), but this column is due on its anniversary.

So if the calendar isn't rigged, 30 years is correct.

When I offered my first column to then-publisher Bob Peck, he smiled and said, "Sure. Can you write more?"

At Mr. Peck's suggestion, I wrote bi-weekly (every other week). No change was ever suggested, so the columns continued accordingly through the years. Shoulder surgery and a couple of other serious illnesses didn't weaken my sense of responsibility or stop production.

The suggested schedule was ideal for my mate and me.

In more than 20 years of employment in Oklahoma, we'd driven endless weekend miles searching for just one small, simple mountain. Now, with Ned retired and ready to leave office work and plane flights behind, Wyoming's wild heart called us back, back to the state of his birth.

Little did we know he was leading me to where the stories grow.

Urged on by my mate's love of the outdoors and my need to express the wonder of it all, we lived action tales that spoke to both genders - fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, and yes, a bear that came knocking at our trailer door.

Here, all around us, lay adventures that readers could relate to. Columns, I'm told, were often passed on to brighten the lives of people who were ill, elderly or unable to travel, to experience the magic of wild, high places themselves.

A local rancher/business man sent me a note that has remained posted above my computer through the years, observing, "You take mundane subjects and lift them out of the ordinary."

I treasure the man's analysis. But it was a huge revelation to me. I'd never clearly sensed what it was that appealed to my readers. I'm simply not adept at self-study, though sometimes I try.

My own understanding of my writing after all these years is that I'm still awed, yet somehow amused, at life itself, undergirded by a deep sense of optimism that some may find annoying. My schoolteacher mother taught me that optimism lifts. I believe it.

Early on, I was advised, "Don't 'try' to write anything. Just write it your way."

Maybe the advice was right. The column once won a Wyoming Press Association award. The subject was therapy for me, recording the difficult daily routine of Ned, my sister and me, with hospice aid, to care for her loved husband in his last days - our first experience in that vein.

From there, the column garnered state and national awards.

Do I take pride in such things? Wouldn't you?

They confirm what one always hopes, "I must be on the right track."

These early successes also convinced me I could win the Governor's Arts Award for my favorite organization, the 200-member Wyoming Writers, Inc., to whom I'd been privileged to lend four years of service.

I devoted two more years and two attempts to that cause. We won.

My most treasured awards, always the most unexpected ones, came when I received a response to some portion of my column or a poem that helped others through a difficult time, or added to a joyous one.

In these thirty years, the column has led my need to express the world as I see and feel it far beyond the column itself. Somehow, the literal stimulation helped produce the two recognized books, one winning honors, the other put on 4-track tape, helping the blind to see.

I sum up this anniversary acknowledgment with a late attempt at self-analysis that I wrote "on a clear day," (with apologies to lyricist Alan Jay Lerner):

Among the many valuable things I've learned in this existence, the one I most treasure is an awareness and awe of the creative force itself, the energy that powers the universe, knowing I move in its flow, can choose to walk in its most shallow waters or wade the mysterious depths.

My spirituality and creative leanings are born of that wonderment toward life, love, sex, birth, death and the vast secrets of nature. They are expressed though writing and art, to me, God-given gifts.

Publication asks reliable compass, steering and brakes.

I follow the sign that reads, "Drive with prayer."

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