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2017 Scott-McKenna Scholarship Winner

This year’s $2,000 scholarship winner is Heather Androwick of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Heather has started her senior year, working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major concentration in photography, at Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. She has taken courses in Darkroom, Intro to Digital Media, Intro to Digital Photography, Theme Practices in Photography, History of Photography, Advanced Photography and Photography Studio. Heather’s particular interest is landscape photography, and she has applied for internships with state and national parks.


One of Those Trips of a Lifetime

By Jack Olson

It seems like it was ages ago. It seems like it could have been last year. About half my life has passed since I made the incredible trek to Mt. Everest.

In 1976 I went to a friend’s house to view a slide show of a trek to Mt. Everest, highest peak in the world at 29,028 feet. Her trek was organized by the REI cooperative. The photos were magnificent, like nothing I’d ever seen or experienced. Their only problem was that they encountered heavy snow on the final day and had to turn back due to danger of avalanches. So close and yet so far. They never saw Mt. Everest.

Coincidentally, I had just joined REI and received my first catalog. I opened it and saw the announcement: Go to Mt. Everest. YES! They were offering treks in spring and fall 1977. It was Christmas Eve but I immediately called the Nepal embassy in Washington, D.C. The embassy was closed but I got the ambassador’s home. A young boy answered. I blurted out, “Are the Himalayas better in spring or fall?” He told me he didn’t know, he’d only lived in Washington, D.C. “I’ll ask. Call me back in an hour.”

I don’t think I breathed that whole hour. When I called back he said, “Oh, the spring is so beautiful, with all the bushes in bloom and the flowers. Fall is also very nice and maybe a little better weather.” I thanked him profusely. Spring was sooner than fall, so I would go in spring. I really, really wanted to go to Mt. Everest.

It was March and we flew all day to get to Delhi, India. We had to spend the night there since the Kathmandu airport could not accept night landings. There was a little excitement in the Delhi airport. Officials there had no interest in the vicious ice ax I was carrying but spent several minutes buzzing, in Hindi, I guess, over my Swiss army knife. I got to keep it.

The trek began a few days later and we piled into the back of a truck which took us to a village near the Tibetan border. Expectation and excitement overflowed as we took the first steps on what would be 180 miles of up and down over six mountain ranges before we finally swung north toward Mt. Everest.

The lowlands in Nepal are mainly Hindu but as we started our final slow trek we entered the Buddhist Sherpa country. The leaders of our trek were all Sherpas. Some welcomed us into their homes for a cup of tea but all of our camps were in the outdoors. Up, up, up we trod, always being greeted by friendly Sherpas: “Namaste,” they called.

Our group of nine, plus Sherpas, porters and yaks, passed through the main Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar where I honed my non-existent bargaining skills. We camped outside the Tengboche Monastery, where monks performed some of their religious rituals. Our trail continued above timberline and we camped for two nights at 14,500 feet to acclimatize. It was strange to be standing higher than at any time I’d been on Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks, and be on a valley floor with ramparts of Himalayan walls towering above us. When we started climbing the next day we found that about an inch of snow had fallen overnight. At the end of the day we topped the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier.

We were camped at 15,500 feet and my tentmate, Sam, and I were both sick. Real sanitation was just not possible in Nepal at that time. The plan was for our group to move ahead to our base camp at Gorak Shep, at about 17,300 feet. The next day we would ascend Kala Patar, something over 18,500 feet, to get the classic view of Everest. You couldn’t see it from our base camp due to the massive walls of rock and ice. Sam and I didn’t think we could hold out two days. We needed to get up in one day and then get down to a small clinic at about 14,000 feet, run by some Americans. We got permission from our trek leader to try it.

The climb up the Khumbu Glacier was gradual, but steady. Technical climbing equipment was not necessary. We got to the base of Kala Patar in no worse shape. We began to plod, to slog upward. It was much slower than any pace I’d ever had to set on the Colorado 14ers. We got about halfway up, turned, and we could see the top of Everest. Was that good enough? Strangely enough, it wasn’t. Is this a guy thing? I left my pack there and went ahead with just my ice ax and camera.

From here on the climb became an imperceptible trudge. Five breaths and a step, five more breaths and another step. But you could always take another step. We neared the top, stepped on the top. I turned and was swept by the full view of Mt. Everest, from bottom to top. For a fraction of a second, an infinitesimal fraction, I was the happiest person in the world.

Back in Kathmandu Sam and I were having breakfast in the hotel. He looked over at two middle-aged couples and exclaimed, “That’s Dolf Reist.” “Who?” I said, clueless. “Dolf Reist. He’s the second man to climb Mt. Everest.” Only Sam would know that. He said we should go over and introduce ourselves. Sam was pushy like that. We talked awhile and then I impulsively asked if he would autograph a postcard of Mt. Everest. He did and then he wrote the date, April 9, 1977. I gasped, “It’s my birthday!” So Sam, three others and the second man to climb Mt. Everest sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

It seems like it was yesterday.

Writing an OMG! Moment

by Virginia Parker Staat

“Words have life and must be cared for.
If they are stolen for ugly uses or careless slang or false promotion work,
they need to be brought back to their original meaning – back to their roots.” ~
Corita Kent

David and I have just returned home from a four-month camping trip through Alaska and Canada. After the RMOWP conference, we traveled north through Utah and Washington. On our first ferry up the Inside Passage, we met a delightful Australian couple. We soon became fast friends and, while island hopping over the next month, learned some wonderful Aussie slang. As an example, after waiting three hours for a lack-luster bore tide, Liz called it a fizzer. After six days of rain, we all agreed it was a bugger.

Slang has ever been a part of language, and America has certainly had its share. In the 60s it was groovy, cool, and far-out. In the 80s, super superlatives were all the rage, including radical, grody to the max, and gag me with a spoon. Today’s slang doesn’t even sound like English to me. When I photographed a friend’s wedding and the groom told me you’re da bomb, I was initially mortified. I simply cringe whenever I hear my bad.

When we use slang in our writing, it dates our work. A new danger to good writing, however, is the onslaught of electronic messaging. Texting has reduced much of our slang into acronyms such as LOL (lots of laughs) and TMI (too much information). Even our emotions have been diminished to a few letters, including SOBT (stressed out big time), MEGO (my eyes glazed over), and OMG! (oh, my gosh).

Dare we include an acronym such as OMG! in our writing? No…. please, no. We writers must remember our craft requires us to use the artistry of words rather than digress into slang, acronyms, or smiley faces. The question, however, remains: How do we express what today’s slang would call an OMG! moment? First of all, whatever we write, we resist typing words in all caps and omit exclamation points.

We begin writing emotion by showing rather than telling. Seton Hill University English professor Dennis Jerz explains, “‘Telling’ states facts or observations. ‘Showing’ invites much deeper understanding.”

Becca Puglisi, author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, explains that readers want to feel emotion along with our characters rather than being told. She says, “The best way to do this is by giving emotional cues that the reader can relate to.” She advises using a three-pronged approach. Whenever possible, we show emotion by choosing physical, internal, and mental responses that are fresh and not overused.

Writers do this by moving beyond facial expressions. We use active verbs. We use adjectives rather than adverbs. We focus on action and response. We remove filters to say, “My heart raced” rather than “I felt my heart racing.” We show details that imply our emotional reaction to the problem. We give our readers a reason to feel the emotion along with us. Rather than clichés, we use imagery and simile, choosing our words with deliberation.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings offers a beautiful example of explaining an emotion with simile. Bilbo says, “I am old, Gandalf… Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”

We can also heighten emotion for our readers through writing syntax. In Alone with All that Can Happen, author and creative writing professor David Jauss writes, “Given that syntax is not just structure but a sequence – a flow – that generates ‘dynamics of feeling,’ it stands to reason that one purpose of syntactical variation is to convey rhythmically the emotion we wish to create in the reader.” He concludes that we can write structurally and rhythmically to mirror emotions, much like a soundtrack mirrors emotions in a movie.

Outdoor writer Peter Matthiessen exceled at this kind of writing. We can see how his use of syntax adds to the drama of a moment in his personal narrative The Snow Leopard: “My foot slips on a narrow ledge; in that split second, as needles of fear pierce heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time.” Within the rhythm of this sentence, Matthiessen expresses his emotional response. He uses action verbs, avoiding weak filters like “I felt.” His poetic words pulse with energy and build to a crescendo.

Writing an OMG! moment begins when we recognize our own physical, internal, and mental responses to situations. It is enhanced when we offer our readers a reason to feel along with us, enveloping them with language and syntax that mirrors the dynamics of the emotion. Once mastered, in the words of our Aussie friends, I can guarantee it’ll be good on ya, mate.

September – October 2017

The last light of day highlights the driftwood in Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, near Alamosa, Colorado. © William Horton

Finally! Here’s the Sep-Oct newsletter. We’ve got the Writer’s Corner and Jack’s Jaunts, this year’s scholarship winner, and more breaking news.

Click 914 KB for the smaller version, and 6.1 MB for higher quality images.