“This, too, is America: two middle-aged women, one North American and one Central American, eating cheese and apples in campsite #4 of the Mountain View Campground on Little Redfish Lake.”
I wrote this sentence in a notebook six years ago as I began a writing project that would become the soon-to-be-published Trout Frying in America: A Literary Pilgrimage (Ooligan Press, spring 2015). The sentence did not make it to the final manuscript. It did not even make it into the first draft because, by the time I sat down to write the scene in which Arline and I picnicked in the campsite where Richard Brautigan and his wife and baby stayed in 1961, the idea I was trying to express no longer fit the scene.
Still, I like that sentence. It has echoes, for me, of Adrienne Rich’s poem “North American Time,” with its call to write about our lives even as we don’t know how our words might be used against us. Too, the sentence responds to a line in Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America in which the narrator describes his search for that elusive idea: America.
Arline and I, as my memoir describes, are not easy travelers in rural places. We worry about being women alone and women together. Arline worries about reactions to her “otherness”: immigrant, woman of color. So the sentence took shape in my mind as we were walking the hills around Redfish Lake (the big one, not the little one) after lunch. The glory of the Sawtooth Mountains, just two days’ drive from our home in Seattle, made me grateful for living in the Pacific Northwest, but my anxiety about how others might react to us tempered my joy. I wanted to shout a defiant: We, too, are America! Back in our hotel, I wrote the sentence in my notebook.
We returned to Seattle a week later, and I began to get up early every morning to write for an hour. By December, I had forty-four short pieces related to Brautigan, our trip, my Idaho ancestry, and trout. The years went by, and I wrote some more, solicited feedback, and re-wrote. The sentence, “This, too, is America…..” was marooned in my notebook. Until the folks at Ooligan Press told me they wanted to publish my manuscript.
This week, I pulled the notebook out of a closet; I wanted to re-read my first tentative ideas for the project. There was the sentence. And even though it is a singular sentence, a sentence disconnected from other sentences, not destined to be part of a paragraph, let alone a book, I wanted to honor it in some way. Because it reminds me that most of my work as a writer is making sentences. A sentence, like a breath, keeps me alive in this moment. It may seem like something small, but without it, I wouldn’t be. And, really, it’s a good, sturdy sentence. It still flares with the spark of my defiance that afternoon. It still breathes.