National Parks Birthday Coming This Summer


On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100.

In college I was an armchair traveler as I took a course on the geology of our National Parks. I then decided I wanted to do more than just read about the land and see slides of all these places. I wanted to visit them. My original family wasn’t much for traveling for pleasure. One spring we went to Washington DC. That was about as close as we came to national parks although we did spend time outside, down on the farm and out boating on Lake Erie.

For the past nearly 40 years, we Carlsons have enjoyed many of our wonderful and varied US National Parks through the years.

When we lived in SD, I made a stuffed bunny to take to national parks to photograph for a book. The book(s) never happened, but blogging has. Although I have about 100 shots at each park, you shall now be the recipient of some of these National Park/Memorial/Seashores images with Stu the Rabbit.

Stu at Mt RushmoreStu at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Summer Reflections — Western Wildfires

Wildfires are unpredictable and dangerous. I feel for all the people who have endured wildfires both this summer and previously. They are worrisome.

On our honeymoon, we decided to backpack in the High Uinta Mountains of Utah over the crowded 4th of July. When we came back down to what was an overflow campground three days earlier, there was only one RV way down near the van…and our lone car sitting where the youth CCC was who were supposed to be watching it. The RV folk said the Park Rangers chased everyone out. “Why?” we asked. The man merely pointed to across the dam. About a mile away was billowing white smoke. A forest fire. We dashed to our car, tossed in our backpacks, and raced down the mountain. We weren’t the only ones racing. Deer with saucer sized eyes ran side-by-side with us until our road turned towards the fire. We had no choice. We saw the flames. Luckily the road turned again and we were able to flee the flames.

We lived in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota for about ten years. Every single summer there were fires and fire threats. Some fires could be started from an arson or someone carelessly tossing a cigarette from the highway onto dried prairie grass. Once when we were there, hundreds of acres were burned from a spark from a bulldozer hitting a rock. There were signs at this one bit of acreage for sale NOT to drive in the fields for a hot muffler could cause a fire.

On one wilderness hike in “The Hills,” we noticed on an opposite hill what looked like several large targets: A large brown circle with a darker red-brown circle within it, with a black bull’s-eye in the center. It didn’t take us long to figure out those were lightning strikes. Trouble was, it was raining; we wore our rain coats; the low sky was dark and thick with clouds. We decided to hike back out. Lightning obviously doesn’t strike twice on the same Black Hill, but it strikes pretty close!

When it was hot (in the 80’s) and cinder smoke-filled the town from a nearby burning fire, we had to keep the house windows closed. It took us eight summers of going through steaming-hot summer-house time before we purchased one window air conditioner. Even so, during fires, the house smelled of constant smoke.

During a wildfire, the white ash littered the sky, but when it landed on your clothes or sidewalk, it turned black. We put special mats at our house entrances where we’d wipe the black ash off our shoes before stepping onto the beige living room carpet.

When I tried to describe the smell of burning pine, a friend wrote how she loved the smell of campfires. Agreed; when they are confined to a fire pit, but not when they’ve burned acres of land and threaten your house and all your possessions. When the fires came within ten miles of our house, there were always the thoughts of: “Which of our material possessions are so precious that we can toss them into to the van in a moment’s notice and flee?” Of course, our very lives is the utmost importance in any disaster. If there’s time, IDs and cash came next. Anything else was just material possessions. We could even live without the IDs and cash.

Here in soggy ole lower peninsula Michigan, there are not many wildfires. Tornadoes, yes. Flooding, yes. But not so much fires. But I haven’t forgotten. Whenever I hear of wildfires, my hearts go out to the people and animals it nears.

In fact, to get a personal grasp on both wildfires in western South Dakota and the Lakota culture, I wrote a fiction book about it: WILDFIRE by Sandy Carlson, available in both Kindle and paper (

Stay safe and be wise if you ever encounter a wildfire

Emmersed in Research and the Lakota People

Our church youth group is heading to a South Dakota Indian Reservation in a couple of weeks. Having spent ten years teaching in West River (the western side of the state), I know a little about the Lakota culture. I came home from church, wanting to put together a five-day read/devotion/meditation for our youth. I dug out my semester of Indian Studies notes and poured over the many books I have on the Lakota peoples. I found it amusing that as I was reading about time (commonly refered to by non-Indians as Indian Time) I totally lost track of it. To try to explain Indian Time here and now it would undoubtedly get lost in the translation, even though I’d use English words.

As I looked up Lakota words and songs, children’s faces flashed before me. Parents’ faces flashed before me. Grammas’ faces flashed before me. And I wondered how could I possibly honor a people in five short paragraphs? Part of me thought, “Let the youth group be Wakanesha — child spirits — and I’ll just wait and watch them after they return.” I think that is the attitude many Indians have of non-Indians, anyway, that we are Wakanesha, although they would be too polite to admit it. I have a couple of weeks to decide if I am going to put together a five-day read for them or not, but after spending several hours pouring over Lakota pictures, words and memories, at the moment I’m leaning towards the not.

Pulling this back to my writing blog and writing research. I’m just wondering if any other writer has this same odd thing happen to her or him? That while you are hours in on your research, you forget who and especially where or when you are, and instead you are watching and listening to another culture, another time, another place. And I also wonder, do you get Research Jet Lag when you look up and realize your present reality? I’m trying to shake off this “jet lag” because there are things I must get done today, while my body is telling me I need a nap to recover from my intense time of research.

George Plimton, Bucket Lists, and Life

 Literature Blogs

Yesterday, my husband called me “a George Plimton.” How cool is that!

When Plimpton wanted to do research for a book, he’d participate in the activity about which he was writing. For instance, while writing books about the National Football League and the National Hockey League, he joined professional teams. He did the same with golf and the GPA. He was a high-wire circus performer and stand up comedian – all for the sake of writing about them.

So, what brought on my husband’s most recent comment?

I’m looking into volunteering to observe or crew for the World Hot Air Balloon Championships here in Michigan in 2012. Preparation is already going on for it, of course. That alone is not really such a big thing. (I mean, yes, it is. Really. Hot air balloons? Are you kidding me?) But this month, I’ve also been cleaning oil off of animals at the Wildlife Rehab Center from our very own and personal oil spill. While in Western South Dakota, I went to buffalo round ups, pow-wows and rodeos, and participated in cattle round-ups and branding days, and got to know quite a few rattle snakes face-to-face. In Wisconsin, I hand-milked goats, and canoed the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. I didn’t get to “walk the beans” while in Iowa, but did spend a lot of time watching corn grow from our backyard.

These are all intentional local events I participate in for the sake of writing about them. The unintentional things which happen are much, much longer. There was the time I yanked my young son off of the icy rail at Niagara Falls. He was going to retrieve my mitten which he’d accidentally dropped over the edge. Or the wild boar attack in Arkansas. How about outrunning a wildfire in Utah on our honeymoon? Isn’t this a great and varied country?

And then there is the people element. Often, I walk through life with my mouth open, wondering at the peculiar people I see or meet or know, and the unique and unusual (might I say bizarre?) things they do.

Who needs bucket lists when every day of life is an adventure… or involves people? What a world to write about.

Carpe diam!