Yvonne Wakefield ~ Three Questions & a Cover

Three Questions and a Cover — a short interview with one of my favorite authors, along with one of the author’s covers.

Yvonne Wakefield’s memoirs are not your average coming-of-age stories. Not by a long shot. After you’ve read this short interview and a brief excerpt from Babe in the Woods, you’ll jump at the chance to find out what happened to her next.

Of all the stories you could have told, why THIS one?

Babe in the Woods: Self Portrait, is my evolving story about my relationship with living in the log cabin I built at age 18.  I tell this story to continue the story of the first book Babe in the Woods: Building a Life One Log at a Time.   Self Portrait is kind of the filling between the three-book series which takes the reader to the present day.

What’s the most interesting / flattering / peculiar thing a reader has ever said to you?

After reading Babe in the Woods: Building a Life One Log at a Time,  one of my golf buddies said to me after I flubbed a drive, “You talk like you write.”

Best advice you received about writing / publishing?

The Best: I was talking with a writer once and discussing how the characters in my book, who are all real, would react to my writing about them, even though I changed their names.  He replied “When you know your book will piss off your family and friends, you know it’s ready to publish.”

I found this refreshingly relieving.  Not that my intent was ever to upset anyone but I did worry about what people would and will think about my writing, whether it is about a person or a subject.  My friend’s comment was actually kind of liberating. It allowed me to quit second guessing or fretting about reader response.  I am a good person, a good writer, with a good story to tell.  If someone gives me a negative review or is offended by what I write it is their problem.  

At age eighteen, Yvonne set out to build a home from trees on 80 acres she bought on an Oregon mountainside. In 1975, log by log she creates a cabin and heals from an orphaned past, finding a new family in the forest, and with people in a valley named John Day.

Babe in the Woods: Self Portrait is the second in a three-book series. It chronicles a span in Yvonne’s four decades long relationship with her log cabin and the people she meets in the valley. The book continues Yvonne’s story of learning to live in the wilderness within and outside of herself. It is also a story of rogue bears, building a bear-proof log studio, a young artist’s development, and the trials and triumph of finding oneself, alone in the backwoods.

Enjoy an excerpt:

Bears had never bothered me before I shot one that summer on the mountain. As a borderline vegetarian, I reasoned, since I deliberately killed an animal I had to eat a bit of animal deliberately killed. Not entirely to restore karmic equilibrium, but so I could chew upon the carnal rush of slaughter.

On that summer day, when hummingbirds drilled air hot enough to bake vanilla smells out of ponderosa pine, I waited, primed to kill, on my log cabin porch. When a black bear parted brush and stopped midway in crossing the creek I grasped a thirty-thirty resting by my thigh. Leveled it on a two-by-four nailed across the railing, aimed, fired. The bear’s eyes blew open in shock before it faltered, staggered upright and bolted in a tilted gait upwind of a bullet so immediately embraced.

Days after the bear had been found dead, I felt the need to eat meat to restore the cosmic balance knocked off kilter—a mere trigger squeeze is all it took. It had to be wild. Killed in the wild and not from the bear I shot. I bummed a frozen elk steak from a runty hunter. After it thawed I roasted the meat on a green willow stick over a twiggy fire beside the flashing creek, within spitting distance of where, only days before, I’d blown out a black bear’s rib bone with a borrowed rifle at three hundred feet.

I seared venison until it was as brown as the branch piercing it. Until flames licked away and nearly blackened what cardinal red was left of an animal that like the bear had browsed, a season before, upon pale, green shivery shoots. When it cooled, I bit into that charred chunk and chewed.

The creek continued to flow. The forest practiced its natural order; every leaf, twig, pine needle, rock and pine cone in forested rapport. But the animal in me got all riled up and I choked up before I could swallow: swallow the fear that had taken us both down.

Miles above Oregon’s John Day Valley, I felled, bucked, skinned, notched and chinked a log cabin together from trees: Douglas, red and white fir, and tamarack to classify a predominant few. I was a skinny 18 year old, fresh out of orthodontic braces when I began to rebuild the home lost four years before when orphan replaced the name of daughter.

The road leading to my backwoods home is so rutted and steep, even the most souped-up, air-shocked four-wheel drives lose traction in stretches named for disasters at these places. The Eliminator and Shit and Slide are but two.

Given the amount of rain or snow it is often swifter and safer to hike than it is to drive this road that ends beneath igneous peaks named after a blushing berry. I live here alone when I am not involved in occupations to bank income so I can buy time to live off the grid and ungirded. This log cabin is the only place I have to call home. It sits as empty as I feel when I am not there. There is no lock on the door.

John Day is a north-east central city sharing the same name with a valley, river, county and a dead trapper. Most of my close friends here call me Lavon. This mispronunciation twists off tongues conditioned to calling out the likes of women with names like Artice, Nadine, Emmeline, Delia or Octavia. Names solid as the pioneering women who lived up to them, unadorned with luxuries I take for granted in country where Yvonne just sounds too pampered, too proper.

Sometimes, depending on the work I’m bungling—tasks that involve steely razor-sharp pointy tools, trees and dirt—I will also answer to Dimwit, Addlebrained and Loser. Dumbass or Dumbshit occasionally interweave into my own self-calling. The summer I shot the bear I added Murderer to my list of nicknames despite the fact I was a conscientious objector and abided by Gandhi’s teachings. One of his lessons is: There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no cause that I am prepared to kill for.

I’ve convoluted my practice of his philosophy by dispatching an animal I was not prepared to die for.

A rational impulse. Either a bear was going to get me. Or, I was going to get a bear. Who did who in first abet one’s good fortune. A rifle greatly leveraged my winning odds.

On a pine-board shelf next to my loft bed, among erudite tomes and decades-outdated encyclopedias, is a hardback copy of The Prophet, the once-shiny cover now scuffed and dog-eared. I keep that book beside me when I sleep in the belief that dreaming beside Gibran’s soulful words generates a token of divine light, like a halo surrounding this solitary life wrestling me to the mat. One passage is underlined and read again and again.

Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.

I am twenty-two. My family is dead. What I call home is a stack of logs in the Strawberry Mountains. My best friend is a cat. Out of principle for life, until I ate that venison I didn’t eat furry things.

This is what I looked at.

Connect with the author:

Contact Links

Website: http://www.yvonnepepinwakefield.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Babe-in-the-Woods-Building-a-Life-One-Log-at-a-Time-115755093138131

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yvonne.pepinwakefield/

One thought on “Yvonne Wakefield ~ Three Questions & a Cover

  1. I enjoyed the interview and the excerpt and I can’t wait to read your fascinating story! Thanks for sharing it with me and have a spectacular holiday season!

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