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“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”


Skirmishing Words

The blog of Lynn G. Carlson

These blog posts are me paying attention – to life, to writing, to whatever topic waggles at me. You’ll find that as a rule I’m irreverently respectful and am constantly digging into language crannies, looking for inspiration.


I’m always glad to hear from you, too. As you pay attention to our glorious, goofy, comedy-stacked-on-tragedy-layered-with-boredom lives.

Keep in mind, I’m more Carhartt than Cartier, so don’t expect anything too polished. But I promise not to posture and to do my best to stay authentic. You should call me on it if I get too big for my britches.

post by Lynn

My dog Sammy, God rest his soul, used to love to sniff my head and snuffle through my hair. When he finished, he always gave me one of those silly grins that labs are famous for.

Why did he love to sniff my head?

Hell if I know.

Why do any of us love what we love? I only know I was always glad to see Sammy happy, so I let him sniff away.

Which brings me to today’s topic:


If you are casting about for something to spark your creativity, as I always am, I suggest you give serious consideration to your delights.

Quite often, we creatives are elbowed into focusing on our pain, fears, regrets, and secrets. All well and good, and there is much to be had there. But don’t forget that there is treasure, too, in the things that glow in your life.


“The world is mud-luscious,”
- e.e. cummings.

Oooh, I think e.e. delighted in mud, don't you?

So, what delights you?

I am not talking about what you’re passionate about. Delight is different than passion. Less demanding, in my mind. I’m not talking about what makes you laugh either, although you may sometimes laugh in delight.

Delight is a very specific emotion. For me, it’s when something catches my attention and I simply stand, look, and smile. Or it’s when I notice that I’d really like to just hang out in a particular moment for a good, long time.

A few years ago, I started a Delights journal. The impulse came when I read this quote:

“I put in my pictures everything I like."

- Pablo Picasso

Hey--if it’s good enough for Picasso, it’s good enough for me.


It dawned on me that it might be fruitful to take note of things that spark delight in me. I selected a small notebook and started taping onto the pages images of (and written notes on) things I could honestly say delight me.

A sampling of what has made its way into this notebook:

  • Photo of a highway: open road, blue Wyoming sky overhead. It’s a very specific shade of blue, one that I miss whenever I am outside of my home state. I think it has something to do with almost total lack of moisture in the air 😊.

  • Image cut from a dog calendar: a hot, panting retriever with his belly on a cool spot.

  • Notation: a camping ritual – the comforting sensation of a steaming hot washcloth on my face just before bed.

  • Photo: of my grandnephew at age 5 or 6. It was his first mutton-busting competition and I delight in the set of his small shoulders as he concentrates on the upcoming challenge.

  • Image: clipped from an old copy of Wyoming Wildlife magazine, of a pika with a mouthful of grass. I mean, who can resist pikas?!

  • Notation: I heard a guy say, "I’m flustrated" – I don’t think he meant to coin a new term, but I think it’s, well, delightful and descriptive.

  • Notation: the feeling I get when my dog Luna is sleeping, and I tickle the hair between her paws until she kicks. Not sure I should admit that I take delight in pestering my dog this way, but I guess I have to own it, don’t I?

  • Photo: one Husband took at Curt Gowdy State Park (see above) where water reflects stone and pine, creating a disorienting and eye-delighting image.

  • Notation: watching the ducks at Mylar Park. There are few things more smile-inducing to me than a duck’s waddle or an upturned duck butt.

  • Photo (below): one I took at a gallery in Boulder, Colorado. I was fascinated by the installation, but delighted by the shadow it created on the wood floor.

My delights have found their way into my writing on occasion--as in a blog post, titled Whale Watching, where I riffled through my memory files and extracted a scene from a delightful adventure:

You turn in that direction just as a fountain of water spatters the surface of the sea. Then the maw of a blue whale rises up out of the liquid floor, followed by the massive barnacled slide of a whale body. Then the tail, etched with white scars, flips way up into the air and back down, slamming the surface.

A curtain of water splashes the crowd on the boat. Everybody laughs and applauds (as if the whale were performing a stunt). You giggle with your friends as you wipe the salty water from your face.

I know I’m not the only one who pays attention to my delights. I find evidence everywhere of it in the things I read:

Like Wyoming poet Pat Frolander, delighting in food (and making my mouth water):

Coffee burbles, potatoes steam, fresh bread awaits the knife, roast beef braises, brown gravy simmers.*

Or when Nebraska state poet Matt Mason delights in the memory of the submarine ride in Disneyland, (Ah, yes, Disneyland. I know it well. Can we go back there now?)

where it was…

as if you had

all gone under the waves and down

to Atlantis’ cracked pillars,

mermaids waving, undersea volcanoes. **


Sometimes I find it helps to have permission to do things, so...

By the power vested in me by absolutely no one, I hereby grant you permission to pay close attention to your delights.

In whatever fashion works for you, collect the evidence. Then see where it leads you.

If you write fiction, one of your delights might attach itself to your main character. Many fine works of art leak out of the artist’s delight in a particular scene or image.


How about penning a Five Delights song?


A gustatory masterpiece might develop from one of your taste delights.

So many options!

It sure can’t hurt to focus on your delights, and it might very well help.

“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.”
– Robin Sharma

* From “Second Table” by Pat Frolander, published in Married Into It, Glendo, Wyo.: High Plains Press 2011.

** From “Ode to Submarine Voyage (1959 – 1998)” by Matt Mason, published in At the Corner of Fantasy and Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros, Old Mill Press, 2022

Toponymy is the study of place names. A toponymist is someone who studies the science and origins of place-names. If you think all that sounds dry as sawdust, I beg to differ.

Because of one little book, I find toponymy fascinating and full of things to think and write about.

“The romance of Wyoming is included in the names of its rivers and mountains, in the titles of its cities and counties…”

So says Mae Urbanek in the preface of her book, Wyoming Place Names (copyright 1967).

Mae wrote many books (poetry, fiction and what she called “historical prose”) at her ranch in my home county of Niobrara. She died in 1995. When I was growing up, I’d hear my father talk about Mae but I always misunderstood the name. I thought he was saying “Mayor Banek” and so I had the notion that this person ran the town of Lusk.

But I digress…

Wyoming Place Names is a book I sit with often. It has a simple format: place names, in alphabetical order, followed by the county, and then whatever Mae could dig up on the origin of the name. She threw in stories attached to the place whenever she found them.

There’s history in those names, to be sure, but much, much more. There’s…


Bad Medicine Butte. Fremont. Named by the Shoshone because of the unexplained death of one of their scouts who climbed the butte to scan for enemies. They found him there, dead, with his face on his folded arms.


Ishawooa Mesa, in Park County. A Shoshone name meaning “lying warm.” (Can’t you just imagine someone stretched out on the mesa in, say, April, letting the wind pass over, sponging up sun and naming this place by how it made them feel after a long Wyoming winter?)


Fourlog Park, Albany. A prospector started a cabin here in the 1870’s, and quit after he had laid up four logs.


Meadow Creek, Natrona. Homesteaders of 1890s thought this a beautiful meadow in which to live. When a big flood in August 1895 struck the tents in which the people lived, they hurried to grab quilts, and get to higher ground. Mrs. Nuby and her three children drowned. Their bodies were caught in piles of driftwood.


Bosom Peak, Fremont. Named for its resemblance to the female figure when seen from Dinwoody area. (No doubt some guy had gone for a very long time without female companionship.)


Drizzlepuss, Teton. A pinnacle where it always seems to rain or hail when a climbing party was taken there by Exum Mountaineering School.


Dead Man Creek, Albany/Carbon. Named about 1868, when the body of Jack Hockins was found buried in the gravel of creek bed. Hockins had assaulted and killed a girl in the east. His body was found after the brother of the dead girl learned where Hockins lived on this ranch.

I notice that some place names have stories attached to them that smack of a certain…


Big Warm Springs Creek, Fremont County. When President Chester A. Arthur, with a military guard… traveled this valley in 1883, they tried to camp on Clark’s place near the mouth of DuNoir creek. Clark ordered them off. General Sheridan called him down saying, “This is the President of the United States.” Clark answered, “I don’t care what he is president of, he’s camping on my property without permission. I want him off.” Camp was moved.

YEAH, WHATEVER attitude:

Dutch Creek, Sheridan. First called Hungarian Creek for a Hungarian who homesteaded there. Word was too long for settlers who shortened it to “Dutch.”

Wyoming Place Names is full of barely-hinted-at tales and half-forgotten voices—so many stories it makes me itch.

Saying that I am a toponymist who studies these place names is a major stretch. It’s more like I use them to catapult my imagination into new territory. Sometimes they serve as writing prompts that lead me into the thicket of story.

So, thanks, Mae Urbanek. I’m grateful you weren’t the mayor of Lusk and had the time and inclination to gather all this information so I could go tripping through the toponymy of our Wyoming.

Note: Words in italics were taken from Wyoming Place Names, by Mae Urbanek.

One last thing. If you’re a writer or artist, here are two prompts inspired by Wyoming Place Names. Maybe one of them will inspire a story, poem, or sketch:

Cache Mountain, Yellowstone Park. Takes the name from creek where Indians surprised prospectors, and stole their horses, except two mules; men had to “cache” what mules could not pack.

Depict, in words or image, a scene where three of the prospectors return to dig up the cache. What do they find?


Nightcap Bay, Teton. A small bay in Jackson Lake named by John D. Sargent, pioneer of 1887: brilliant and erratic, he claimed the bay was visited by an apparition—a man in a boat which appeared at midnight on a certain night each year.

It’s 2023. You discovered some old journals that reportedly were written by Sargent. One enigmatic entry says “Jackson Lake: October 13, 12:01 am. Three years in a row.” Your friend makes you a $100 bet that no ghost will appear. You take it. You and your friend push the boat away from shore at 11:30 pm on October 12th. What happens?

“One hundred percent of my work is to enhance my receptivity.”

- Jennifer Rife

I recently listened to a Wyoming Humanities Council podcast, What’s Your Why? in which artist Jennifer Rife of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was interviewed by Emy DiGrappa. Jennifer had recently landed among five finalists who are vying to represent Wyoming in the Women to Watch, New Worlds exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

The 2024 exhibit is part of a biennial exhibition series that features underrepresented and emerging women artists who create in any medium including, but not limited to, painting, sculpture, print, drawing, photography, film, digital, installation, and sound.

If you’re imagining Jennifer’s art as paint on a canvas, or a granite sculpture, or some kind of performance art, then you’re wrong.

I was wrong. I learned that her art form is something entirely different.

At her website, Art in the Middle of Nowhere, Jennifer shows us what she creates and it’s a good thing, because otherwise we’d never see it. Hers is a leaves-no-trace kind of art.

Tough to describe so I invite you to go to her website to see for yourself.

Jennifer creates these “installations” by placing objects in a location, taking photos, and then noting the latitude and longitude of the spot. Before heading out, she erases all signs that she’s been there.

Hers is an ephemeral art.

“Ephemeral” is a term that usually describes “a work of art that only occurs once, like a happening, and cannot be embodied in any lasting object to be shown in a museum or gallery.”

According to Jennifer, the photos aren’t even the point. Describing herself as a “flow junky,” she says, “One hundred percent of my work is to enhance my receptivity.”

I’m paraphrasing now, but Jennifer said that while the art is ephemeral, she is changed by the creation of it.

Wow. Yeah.

As a lifelong student of creativity, I’m familiar with the term “flow.” I read and re-read a book about it: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. So, I grasp what she’s talking about.

“Flow: the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I’m fascinated by Jennifer’s approach and admire her unique take on the creative process. I could hang out at her website for hours.

But inevitably my thoughts turn to my own brand of creativity—writing—and I wonder, can writing be ephemeral?

My thesaurus spits out lots of words that cozy up to ephemeral: impermanent, transitory, delicate, short-lived, intangible.

But don’t we write for posterity, for our words to be published and read, making them permanent, in a way?

A recent experience makes me question that assumption.

Some background:

In 2017 I wrote a creative nonfiction piece titled, “The Pushing Fork.” It was an exploration of a recent phenomenon I’d experienced as I found myself being irritable with my then 87-year-old mother’s about her eating habits.


“Ummm… this is a good dinner,” my mother says for the fifth time in three minutes. Scratch, scratch… Mom’s fork pushes chunks of chicken into a mound with her mashed potatoes and green beans. Push, push… she slides her fork toward the mound and lifts. She can feel right away by the weight of her fork that she hasn’t got any food on it, that she missed again. “This is very good,” she says. Then she goes back to her mound.

Just eat the friggin’ food! I want to say.

I love my mother. It’s just that she’s making me crazy at the moment. My irritation blooms at every scratch and then guilt slams into the irritation like a snowstorm into a fog bank. See the deal is, my mom is losing her eyesight, slowly and incrementally, due to macular degeneration.

In the writing of this essay, in the flow of thinking about my emotions and trying to put them into words, I discovered that irritation was only the surface emotion. There was more underneath. A lot more...

Scratch at the irritation, and you uncover fear. Push aside the fear and you unearth love. I decide to let myself off the hook when the irritation intrudes. You’re afraid, Lynn. It’s understandable. It’s okay.

I followed the emotions, down to where I really didn’t want to go. The writing demanded it of me. And I discovered that there was a tough question down there.

What will I do? Can I wait with her while she suffers? Maybe that’s the awful, barely bearable challenge ahead—to watch her suffer and be diminished, by loss of sight and movement, or by increasing pain, knowing there’s little I can do, except be with her and manage the doctor visits and get the pills from the pharmacy.

I don’t know if I can do it.

In the process of writing The Pushing Fork, I found out I was afraid of being with my mother in her inevitable decline. I was terrified, to be honest. In that realization, I was changed.

Like Jennifer is changed with her art? Maybe.

I shared the essay with my writing group and submitted it to a couple of literary magazines, but they didn’t pick it up. It sat on my computer.

Fast forward to November of 2022.

Mom was at Davis Hospice Center here in Cheyenne, dying of congestive heart failure. All my senses were trained on her as one by one her systems shut down. A nurse, Sally, was masterful—not only in helping Mom, but in working with the family during this beyond-stressful time. She knew what was going on with Mom’s dying process, did all she could to make her patient comfortable, and explained to us what was happening and what to expect next.

At a crucial moment, she told me that she could relieve Mom’s agitation and pain with medication. “But she might not regain consciousness,” she warned.

“I just don’t want her to suffer,” I said.

Soon after the medication was administered, Mom slipped into unconsciousness. Her face lost its grimace. Her body relaxed.

It was then I remembered “The Pushing Fork” and that statement:

I don’t know if I can do it.

I was overwhelmed with the realization that in the end, I hadn’t had to do it alone. There were special people, in a special place, who could relieve suffering.

I went home and printed off “The Pushing Fork” and jotted a note at the bottom of the last page.


When I wrote this story I didn’t know—couldn’t have known—that Mom’s suffering would be relieved by a nurse named Sally in a place called Davis Hospice Center.

I am beyond grateful.


The next morning, I gave it to Sally the nurse. I felt sort of silly doing it, foisting my story on a relative stranger, but something in me insisted.

She took it to the breakout room to read later.

Her comment after reading?

“It made me cry.”

Now I think I know what “The Pushing Fork” was meant for. I think I wrote that essay as an ephemeral piece of writing that led me to discover what was going on with me internally, and then served as a thank you letter of sorts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to publish my writing—to share my words with many people.

But for now, I am grateful that “The Pushing Fork” changed me and then found its audience, even if it was an audience of one.

And while I’m feeling grateful, I want to thank Jennifer Rife and all the other ephemeral artists, for showing me that art is as much about process as it is about product.

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