Hold On… and Let Go

weather screen shotRain is in the forecast today and for every day but three of the next eleven. Such predictions aren’t all that unusual at this time of year where I live in the upper left corner of the United States. But twenty-two years ago at this time, I lived a bit east of here on the Stehekin River in Washington’s North Cascades, where most of the winter precipitation is in the form of snow. As I write in my new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, the Stehekin River was a powerful teacher for me during the two years my husband Jerry, our children Rachel and Matt, and I lived on its banks, along with eighty other people who treasure—and respect—the beauty and the power of the valley.

That year, 1995, snow came to the valley floor in early November, followed by warmer temperatures and then days and days of heavy rain. Rocks and boulders in the summer-dried riverbed disappeared as the river swelled. What had been a tranquil trickle of flowing water just days before was now a roar we could hear whenever we opened the house door. As we prepared for Thanksgiving, we kept close watch on the river inching up its banks.

River flood1Now, the river that usually serenaded me with its quiet, soothing flow, echoed the sounds of tumbling boulders and the splash of hundred-foot tall cedars and pines, their roots torn from the banks by the pressure of the current. Late one afternoon midweek, the river exploded over the bank at the end of Company Creek Road, and gushed through the foundation of the Avery cabin just beyond our house.

As full-sized cedars rumbled past, I wondered how one of my favorite trees was faring. Early in our relocation to Stehekin, I spotted it just beyond Harlequin Bridge and called it my “lean into it” tree. The cedar stretched its lower third over the riverbank before curving the rest of its height gracefully up toward the sky. Five roots, as thick as a grown man’s thighs, sprawled from the tree’s stringy-barked trunk and clawed into the soil. Half-a-dozen branches reached out across the river as if in a tug-of-war with the roots to keep the cedar upright and anchored. Could it survive the thrashing water now gnawing at the banks of the Stehekin?

“Hey guys,” Rachel said as we sat down to dinner, “it’s stopped raining.”

“Yay,” cheered Matt.

“I wouldn’t get too excited yet,” Jerry said. “The river is so full we’ll need lots of days without rain to make a difference.”

That wouldn’t happen for a while, as the rain returned during the night.

The next morning, Jerry, the kids and I ventured out in the gray, walking down Company Creek Road to see the effects of the night’s deluge. After about half a mile, we could go no further. Water had burst over the embankment.

I shuffled back a few feet from the raw river edge, keeping my eyes on the new arm of the Stehekin surging down the middle of Company Creek Road. The same road that wound from our house for four miles beside the Stehekin, then across Harlequin Bridge to connect us to the five miles of paved road leading to the ferry landing, the head of Lake Chelan, and the rest of the world. Now, this link had been split by a torrent of mud-brown, churning water, so deep I couldn’t see the rock roadbed that surely lay underneath. Cut off from friends, neighbors, the school, mail, and groceries, I huddled with Jerry and the kids, all of us staring at the galloping currents.

The power of this force humbled me. How many times had that river flooded, reminding the residents of its valley we had intruded on its home?  We might think we know best where roads should go or houses should be built, but the river follows its own wisdom, has its own idea about its course, and thus ours. I had come to Stehekin to wrestle with both my need for control as well as the ways I’d disengaged from the world to protect myself from urban overload and work stress. The flood’s fury reconnected me to the earth. The water frothing between the banks carried the rains, the melted snows, the ancient glacial melt that forced the Stehekin to escape its borders and eat away at the bend in the road. Now a big chunk of road joined this flow of history, mingled with old and new waters, mixed with boulders and pines that rushed down the swollen river, to the head of the lake, bound to get to Chelan, the Columbia, and the sea before I would. While the Stehekin raged a record 19,000 cubic square feet of water every minute, there was nothing for us to do but wait, stranded at our end of Company Creek Road.

Along with the boulders and trees, the river washed away power poles and lines, leaving us without electricity during the flood’s climax. Fortunately, we had heeded the wisdom of our neighbors and filled our bathtub with water in anticipation of the loss of our electric pump for the well. We had plenty of firewood for the barrel stove that warmed the house. A full tank of propane fueled our cooking stove to heat the food we kept cold in an ice chest on the front porch. Our days were filled with basic survival chores as well as monitoring the river’s course, so it didn’t matter that the sun disappeared around four in the afternoon. After dinner preparation, cleanup, and a little reading by the light of candles and kerosene lamps, we were all ready for sleep.

Three days after the road disappeared, the water receded enough for a neighbor to drive his bulldozer into the woods beyond the washout to punch out a temporary road between the trees. Now crews could get in to replace the missing power poles and string new lines to restore electricity. Life began to return to normal.

When we received permission to drive across the temporary road, my family and I enthusiastically piled into our 1973 Suburban. Jerry drove slower than usual down the narrow, winding road, not knowing what hazards from the river’s rampage might stop us. Its surge had created gullies, cleaned out fall debris, and scattered firewood, toys, barrels, shovels, rakes, and ladders far from their homes.

River flood2We had heard that the approaches to Harlequin Bridge had taken a beating. I held my breath as we neared the bend just before it. The sky was blue, but the coffee and cream-colored river bubbling past like soup at a hard boil still taunted both sides of the road and the bridge’s underside. My eyes focused to the left, just beyond the bridge’s span, to the bank across from us. Still “leanin’ into it,” my cedar clung to the river’s edge, reaching toward the sun while remaining firmly rooted in the rock and soil of home. I let out my breath and leaned a bit more into life’s requirement to both hold on and let go.



Baring My Soul

For the past two weeks, I’ve been doing just that. As I’ve embarked on a book tour for my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’m aware that my story is no longer confined to pages in my journal and documents on my laptop. So far, my words have mostly made their way to friends and family—people who already know me to some degree. Now, they’re coming to know me better, and if I think about that very much, I feel exposed. I’m not complaining about this discovery—after all, I willingly churned out events from and reflections upon my life and sought a publisher to put my  words on pages in a book. A book that I now want and hope people will read. You can start here with Chapter 1.

Still, I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

I have yet to receive any critical reviews, but I expect they’ll appear eventually. I can’t control negative responses any more than I can influence the ways my experience may (or may not) resonate for others. As I learned over and over in Stehekin, my yearning for safety, certainty, and pleasing others was a through line in my life; it was tested there, and I wrestle with it still.

I don’t know how reactions from readers will feel in the coming weeks and months, especially as I encounter more people meeting me for the first time through my book’s pages. Whenever this baring of my soul makes me tremble, though, I’ll remember the smiling faces, the nodding heads, and the books offered to me for my signature at my first two launch events.

Iris&AMS best

The first was in Stehekin, WA where the book is set. There, my mentor and friend, author Ana Maria Spagna, introduced me.

Ste reading




Ron best_Stehekin






A week later, I celebrated in my current home of Lopez Island, WA. Friend and fellow writer Kip Robinson Greenthal introduced me there, and after I read, we shared in a conversation about writing, nursing, and the challenges of memoir.







kip interview



Today’s publishing industry demands that writers actively promote their books. So, now that Hiking Naked is available wherever books are sold (if your local bookstore doesn’t have it, ask them to order it from their supplier), I hope you’ll pick up a copy. And here’s my request that you help me boost my memoir’s visibility. Once you read Hiking Naked, I hope you’ll take a few moments to review it at Amazon or GoodReads, in newsletters, and on social media. If you’d like me to visit your community, your book club, writing group/class, or your Quaker Meeting, please contact me at iris@irisgraville.com. Despite a few jitters, I enjoy talking with readers, librarians, and booksellers about my work. That’s a type of exposure I look forward to.

Stehekin photos by Tracey Cottingham; Lopez photos by Beth St. George & Karen Hattman






Joy in the Midst of Trouble in the Midst of Joy

Autographing books on Lopez Island

Spotlights made my silvery hair glisten, but apparently didn’t reveal the perspiration on my brow when I stood before audiences in Stehekin and on Lopez Island, two remote communities in Washington State. The smiling faces before me calmed my jitters as I introduced my new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, to friends and supporters. The butterflies flitted away as I read and noticed heads nodding; while signing books, I heard stories of similar experiences of seeking clarity about calling.

Hiking Naked Final CoverThese past two weeks have been especially joyous for me. After nearly two decades grappling at my writing desk, trying to make sense of my disillusionment with work I’d felt led to, I now have in my hands the story of an intense time of seeking. As I place it in others’ hands, I discover the commonality of this experience, complete with its despair and revelation.

Quaker author & activist, Eileen Flanagan

Yet, in the midst of celebration, I’m aware of the difficult times around me—both within my inner circle and around the globe. And once again, Quaker friend Eileen Flanagan recently offered wisdom about how to maintain spiritual footing in the midst of trouble. I commend her blog post, Spirituality for Troubled Times, when any of us feel off-kilter in the swirl of disasters, violence, disease, and threat. Here are seven practices Eileen expands upon in her essay:

  1. Recognize both oneness and difference.
  2. Cultivate compassion.
  3. Know thyself.
  4. Be faithful to a grounding practice.
  5. Don’t assume that your grounding practice is all you’re called to do.
  6. Don’t go it alone.
  7. Don’t forget about goodness, beauty, and joy.

Sound advice, no matter the times.

To learn more from Eileen’s expertise and roundedness, consider her online course, We Were Made for This Moment.  While a new class has already started, she repeats them  regularly.

*Afterthought #67 – The Right Costume

Some years ago, long before my first book, Hands at Work, was published, I hopefully attended a workshop session entitled “The Art of the Author Reading.” There I heard some of the best advice I’ve ever received about how to prepare for and offer a reading. Suggestions such as printing out the passages you want to read so you’re not fumbling through your book to find the right sections. Or having a “plant” to ask the first question, avoiding having you and the audience wait through that awkward silence before someone has the courage to speak.

What I continue to value most, however, was the reminder to think of it not as a reading, but as a performance. That means remembering to make eye contact (memorizing a few lines of your reading will help you be able to look up from your manuscript). Rehearsing. And your “costume” – giving some thought to what you’ll communicate by what you’re wearing.

H@W Cover LG (2)Before the launch of Hands at Work, I purchased a couple of one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted “collage” blouses. In bounty_coveranticipation of the release of BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, I went to the Lopez Farmers Market and bought a locally-made, linen tunic.

As I prepare for readings from my new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance (Homebound Publications), I’ve again been searching for the right items for my costume. Once again, I found the perfect garment at the Lopez Farmers Market at the “Naked Clothing” booth. Thanks to a couple from Sedro Woolley, WA who silkscreen beautiful images on T-shirts made of hemp, cotton, and bamboo, I’m set for my upcoming author events.


Ste poster

The design on the shirt I chose is a trillium – so fitting for my first event in Stehekin, WA, home of the annual Trillium Festival. If you’re in the vicinity of this remote area where most of the memoir is set, please join me on Sunday, September 10, 7:30 PM at the Golden West Visitor Center. And let me know what you think of my performance.




*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.