Why Mountain Shack Chronicles? Well, it’s a play on our last name, where we live, and because when we bought our little mountain home, it was abused and run down and needed a full renovation, so we started calling it the Mountain Shack.

I don’t have a niche. Some of my content is serious, and some is pure fluff. I write poems of varied styles, essays, micro-stories, and diary style journal posts. A lot of my photos are wildlife, but I also take landscapes, macros, and even some street portraits. The purpose of this blog is to give myself a place that I own where I can collect and share my creative works.

When you visit my art gallery, you will find a variety of my pictures that are available for purchase – and not just as wall art. You can choose to get my photos on a mug, tote bag, throw pillow, and many other gift and home decor items.

So, welcome to the Mountain Shack. Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and enjoy!

The Moon Wept (Adieu 2020)

Moon and clouds over a mountain forest – original oil painting by Karen Shackles
The Moon gazed down upon the Earth
And wept,
Her tears streaking the soot-soaked sky,
Smeared into a pit of blackness,
She saw, amidst the suffering 
And pain,
Hatred and fear did not conquer 
The love;
There was still beauty in the world,
And hope.

Legend of the Littlebears – A Microstory

It was the early snowfall that broke his concentration. He was too young, not yet able to control the shifts, and the prospect of frolicking in the fresh powder was more than he could resist.

I saw it in his eyes first – pupils widening like the aperture of a camera lens. I reached out to steady him, but could tell it was already too late. As he fell to his hands and knees, I pulled his shoes and socks off, freeing his little human feet as they stretched into sharply clawed paws, while his pale skin sprouted tufts of soft brown fur.

He looked up at me, twitching his round ears. “Go ahead,” I said, smiling down at him, “have fun, and be back to the den by dark.”

As my bear cub son scampered through the trees, I picked up my tools and went back to work. The heavy equipment that had been moved in would be disabled by morning. And no one would ever find the woman captured on the security camera. Her footprints would disappear, leaving only bear tracks behind. 

Author’s Note: Brooke Bartleson is a fantastic wildlife photographer, wild soul, and kindred spirit. To see the wild brought to life in her photos, visit her on Instagram (@brookelittlebear). She has gone on photo safari in Alaska to commune with wild bears in one of their last remaining unspoiled habitats, and has written extensively on the looming threat to them from mining operations. Recently, she posted the above photo and attached comment from one of her treks through the forest, and when I saw it, this story sprang into my mind. I have shared it here with her blessing.  

Diablo – A Microstory

I blinked hard against the glare. Smoke from the wildfire lay heavy across the valley, a murky haze choking my eyes and throat, intensified by ripples of heat radiating from the sun-bleached rocks. I raised a hand to my brow to shield my eyes as I tried once more to peer into the distance. Nothing. A mirage of shadows shimmered around me, but no bird song, no trickle of water, no sigh of air loosened the heavy texture of the silence. I took another sip of tepid water from my canteen, then continued my trek through the chalky dust.

The trail wound down into a shallow draw, and I hugged the side where there was a sliver of shade, clinging to the illusion that it provided any real respite. Where was he? I fought back the slideshow of possible disasters that had been playing on auto-repeat inside my head for the past few hours since the phone call. The fire had turned, ripping unexpectedly through what we thought was a safe zone, and he was missing. I couldn’t let my mind go there. I wouldn’t!

I paused to take a few deep breaths, fighting back the insidious grip of those evil fingers that were crushing my heart, closing my ears to the sneering whispers of doom, and I steeled myself against the possibility of what I might find as I clambered out of the draw back into the open desert plain.

I pushed on. Where was he?  Was I about to make a grisly discovery that would stop my heart in an instant of searing pain, resuming with the next breath in the agony of knowing life would then forever hold an aching emptiness of loss? I would not submit to this terror of anticipation.

He had been so mischievous as a youngster that I jokingly called him my little devil. As he grew up, his knack for getting into trouble matured into the calculated risk-taking of leadership, but the nickname stuck. If there was any grace to a name, surely a devil could survive the flames of that hellish wildfire.

My canteen was nearly empty. I moistened my cracked lips with a few drops of water, then gasped as I felt a subtle shift in the air. Raising my head, I squinted once again into the smoky glare. And with jarring suddenness, a bold breeze struck my face. Within minutes, the wind was swirling around me, and fat raindrops began to beat down the acrid pall. I raised my arms and turned my face to the sky, embracing the downpour.

The storm passed. Wiping water out of my eyes, I surveyed the glistening landscape. No longer swaddled in reeking fire fumes, the valley sparkled as a finger of sunlight slipped from beneath retreating clouds. And as I gazed with fresh hope into its fading light, I froze at the sound of rhythmic cadence. I spun around, heart leaping, and there he was, dashing towards me at a swift canter, his tail streaming in the wind like a battle-tattered yet triumphant flag — my companion and friend, flame of my soul, magnificent prince of the plains — Diablo, Stallion of Sand Wash Basin.

Author’s Note: My husband and I recently celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary. Between Covid-19 and the wildfires, our typical anniversary get-away was curtailed to adventures closer to home. We roamed the back country for most of a day, crawling along rocky 4-wheel drive roads searching for wild mustangs, and in spite of the smoky air, we were not disappointed. I freely admit to being under the influence of the countless hours of my childhood spent devouring every horse story that I could get my hands on. As I was sorting and editing my photos from the day, the images pulled this microstory into being.

Visit my gallery if you’d like to see more of these wild mustangs.

If you enjoyed this microstory, you might also like this one:

I relied on the fantastically detailed records of the wild mustang community kept by photographer Nadja Rider to identify this stallion.

The Magic Hour Has Begun …..

“If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.” ~ Victoria Erickson

Oregon Grapes

The air changed last night. Our mountain days are still warm and summery, but the cool air from my open window coaxed me awake at dawn, gently tickling my nose with the subtle shift that I eagerly await each year. It’s that certain freshness to the air that carries whispers of the beginnings of Fall. This, for me, is heaven.

I have never felt that sense of continuity mingled with new beginnings during a new year that begins in the frigid dark of mid-winter. No – for me, it is Autumn that heralds that sense of excited anticipation.

Perhaps the reason for this is linked with school. I adored school, and managed to navigate 13 years of public education largely oblivious to or unconcerned by my status as a dorky nerd. It wasn’t social for me – I was there to feed my hunger for knowledge.

We had a yearly ritual before school started. Mom would take me into the city and I’d get outfitted with clothes to replace what I had outgrown over the previous year. Then we’d restock my school supplies. I’d get a blue denim loose-leaf notebook with tabbed dividers, which over the course of the school year would get decorated with doodles drawn in magic marker. I’d carefully iron the creases out of brown paper bags to make covers for my school books, which would also end up liberally decorated with fanciful sketches of flowers, animals, and planets. I remember favoring doodles of the Sun, the Moon, and Saturn. I would chalk that up to them having the most artistically interesting outlines for the sketching of doodles, but I’m also fascinated as an adult by their symbolism in the cycles of seasons and agriculture.

While a large part of the modern world follows the standardized Gregorian calendar, which places the beginning of the new year on January 1, there are some cultures that celebrate the beginning of the year in the Northern Hemisphere’s Autumn – for example, Enkutatash in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Rosh Hashanah in Israel.

And here at the Mountain Shack, I embrace Autumn with bittersweet urgency, collecting colorful leaves, gathering wild berries and rose hips, and giving gratitude for what is, to me, the most wondrous of seasons.

My Never-Ending Story

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!” — Betty Smith, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

I have a distinct memory of learning to read my first word. It was CAT. From that moment on, I was enthralled with the magic of written words. From the wicker seat of my little red chair, I could go anywhere, be anyone, and do anything. My mom loved to read. Reading aloud to me was one of her most cherished activities, and she bought me far more books than toys. When I left home at 20, the majority of my personal belongings were the over 200 hardbound books that I had accumulated by then. I remember with a yearning ache the idyllic hours we would spend at the library on Saturday afternoons, curled up on the floor like contented cats in a patch of sunshine, dust motes swirling around us, breathing in the earthy scent of old books while we skimmed their jackets or delved into the beginning chapters, carefully narrowing our selection to the 10-book limit we could check out that week. There is timeless truth in the words of Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, in the movie You’ve Got Mail“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

What were your favorite childhood books? Do you recognize these?

With C-A-T
My adventures began
See Spot Run
Green Eggs and Ham
Solving mysteries
With Nancy Drew
With each new story
My love for books grew
There and back again
With Bilbo Baggins
And skipping with Brighty
In the Grand Canyon
Around the world
In 80 days
On Prince Edward Island
With Anne I played
I watched as Charlotte
Spun her web
I cried when Dan and Ann
Were dead
With Wang Lung
I loved the land
And raced the Black
On desert sand
I caught spring fever
Along with Mole
Into the secret garden
I stole
Unbounded travel
Is never hard
All I need
Is a library card
So if I’m lost
No need to look
I’m in the pages
Of a book

A Giant Moose

A bull moose at least as tall as a horse walking through our yard.
Bull moose

I was sitting on our front porch this afternoon having a nice phone visit with my Dad. The sun moved far enough west that my shady spot disappeared, so I went back inside. I hadn’t even sat down again yet when I glanced out the window and saw this huge bull moose cross the street and walk right through our yard. He was enormous!

Sunrise On Heart Lake

Sunrise reflecting on the water in morning twilight

It was the birds that woke me up. I opened my eyes to the soft light of pre-dawn, and listened to the joyous chorus of overlapping songs. It was as if they were trying to summon the sun by the sheer exuberance of their voices.

With a bit of struggling, I disengaged myself from the snug cocoon of my sleeping bag, and looked at the time. 5:10 AM. I could hear Steve already up,  rustling around down by the campfire. I stood up and peered through the window flap of our tent. The sky was just beginning to show some hints of pink.

The mountain air was fresh on my face – not so cold as to be unpleasant, but cool enough to discourage any thoughts of lingering in the tent. Well, that, and the knowledge that a cup of coffee would be waiting for me out  by the fire.

I quickly dressed, got Jackson out of his hammock, and grabbed my camera. My reward for the early wake-up would be watching the sunrise.

The light pink deepened to a golden orange, reflecting like fire on the surface of the lake. Then, in a bounding blaze, the sun sailed above the horizon.

I sat in my camp chair, hugging my coffee cup in my hands, while Steve stoked up the fire. Jackson gazed out at the lake, a look of happy contentment on his face.

Beadheaded Bunny

There are cottontail rabbits living somewhere in or near our yard, and they are a frequent sight out my kitchen window. They hop around the yard frequenting the same areas as the foxes.

I love its little rumpled bedhead

I watched as it positioned itself with its back to the tree. Not only was it camouflaged well, but nothing could sneak up behind it. Although the foxes will eat the rabbits if they can, they seem to coexist peacefully most of the time. The foxes go about their fox business, and the bunnies go about their bunny business, and everyone is happy.

They rely on each other to stay balanced and healthy. A meal for the foxes means the rabbits don’t over populate.

I’m not suggesting that people hunt each other, but we could take a lesson from the way the wildlife instinctively lives together in balance and harmony. No one takes more than they need. They share their habitat. And no one gets shamed for showing up with a rumpled bedhead.