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Lee Maynard

Publication Year: 2009

In 1936, a child is born in the mountains of West Virginia. In 2005, he scatters his past into a deep canyon of rock. The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots and Hallucinations in an Imagined Life illuminates the journey of this boy, a constant tourist and visitor, who travels everywhere, yet belongs nowhere. Through tales of swarming hornets and swinging bullies, love affairs with the land and its people, and near death by frostbite and heat stroke, the absurd hilarity and clear, tender voice found within this story navigates a surreal road paved by the experiences of one man. Author of nationally acclaimed and locally banned novels Crum and Screaming with the Cannibals, Lee Maynard details an imaginative account of his journey through seventy years of hard living—from West Virginia, to Mexico, the Arctic Circle, and beyond. Scattered and hallucinated, The Pale Light of Sunset grants a long-awaited glimpse into the bent condition of the Maynard brain.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Front Cover

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Praise for The Pale Light of Sunset

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pp. i-ii

“That old outlaw author Lee Maynard has really gone and done it this time. His new Tall Tale of a memoir/novel, The Pale Light of Sunset, is jam-packed with more action and adventure, more outlandish characters and bizarre events, more outrageous behavior, more laughs and tears not to mention more pure poetry and heartfelt emotion than any book I have read in recent memory. ...


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pp. vi


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pp. viii-x


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pp. xi

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The Parlor - 1936

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pp. 1-3

I am born in the parlor of my grandmother’s house. I come screaming into the world among the only valuable things my grandmother owns. There is a small settee on which no one is allowed to sit; a tiny table of unknown origin; a pump organ, which no one plays. A strange polka-dot vase with a string of white glass coiling around it. ...

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The Shotgun - 1941

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pp. 4-6

It is the first memory I have. I hear the old shotgun go off and I fall over backwards and roll down the side of a steep ridge through layers of leaves autumn-dropped from the hardwood trees. The gun makes a noise beyond all imagination, beyond all reason. When the gun goes off, time stops, the breeze does not blow, birds freeze in mid-flight. ...

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Hornets 1 - 1942

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pp. 7-12

My uncle Stumpy’s tiny general store sits almost at the foot of the hill, just off the dirt road that leads further into the mountains and to our cabin on Black Hawk Ridge. I love my uncle, and I love his store. There are strange and magnificent things inside. ...

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Thanksgiving - 1943

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pp. 13-16

The cabin has only two rooms. We sleep, sit and “visit” in one, cook and eat in the other. A good cabin does not need any more rooms. My father built the cabin. He stuck the tiny shack on the side of a hill, tucked it in behind an enormous oak, one corner of the cabin firmly attached to the tree. Hug that tree, boy, my father says, because if it ever disappears this cabin will surely slide off the hill. ...

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Delivery Boy 1 - 1944

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pp. 17-24

There is a war and our soldiers are fighting some people, only I’m not sure who they are. I only know that they are bad people, and they live very far away from the mountains where we live. I feel safe here, in our cabin, deep in the thick shadows and dapples of sunlight that cover the hills and hollers. ...

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Delivery Boy 2 - 1945

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pp. 25-29

The war is over. The people of Baltimore walk hand-in-hand in the streets, some of them hugging and kissing. Traffic stops for no reason at all, everybody waves flags, musicians stand on corners and play clangy music, saloons block their doors open and hand free beer to men who go by on the sidewalks. ...

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Sometimes It Will Be Harder - 1946

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pp. 30-32

We have come back and we live again deep within the ancient soul of Appalachia, Black Hawk Ridge. Along the ridge and down through the hollers and up the creeks and branches and beside the rutted dirt roads relatives are strung in a web of history that traps us, where, over generations, the very soul of our family seeps into the bark of trees and rides on shafts of light that streak through the forest. ...

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Hornets 2 - 1947

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pp. 33-36

The old green Chevrolet climbs Bull Mountain slowly, grinding its way over the top in the heat of mid-summer, slowly picking up speed as we lumber down into Bull Creek. We are going to Huntington. ...

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My Mother’s Coat - 1948

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pp. 37-40

We are a small family surviving within a tiny existence. My father works two jobs and has to travel into the next county. He goes to work early and comes home late and sometimes, when he has not been paid and there is no gas for his crippled car, he does not come home at all. I sometimes wonder why he does not come home. ...

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Mean Rafe - -1949

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pp. 41-49

He has hands that can wrap around a beer bottle like my hands wrap around a broomstick. And he wraps his hands around a lot of beer bottles. His name is Rafe Hensley but we call him Mean Rafe. But not to his face. And only when he is drunk. And only when we are not within his reach. He is the meanest man in town. ...

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The Constable - 1950

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pp. 50-54

They send me to the upriver end of Crum, to Benny’s house, to get a chicken for Sunday dinner. Benny lives on the high riverbank next to a cornfield and his mother keeps the largest chicken coop on the river. I don’t like to go there and get chickens. I don’t like to get chickens anywhere, don’t like watching them hunt and peck their way across the bare dirt yards in front...

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Tommy Hatfield 1 - 1951

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pp. 55-60

The first time I see Tommy Hatfield, he is walking through the door into the stuffy classroom, his chest puffed up like a toad. He swaggers down the aisle, his hands bouncing at his sides as though wearing imaginary boxing gloves. The sides of his head are nearly bare, his black hair cut evenly all around, as though someone has put a bowl on his head...

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Tiny Rooms - 1952

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pp. 61-62

When the money runs out, or when my father loses his job, we move. We do not call “the movers.” There is no telephone to call “the movers,” and there is no moving company. We are “the movers.” We drive to the far end of the county and borrow my uncle Stumpy’s old Chevrolet stake-bed truck. ...

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The Train - 1953

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pp. 63-68

This time I will go somewhere. I will get the hell out of here. The concrete culvert sticks out of the railroad bed and is big enough for me to crawl into. I hide there, curled into the dark and dampness, my breath coming in rasping gusts and echoing through the yellowing pipe. I make it into the pipe just ahead of the freight train and I can hear it coming around the bend...

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Saying Goodbye - 1954

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pp. 69-77

It is three o’clock in the afternoon of a stifling day in early August and I am going down to the river to say goodbye and to get my brains beat out. It is a ritual. I don’t know that it is a ritual—I would not realize it until many years later—but it is a ritual and there is no escaping it. There has been one at each stage of my life in this shit place called Crum, West Virginia, and there will be one now, just before I leave. ...

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Booze Runner - 1955

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pp. 78-92

I lean against the railing at the edge of the open-air dance floor, three stories above the huge Dreamland swimming pool, looking out over the acres of empty grounds, most of it lush with grass. The grounds surrounding the pool are bigger than anybody’s yard I’ve ever seen. Acres of thick, rich grass stretch away toward the bank that rises gently to the top of the floodwall, capped by a chain-link fence. ...

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Dark Swimmer - 1956

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pp. 93-100

The beach is a naked dun stripe along the edge of the earth that forces you out into the sunlight or the blackness and keeps you there. There is no place to hide on a beach, not even in the dark. I was always good at hiding. Ten feet inside the edge of the woods that surrounded the farms on Black Hawk Ridge and I melted away, flowing down into the floor of the forest as I was born to do. ...

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What Am I Doing Here 1 - 1957

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pp. 101-102

What the hell am I doing here? That seems to be the central question of my life, the question that seems to keep coming up, again and again, no matter where I’ve gone, what I’ve done. What the hell am I doing here, on this two lane highway west of Myrtle Beach? ...

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Accounting Class - 1958

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pp. 103-105

I am a lousy student. I have no interest in anything. I stumble around the campus not really caring whether I get to wherever I am going on time, or whether I get there at all. I always carry some books. If I do manage to get to class, I want to give the impression that I meant to get there. The books are only a prop. Most of them are novels. ...

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Final Exam - 1959

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pp. 106-108

The light comes brilliantly, but softly, as light comes through a scattering of muted crystals. I think I can see the fractured light, even though my eyes are closed. The light cuts through the edges of my vision and lances its way into my brain. I know I am lying on a bench at the side of the grassy quadrangle in front of the library. I can feel the bench beneath me. ...

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Midnight Pub - 1960

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pp. 109-111

I just need to travel. And so I do. But I do not mean to end up here, Washington, D.C., late one summer night. Some sort of scene out of a 1940s movie. Three o’clock in the morning and lost in the big city, a light rain falling, dim street lights, my vision blurred, my head aching. ...

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The Dude - 1961

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pp. 112-115

In the winter of my twenty-fifth year I raise my hand during a philosophy lecture at a university in Colorado and ask to be excused. I never go back. I go to my room at a boarding house, pack a small gray duffle bag and catch a bus for El Paso, then change my mind and get off in Walsenburg, Colorado. ...

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Whorehouse - 1962

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pp. 116-117

On the ranch, to keep myself from going stir crazy, I order books through the mail, mostly history and biographies, some travel. I read novels when I can find the right ones. I make sure that all the books are paperbacks, so I can carry them in my saddlebags and behind the seat of the pickup truck. ...

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The Journal - 1963

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pp. 118-120

My head nods forward and my chin drops down and hits my chest and the notebook slides off my lap again. I pick it up and chuck it at the open door of the wood-burning stove. I am half asleep, the opening is small, my aim is bad, and the notebook bounces off into a darkened corner of the room. ...

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Portland in the Night - 1964

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pp. 121-133

I don’t know why I head north up the valley, rather than west. I am supposed to meet the Mexican and the Indian in San Francisco. Sometimes, when you are hitch-hiking, a ride just comes along that you think you should take, no matter where it is going. It always seems like a good idea at the time. ...

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Faggot - 1965

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pp. 134-142

There is the black silence of midnight in a stinking flophouse. I don’t know how long there has been silence. It bothers me. Where are the snoring sounds of the others? I lie there in the bunk, trying not to breathe the stink that slides through the air like oil, but too full of hurt to get up. ...

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Dying in San Francisco - 1966

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pp. 143-145

I get drunk in San Francisco and fuck away all my money and then the Mexican burns the police car and we lose him. None of it is very hard to do. We don’t belong in the city. We don’t belong in a lot of places. Truth is, maybe we don’t belong anywhere. ...

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Helen 1 - 1967

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pp. 146-148

I hate it here. The wind screams down from Hudson Bay, carrying snow across the flats of Canada, then roars across the lake, whipping the water into slush ice. Once across the lake, it seems to seek out the town, pounding down out of a sky so thick that late afternoon light is filtered to a thin frigid gray. ...

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Ruker and the Bikers - 1968

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pp. 149-164

I am a criminal investigator for the Army, and idiotically I think it is a job that matters. I am new. I’ll get over it. It is that time of day when the light dies willingly behind cracked buildings and trash-strewn vacant lots, as though it cannot wait to cover the city with darkness to keep decent people from seeing what crawls there. ...

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Toy Beggar - -1969

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pp. 165-170

It is my birthday and I am alone and from somewhere along the coast a wind blows down on me, picking up spray from the tops of small breakers and driving it, needle-like, across the narrow strand of deserted sand and into my face, a cold storm of the mind. ...

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Reunion - 1970

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pp. 171-176

It is the best café I have ever been in. I want to stay here, to live here, to drop out of the minds and sights of any who are in search of me, who know that I am alive. Heavy wooden tables and benches nestle into the sand floor. The wood has been scrubbed so many times with sea water that the surfaces are velvet to the touch. ...

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Horizon - 1971

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pp. 177

We search all of our lives, some of us, for that one great thing that makes us. But maybe that isn’t how it really works. I remember Willi saying . . . “Be careful where you set your sights. If you reach your ultimate goal too early in life, what is there after that?” Maybe life isn’t finding that one great thing. ...

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The Patience of Dead Men - 1972

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pp. 178-183

There is an end to the desert somewhere but I am afraid I will not find it before I am dead. Yesterday morning, I drank the last of my water. I know I am in Mexico, but I do not know where, only that somewhere to the north the Rio Grande cuts through earth and rock in a slow grinding dance to the edge of the world. ...

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Low-Rider - 1973

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pp. 184-191

The air drafting through the open windows of the cab of the pickup truck is soft enough to sleep on. The air is loaded with the fragrance of near-desert countryside and lies in the bottom of the small canyons and covers the twisty little road like the worn blanket you had when you were a kid. ...

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The Buick - 1974

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pp. 192-195

The Buick goes away in the middle of the night in the heat of late autumn in Los Angeles. I drive down Sunset Boulevard, the Buick cruising with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on full blast. Up ahead, a gang of people stands in the street, blocking my lanes. ...

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The Typewriter - 1975

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pp. 196-198

. . . when I don’t know where I was last night; when I don’t know the name of the last town—or the next town; when every café looks like the last café and I am sure I recognize the tired, washed-out woman behind the counter but I know that I do not and never will; when the whine of the engine buzzes in my ears even when the tank is empty and the bike is still . . .

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Tommy Hatfield 2 - 1976

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pp. 199-201

The beautiful old lodge sits on the edge of a canyon, looking out over miles of forest. Inside, we are gathered in a large, bright room, probably a hundred of us, waiting to hear the governor make a speech, a speech about hunting and fishing, about the environment. A speech I have written. ...

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The Funeral of Cousin Elijah - 1977

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pp. 202-205

I am going back to Black Hawk Ridge to watch them bury my older cousin, Elijah. I say I am going to watch them—I’m not going to help, I’m not going to attend the wailing funeral service that I know will be held in the old slab-sided Baptist church. I’m going to watch them dig the grave, watch them lower the box into the black earth, listen as the dirt hits the top of the box. ...

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Ice - 1978

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pp. 206-210

The wind, heavy with moisture, comes in off the Pacific and drives hard across the land, dropping snow where no one expects snow to drop. The snow falls in a hard, driven slant until it hits the thick evergreens and then it breaks into swirling, crazy patterns that make you dizzy if you stare at it too long. ...

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When Will They Find Me Out? - 1979

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pp. 211-212

I don’t belong here, in this town, in this job. I wonder when they will find me out. I wonder when they will know that I know nothing, can do nothing. I wonder when they will know that all I am is a reflection on the surface of a fragile glass jar, a distorted image looking back at things that have passed me by. ...

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Hornets 3 - 1980

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pp. 213-214

There is a softness in the air so warm and sweet that when it pushes gently against my face I think I can taste it. I sit under the portal of the ancient adobe house and watch the white puff seeds of cottonwoods floating thickly through an afternoon so quiet that I think I can hear them when they find the earth, a landing so gentle that, I know, cannot be heard by anyone or anything. ...

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The Prayer Horse - 1981

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pp. 215-220

I am in a hurry, and it is a mistake. A place I want badly to get to, a mistake trying to get there. The plan is simple. In the early hours when the tops of the highest trees are still lost in darkness I will leave my truck at road’s end, step across the log barrier and walk away. ...

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The Gift - 1982

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pp. 221-233

We call them “Baja days,” those of us who drive down the peninsula looking for deserted beaches, our sea kayaks strapped to the top of every sort of sand-going vehicle known to man . . . these mornings when the Sea of Cortez is a bright plate of blue glass stretching away toward paradise, and the air is hot and still and sweet. ...

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Lowenstein 1 - 1983

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pp. 234-236

Time can be suspended. I know it can. I have always been fascinated by those moments when it happens. The neurologists tell us that time is not suspended at all, that during those moments we merely think it is, because our brains are processing information at many times normal speed. Science is very unromantic. ...

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What Am I Doing Here? 2 - 1984

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pp. 237-239

What am I doing here? I have to get the hell out of here. I’m at 13,600 feet and the wind is blowing a steady 30 knots. I remember Willi opening his parka and showing me what he had scrawled inside in heavy black marker: “Life begins at 10,000 feet.” I believe him. ...

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Scorpion - 1985

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pp. 240-249

I buy the battered KLR 650 motorcycle from the priest at Loreto and we push it under the ramada where we can work on it in the shade, safe from the Baja sun. The motorcycle will not run and we work on it, using the priest’s collection of odd tools, bits and pieces of metal and wire. ...

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Dream World - 1986

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pp. 250

I live in a dream world. I emerge now and then to spend enough time in the real world to appear normal, to appear sane. Or almost sane. But I’m never fully in the real world. I’m always just a single step from the dreams, from the fantasies. A single step, a blink of an eye, from being somewhere else, if only in my mind. ...

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Helen 2 - 1987

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pp. 251

I was supposed to have been gone for 90 days. I have been gone for 13 months. I don’t know when it will end. I don’t know when I will get back there. Being without her is like being without my heart.

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Morning Prayer - 1988

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pp. 252

...I am not a prayerful man. But every morning when I awaken and she is still there beside me, a small and silent prayer comes up from my thankful heart and escapes me and I cannot catch it nor do I try. And I love her for keeping me alive, even though I do not want to be.

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A Mark on the Wind - 1989

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pp. 253

I am a writer. Writing is what I do, no matter what else I am doing, have done, will ever do. I write words each day. Most of the words I discard as useless. They tell me nothing. I try to make some sense of the words that remain. It doesn’t always work. ...

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The Button - 1990

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pp. 254-255

I get off the airplane and rush through wet, gray winter to the hospital and now I sit by my mother’s bed in the big white room. Her gray hair is neatly combed. Her eyes are closed, but now and then I see a tiny movement there, as though secret things are going on in her mind. ...

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Boy on a River - 1991

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pp. 256-257

I can already see the man in him. His name is Tristan and he is seven years old and he has never been on the river before and now there is a rapid in front of him making a noise unlike anything he has ever heard. It is a noise not of this world, and not of any seven-year-old’s world. It is a noise to end all knowing. ...

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Arrow in the Light - 1992

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pp. 258-271

There is an arrow in the light. It is a flickering shaft that dances through the golden glow of late afternoon in the far mountains, cutting a graceful arc toward a target that it never hits. It snaps past the deer and disappears, lost in the depths of the shadows and the forest floor. ...

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Lowenstein 2 - 1993

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pp. 272

I’m still here, Lowenstein, you son of a bitch. The music ends and the applause dies and my wife and I move to the lobby in the soft flow of people that always follows a classical performance. ...

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Peyote - 1994

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pp. 273-275

Yeah, I am still here, and I wonder what it all means. I think about the Indian and the Mexican. I know the Indian is alive, and I know where he is. In my heart, I think that the Mexican is dead, but I do not know why I think that. I do not want him to be dead; there are so few of us left. ...

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Belonging - 1995

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pp. 276

I don’t belong anywhere. I have never belonged anywhere. Of all the times and all the places, I was just a visitor, a tourist, sometimes even an explorer. But I didn’t belong. Once I saw the world I was in, I wanted to see the next world, wanted to go on, wanted to see. ...

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Lujan’s Place - 1996

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pp. 277-280

There is a small metal cup that sits on a stack of books resting on an old table in the corner of the room, a place that is touched by the early sun through an old windowpane, the cup warming quickly in the soft light. The cup has been there for years. Or something longer than years. ...

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Dinner with Carmen - 1997

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pp. 281-289

I can feel the gentle nudging of soft pain in my shoulders and I know there will be days when I will not want to lift the boat, will not want to paddle. And so I decide to go back while I still can. Things have changed, as I knew they would. Large hotels, tennis courts, bars playing American music. ...

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A Finding in the Sky - 1998

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pp. 290-296

The Earth is above me, and it isn’t supposed to be. I grip the handhold on the instrument panel, push my head back against the seat and look up, and there it is, the Earth, swirling over my head. I have never been upside-down in an airplane before, but it is the only way I can ditch the kid flying the other plane. ...

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Arctic Circle - 1999

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pp. 297-307

Any minute now, I will awaken, and the ride will be over. It has never felt real. Somewhere out there, up there, away from here, is the Arctic Circle. That is where we are headed, Denali and I. In late September. On motorcycles. In freezing temperatures. If we make it, maybe, then, it might seem real. Maybe. ...

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Fantasy World - 2000

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pp. 308-309

Every place I have ever been, everything I have ever done, has been nothing more than a way station, a brief stop on my way to something else. I have never known the inside of anything. I have never been on the inside of anything. Always on the outside but never looking in. ...

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Friendship - 2001

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pp. 310-311

I feel good, and satisfied, but vaguely down, as though something grand has come to an end. And it has. Tomorrow, for the first time in a month, Denali and I will travel without the motorcycles. ...

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A Death in the Mountains - 2002

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pp. 312-317

It was only a matter of time. We all knew that. We walk down the wide, worn wooden stairs. No one speaks. There is no sound except the strange drum-like noise of our feet on the hollow steps. His wife grips the old man’s hand and he can feel the tremor of her body through her fingers. The lawyer walks in front of us, not looking back. ...

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Where I’m From - 2003

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pp. 318-320

...I always want to be gone, to be someplace else, to be done with it. And in that wanting, I never quite know where I’m from, never quite figure out what forms me, hardens me. And when I think about it, all I get are images . . .

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The Mountain - 2004

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pp. 321-326

I leave the heavy stand of trees long before daylight and am high on the mountain, climbing steadily above tree line with no hint of light showing in the east. The cold night air keeps me energized and it is a long time before I begin to sweat. When the sweat does come, I get more comfortable...

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Journal’s End - 2005

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pp. 327-328

I stand in the pale light of sunset and look into the canyon, a lifetime below, the river so far down and away that it is nothing more than a silver thread, motionless against eons of time. I stand on the edge of eternity. Under my heels there is solid rock. Under my toes, there is 2,000 vertical feet of empty space. ...

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About Lee Maynard

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pp. 329-330

Lee Maynard was born and raised in the hardscrabble ridges and hard-packed mountains of West Virginia, an upbringing that darkens and shapes much of his writing. Maynard’s novel, Crum, was the first original work of fiction published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. ...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781933202723
E-ISBN-10: 1933202726
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933202433
Print-ISBN-10: 1933202424

Page Count: 348
Publication Year: 2009