If you are, hopefully, reading this, I’m winging my way home from the annual national Romance Writers of America Conference in San Francisco. I wrote this prior to the event and won’t be able to answer until Tuesday. Air travel today is none too swift. I’m flying from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Atlanta to Memphis.
But looking forward. . . the conference is always the highlight of my year for many reasons. I always call it The Rendezvous. More than a hundred and fifty years ago, mountain men and fur trappers got together in the west once a year in an event they called the Rendezvous. They would drink and dance and exchange tall tales. For men who led a solitary life, it was a time to let to socialize.
The Summer Rendezvous, held in the mountains every year from 1825 to 1840 was the reward for all that the mountain men had been through. One of these men was Joseph LaFayette Meek who was born in Virginia. He was one of fifteen children of a prosperous planter, but when his mother died, his father brought home an overly stern and domineering stepmother. He ran off to the west, where three of his brothers were already working the beaver streams. He would spend over a decade in the mountain, traveling relentlessly, from the Snake River to what is now southern Utah.
The life he and his fellow mountain men led was extraordinarily dangerous. They feel victim to grizzlies, froze to death, were killed by Blackfeet and other tribes. According to “The West, An Illustrated History,” written by Geoffrey Ward, Meek reported, “I have taken the soles of my moccasins, crisped them in the fire, and eaten them. In our extremity, the large black crickets which are found in the country were considered fair game. We used to take a kettle of hot water, catch the crickets and throw them in, and when they stopped kicking, eat them.” So it was no wonder that a Rendezvous was held in the mountains every spring. Word was somehow spread and as many as one thousand souls would attend. “It was always chosen in some valley where there was grass for the animals and game for the camp. . .
The waving grass of the plain, variegated with wild flowers; the clear summer heavens flecked with white clouds that threw soft shadows; . . .gay laughter and the murmuring of Indian voices, all made up a most spirited and enchanting picture. “The men drank together,” another participant relayed “They sang, they laughed, they whooped; they tried to out-brag and out-lie each other. . .” Well, I think of our national conference as our writers’ Rendezvous. I haven’t consumed crickets lately, but we have similar motivations: to get together with like kinds. We sing, we laugh, we might even whoop. Do we try to out-brag and out-lie to each other?
Well. . . we certainly are story tellers. Like the mountaineers, our chosen vocation is a lonely one. We spend much time lost in our own private world. Most people don’t understand us. They don’t understand that we really do have a job. They don’t know why we jerk awake in the middle of the night and grab a pencil, or go fifty miles out of our way while pondering a plot twist, or why we forgot a wedding we committed to (Yeah, I’m guilty. I’m only happy it wasn’t mine).
And thus our national conference is a great occasion. I’ll see friends who started writing with me twenty-five years ago. I’ll see newer friends, and I’ll make even newer ones. Like those mountain men of years ago, we will party and dance and drink and tell tall tales. And I’ll be reminded again of the real life heroes who celebrated their Rendezvous so many years ago.