Royes is now working on a young adult novel and gathering stories for her next memoir. “Writing has enhanced life, taught me to pay attention and ask questions,” she said.
I remember waking up at night, troubled—and thinking, “What am I doing, sharing all this personal stuff with strangers?” I had to grapple with (and ultimately embrace) that twenty-something-year-old girl that was me—and yet not me befriend and get cozy with her so that I might learn her truths, because it was when I finally wrote to those truths, to those things I most feared, that it changed both me and the story. Made us better.
But the best part of publishing has been the way the book has connected with readers. Who knew a simple tale of two unconventional lovers and a cast of crusty sheepherders would engage and inspire a wider audience?
I’m a big believer in trusting my instincts, putting pen to paper, regardless of what we think others might think. Everyone, everything has a story. The rocks, the wind, the river (the paper, the ink), they all have stories. Write well, write honestly, and people will want to read it.
For years, whenever Skip or I talked about sheepherding, or Hells Canyon, it intrigued people. “You should write a book,” they’d say. At first, I didn’t intend to publish, just document a few stories for my family. But once I began to dig in, it caught me up, captured me. So I just kept writing, getting down through the layers, and somehow it became a book.
Mainly through journals and letters. But I also relied on interviews, old photographs, site visits and sitting at the kitchen table with Skip. And once I started the process of uncovering the past, the subconscious kicked in, helping to piece the information together. It’s all there; it’s just bringing it to the surface. For me, childhood was more difficult to reconstruct than my time in Hells Canyon. Maybe because the ’70s, when the bulk of the story takes place, was such a time of upheaval and personal awareness. Maybe because I was, sigh, in love.
During the women’s lib movement of the late ’60s, I was a teenager, caught in-between antiquated expectations and the social, political and economic reforms of the times. Gender roles were turned upside down. For young independent women like me, it posed a monumental shift. All of us stirred up and searching, jumping in and out of relationships and situations, conforming when it suited us, yet unwilling to be hardwired to what we then termed, “The Establishment.” When I met Skip, in the same way I was experiencing life—and I’m not talking about a toe-dipping-let’s-test-the-water-first sort of experiencing—I experienced romantic love. At first it was difficult, I had to learn this whole new language. But I didn’t have to sacrifice independence for the romance. Both of us had already determined what we didn’t want—prestige, mediocrity or set routines. So all we needed was to combine our individual strengths and get strong together. Piece of cake, right?
My relationship with Skip and Wallowa County are interwoven. Both were love at first sight, and now, forty years later, love over the long haul. Once, everything we owned was on the end of a lead rope. Now it’s the opposite. It would take a barge. Life is definitely more complicated. But the providential choice I made back in my 20s—not getting stuck thinking I had to perform in a certain way, when there was this more compelling and, for me, true thing beckoning—I’d choose again. In a heartbeat.
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