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Archive for February, 2012

Now that we don’t have a dog to do the job, each morning I trudge the winter driveway to retrieve the paper. Lately I’m discovering the snowy equivalent of crop circles–mysterious marks magically materializing each morn. Back indoors, instead of scanning the news I peruse Peterson’s Guide to Animal Tracks, trying to decode a mystery laid out white on white.

Rabbit sign I recognize. A butterscotch bunny lives under our deck, a fugitive from captivity across the street. Each day her fresh tracks stipple the snow that is newly dusted across the porch by evening breeze. My husband says she’s recently been joined by a snowshoe hare, but to me their tracks are indistinguishable. From the looks of the trampled yard they’ve been waltzing together all night.

More mysterious are the small, round, many-toed footprints that hug the bermed edge of the driveway. Cat? Small dog? Fox or marten? Whatever it is shows purpose, for the track is arrow straight and even-footed. There is no hurry, no deviation, no snuffling nose prints or sideways leaps of startlement; they suggest a critter on a mission, coursing relentlessly across my property, over a snowdrift and into the wooded distance.

My neighborhood is a marriage of suburban and rural. Most folks have let the birch woods encroach close upon their homes, but lilac and bird cherry are thick on the lawns. Not half a mile away the Jim Creek Trail cuts its narrow rutted way to Mud Lake. Behind this, cliff-hung and stern, rises Byers Peak. All these, the source of our alien visitors.

One morning, in search of my daily dose of the world, I came across a fresh mystery. I’d been following the rabbit’s crisp prints in new snow. She had apparently been in no hurry. Suddenly, as if dropped from the sky, a set of large canine prints appeared, paralleling the rabbit’s track. About five steps further I found what appeared to be evidence of a skirmish; an odd circular mark, looking as if created by an abrupt reversal in direction. There were no signs of mayhem however; no blood, no bits of fur, no change in the canine prints, nor even a sudden end to the rabbit’s. It simply looked as if the bunny had performed a quick, unplanned pirouette, and then calmly continued across the street in search of breakfast.

Crop circle weird.

One reason I pay attention to tracks is that they remind me of silent movies—they are stories told without benefit of an important element, and often the viewer can only guess hazily at the true plot. Imagination is crucial to unraveling meaning, and one must be adept at identifying the players by sight alone.

I admit that this particular story left me baffled. What tale did those markings tell? Did the rabbit even create that imprint? Her crisp footprints never hinted at panic or speed. And where did the dog—or perhaps coyote—appear from? I discovered no marks in the deeper snow of the yard that led to the sudden tracks on the drive. Could a bird have created that mysterious gouge? I’ve seen raven and owl landings in deep snow; a circular hollow surrounded by feathery finger-like parentheses. This looked nothing like those marks.

Here was a tale inscribed in a foreign language, a confirmation that other creatures than I call this place home. There are alien beings out there who write in characters I can only imperfectly decipher while leading lives mostly hidden from my view. But these creatures understand the script perfectly; the stage is set, and their stories play out beneath the silent trees. Only new snow in the dawn reveals that they were ever here.

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Writing class

In search of intellectual stimulation and the motivation to write more regularly I enrolled in a nature and travel writing class this winter. It’s taught by a well-known Alaskan author and we have right at a dozen regulars who show up on Thursday nights. Unfortunately it is held 50 miles from home, in Anchorage, but I am lucky to have friends willing to host me overnight if I don’t feel comfortable driving the winter roads home.

One of the benefits of a structured class is the opportunity to have my writing critiqued by both fellow classmates and the published instructor. This is also one of the drawbacks; it is intimidating to submit my blatherings to someone who knows what good writing should look like.

I find that the most difficult part of writing is, for me, settling on a topic. I so admire the writings of my friends Sharry and Carrie (they sound like a comedy team, don’t they?) Ahem–I so like the way these friends write. They never seem to lack for a topic that I find interesting. Both produce a regular column. Where DO they get their material?

I also find the 15 minute free write at the beginning of class a very productive exercise. I have a limited amount of time, the instructor suggests a topic or two which we are free to ignore and all I have to do is pour out words on the page. I haven’t gotten stuck yet, but there are a lot of strike-throughs on last week’s page. More challenging is fulfilling the expectation to turn in longer pieces every other week or so. I wrote two pages (double spaced) for the second week’s class, but this is week four and I have nothing fresh for tomorrow evening. Unfortunately for me, the instructor does not demand that we turn something in each week; I would be more disciplined if he were to do so. (Thank you for the horrible example, Jeremy!)

I had a long discussion on this topic with Sharry today, at lunch. For two years she wrote the cycling column for the women’s forum BellaOnline. She did a bangup job too, I thought, but said she finally just ran out of new things to explore on the topic. She still maintains a blog, and finds it difficult, like I do, to post on a frequent, regular basis. She does a far better job at regularity than I however, and is always entertaining, sometimes deeply moving. I see her as further along the continuum, she having taken several classes, studied books on creative non-fiction writing, bravely submitted pieces to online critiquing (tears, gnashing of teeth) etc. I admit to some feelings of pen envy, but love to read her so much that those quickly pass. There really is no use comparing our individual journeys. All we can do is write about them, and hope our audience finds some value there.

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