Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Turd in a Snack Bag

As promised, here is a post from the pseudonym blog. While strange, it's funny. I guess I don't know why I can't post funny over here.

This was originally posted on October 8, 2007.

Here it is:

I took my Hairy Monster to the vet this morning; it's annual check-up time.

Because today is Columbus Day, the kids are home from school and that means that we didn't get up as early as usual. And that, in turn, means that no one ate breakfast on the normal schedule. That includes the dog. And eating breakfast late means the morning shit is late, too.

Generally speaking, I don't give a shit when the dog takes a shit, as long as she goes far enough from the house that I don't have to smell it or step in it (luckily, we have enough room to run that I don't have to know about it at all - most of the time). However, a stool sample is required to check for intestinal parasites. So today I had to give a shit when (and where) she gave a shit.

('Tapeworm' just doesn't have the same happy sound as 'intestinal parasite'.)

So I fed her -late- and let her out to do her business. I took a cup of coffee outside with me and I watched.

Scouting for shit.

I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

My coffee was gone and still no shit.

I brought her back in and made her sit with me while I paid bills and straightened my desk and fixed my calendar for the week.

We went back out. Same shit: NO shit.

We came back in.

I should have remembered to ask the vet about the acceptable age of the required stool sample.

Does it have to be fresh?

Can it be from last night or yesterday morning?

What about week old shit? Like when I actually call to make the appointment and I'm thinking about collecting shit and reminding myself that I have to do it: I'm thinking about it right then; can I collect the shit then and save it until I come in?

Should I refrigerate it? Or does that kill the worms? Do they have to be alive to detect them?

It would be much easier to put a turd in a Tupperware container (make that a Gladware container - they're cheaper and I won't mind throwing it out so much) and save it. That way I'm not out waiting for a bowel movement right before I have to leave.

Late for shit. (Try using that as an excuse, kids!)

I'm the only one who actually reheats and eats leftovers around here (I pack them for my lunch every day), so it's not like someone else would come across the lonely little nearly-frozen, potentially worm-y turd in the refrigerator.

I had given up on collecting a fresh sample; it was late and we had to go.

I cut up a piece of bologna and put it in the Gladware container instead. If she couldn't take a shit, at least she would have a reason to act like she has some manners. Then I grabbed her leash and although she'd already been out several times this morning, she got all excited and drool-y.

Like normal.

And then I showed her the bologna and she jumped around and drooled some more.

If going for a walk is a treat, going for a ride is the doggy equivalent of a banana split.

She was so excited she took a shit.

Which is what I wanted, but not when I wanted.

I put her in the car and told her to wait.

Luckily, I had the bologna, so she listened.

I couldn't bear to part with the bologna because then she would act like an asshole without a brain in the veterinarian's office.

And that makes me feel like an asshole. Plus, it makes me mad to feel like an asshole.

So, I opened the trunk to see what else I could find to deposit my warm collection in.

Being the good mother that I am, I always have plenty of shit in the trunk. Usually garbage and cast-off snack remnants from various soccer games and football games and miscellaneous activities (if I were a better mother, I'd probably clean out the car, too, but there's a limit).

The best I could do was a snack-sized zipper bag. So the snack-sized zipper bag it was.

Nothing like a warm, mushy turd in a see-through plastic bag.

Being a mother, I've had plenty of experience with gross stuff. Part of the job description is 'Shit Scooper' and 'Vomit Vacuum.' After enough years of being the main household cleaner-upper of various body excrement, the gag reflex becomes much less pronounced.

This morning that was very fortunate.

I think the veterinary technician who took the bag of shit from me must have been a mother, too.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Why is it that the words 'confession' and 'secret' can grab just about anyone's attention?

I hope I have yours.

In response to the Ask Dr. Ding post 'Confession is Good for the Soul' I have decided to reveal a secret of my own.

The other deciding factor was this blog: The Brazen Careerist, particularly Penelope's post 'My name is not really Penelope.'
I'm confused often enough as it is.

I have been keeping another blog.
If you read this one, you probably also read (or check in on occasionally) The Grafton 123 blog, so that's not a surprise.
However, I have another blog that until recently I did not claim as my own. I used a pseudonym and wrote things that didn't have anything to do with The 123 or myself as a writer.
But, the problem I'm finding is that everything about me has to do with writer me, rather it's about writing or not. A look at recent postings about body image and self-esteem is proof that anything that stirs me as a person ends up reflected in what I write.
And to some degree it's the exposure that has kept me from writing some things that are important to me. Not only in this blog, but also for other outlets.
Just as importantly, the fear of exposure has prevented me from marketing myself and my writing with more vigor.
If I intend to write -and hopefully make any kind of living doing it- I am going to have to let go of some of my fears.

So, that's really what this post is about: letting go of my fears.
I am a real person and, like all good writing, my writing should reflect that.

No, I'm not going to give you the link to the other blog (it's coming down soon anyway), but I am going to -slowly- move some of the entries from there over to here.

And no, this doesn't mean that every subject is fair game. I still like my privacy and I'm not sure how I feel about plastering my kids' information all over the place, either.

What I'm saying is: I don't know where the lines of acceptable are. I suppose I will figure that out as I go along. But I do know that it's okay to be a real person and my feelings and thoughts are just as valid as anyone else's. I don't know why I have such trouble with that (okay, I have a few ideas, but I won't get into that right now...).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Media Images vs. Self-Esteem

I won't get all soap-boxy (because if you read this post, I already had a little rant about media images), but one of my readers (Thanks, Courtney:)) sent me this video:

Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has been working toward drawing attention to the problems that arise from being bombarded with images of beautiful people 24/7.

As the mother of a beautiful 10 year old girl, I am particularly concerned about it.

Here's a quote (from this article):

"Although 75 percent of 8- and 9-year-old girls in the study said they like their looks, only 56 percent of those ages 12 and 13 did. And of the 33 percent of girls ages 14-17 who said they're too fat, two-thirds were dieting. Ninety percent of eating disorders are diagnosed in girls."

Not only is this cause for alarm, but I would be willing to bet that these numbers are not as high as they should be. The problem is far worse than we realize. Eating disorders are a private hell that not everyone is going to share with a poll, anonymous or not.

Dove's website offers resources for Moms and other mentors, as well as straight talk for girls.

"I feel fat" is not a valid statement.

Fat is not a feeling.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Plot Threads & Novel Prep

In preparation for next Thursday (Nov. 1 - NaNoWriMo Month), I've been organizing my thoughts and my office.

Here's a picture of the dry erase board that I hung beside my desk. I'm using it as a visual timeline reference:

(This picture makes it look crooked, doesn't it? I used a level before nailing it on there. I hate extra, unnecessary holes in the wall.)

It's just about empty. I tried to write a rough outline of scenes and current events in chronological order, but I haven't gotten very far. Individual scenes are written on index cards and shuffled according to need. This visual aid is supposed to give me the information at a glance instead of digging through a pile of scribbled-on cards. It might work if I actually write something on it.

The next tool is a new one to me. I thought of it because I do think much better with visual prompting. I think all the reading I have done (and do) has wired my brain to more efficiently use information I can see; I like audio books, but I can't wrap my head around the information nearly as well as if I read it myself. (Or maybe multi-tasking interferes. Or maybe it's the screaming children.)

This picture is the view from the doorway to my office:

See those strings hanging from the light?

Those are plot threads (ha). Each string has a tag on it with the basic conflict that needs to be addressed and solved one way or another. The light from the window is blocking out the tags in this picture, but they are there -written big enough and simple enough that I can see from my seat behind the desk.

I needed a way to keep track of each strand of story. When I write, I have a hard time seeing the forest because I have my nose against a tree - each tree, one tree at a time. I hope that this little ploy will assist me in keeping track of everyone's conflicts - all the big ones, but more importantly, all the small ones that are easy to forget about when I've got my nose smashed into the rough bark of another tree.

Yeah, it's kind of silly, but I'm not above silly to get the job done.

When I start a project, I have a vague idea of what it's about. I start with a question, usually a 'what if?' question.

For Vultures, it went something like this:

What if you shot someone's dog?

What if that person just happened to be a bit, uh, unbalanced (or just a plain garden-variety lunatic)?

What would he do?

So, I knew the 'what if?' - the driving question that starts the book. I dreamed up my setting and the characters lived in my brain, percolating for months before I knew them well enough to start writing. The act of writing gave the characters flesh and personality, but it also did the same thing for the plot: as the characters became more involved in the story, their actions and individual quirks began to mold the plot. Essentially, the plot development is a natural consequence of character.

A threatening lunatic would be dealt with very differently by a Bible-toting Sunday school teacher and, say, a pot-smoking pregnant night shift nurse. Right?

And, of course, the ever-present energetic question, "What if...?"

What I mean is: it takes a special kind of crazy to: 1.) Shoot someone's dog. At their house. And 2.) to write a book in the first place. Doing it is a helluva lot harder than talking about it.

These physical plot threads will be a constant reminder of the loose ends that need tending to as I go along studying the moss that grows up the trunk of each tree. The more complicated the story, the more involved I get with the story, the more threads there will be.

Sometime along about the middle of November I'll take another picture so I can share the thread proliferation. I anticipate that there should be about 12-16 threads that deserve their own string. I'll try to get the string tags in that picture, too. If I remember, I'll tell you about the rejected idea of color coding (I'm not that organized) and the original purpose for which this string was intended....

Friday, October 19, 2007

Parenting Magazines?

I have an article that I'd like to sell to a parenting magazine, but I have obviously not found the right outlet.

Parenting magazines are mainly focused on new parents: diapers, midnight feedings, breast pump consumer advice and comparisons, and other such information related to babies.

I had in mind a magazine for parents of teens and tweens.

Is there any such thing?
Without naming names -there may be too many to matter anyway- I am not interested in publishing in a magazine that boasts a front cover picture of a giant chocolate cake and the headline that says something like, 'Walk it off!'
It doesn't matter if they claim to be a family magazine or not; the conflicting message may sell a lot of magazines, but the hipocrisy adds to the obesity issues in the general population and the confusion of self-image issues in girls and young women.
Unless, that is, they would allow me space in their magazine to point out their duplicity and insincerity and generally make fun of them.

While I'm on the subject of cover art: A few weeks ago, a reader directed me to this: Jezebel.com It's an eye-opening look at a real photo vs. the resulting cover photo. The difference between the two is incredible - in a bad way. They took a perfectly fine -read "Real" -picture of a famous 40-ish female country-singer and airbrushed out the wrinkles and the 'realness' of the woman and ended up with a perfect doll-like plastic likeness.
This plastic-likeness was on the cover of Redbook.
I was scandalized.
No wonder our expectation of ourselves as women is so screwed up. We are fed a steady diet of media image and expect ourselves to measure up. We know these images are touched-up, but no matter: we strive for it anyway.
But, really, even if we know these photos are photo-shopped, I don't really think we have any idea to what extreme. If Redbook, a women's mag, is this guilty, where does that put more 'stylish' magazines?
Holy crap.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

NaNoWriMo Preparation

I've been doing research in preparation for the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word sprint beginning November 1st.

So far I've researched:

  1. 9-11 timelines with special emphasis on the resulting Afghanistan and Iraq wars, including the gradual rise of the maximum age for military service. This is mainly for current event inclusion during the time the story takes place (except for the military age thing and I'm not sure where that fits yet).
  2. The Sago Mine Disaster timeline, including Randal McCloy's recovery. This was a major event for the entire world, but particularly those of us who have ties to the Appalachian coal country. If it effected me so profoundly, then of course it effected my characters who also live in West Virginia.
  3. Chilton repair guides for a 1984 Ford Ranger. I was surprised to learn that the Chilton Manuals are out of favor and Haynes is the new book to have. However, I also learned that Haynes published all the Chilton Manuals prior to the front cover name change.
  4. Drink recipes from the viewpoint of a bartender.

Now I have to put the timelines in order. Then, using a list of potential scenes (that does not exist yet), I'll figure out where everything fits chronologically. Essentially, I'll create a new timeline that incorporates real and fictional events.

Chronology was a big issue of confusion for me during Vultures and it only covered the span of a couple of weeks. Apparently I hope to avoid that this time around with the technique of excessive -and possibly unnecessary- planning.

I'll write more over the next few days about planning and plotting.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Novel Contest Update

It's not much of an update, but it's all there is. So far:

"MK Stover
"Thank you for your entry. We have received your files and are currently reviewing them to ensure they meet our eligibility requirements. We will notify you no later than November 12, 2007 whether your entry is valid. To keep up to date on the latest and greatest Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award details, visit www.amazon.com/abna
"Thank you,
"CreateSpace ABNA Administrator"

It looks like that's it.
Until Noveber 12th or so.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Vultures - Novel Excerpt

Alright, here it is.

Excerpt from


Chapter 2

The firelight danced between our faces. The eastern sky was darkening, but the west still glowed orange above the hill. Sequoia’s hair glowed around her cheeks and the shadows that played on her face hid the lines that had deepened around her mouth and eyes. Jasper and Ash and Benjamin rode sticks, circling the fire, galloping and shooting. Dusty was separating rolling papers, trying to pull them apart without ripping them. The glue had gotten damp and they clung together in a useless lump. James sat on a log with an atlas on his knees, leaning forward and picking the seeds out of a big bud of marijuana, tearing it to shreds. I could almost taste the oil on his fingers.
The dogs started barking, letting us know someone was on the way in. Cobey didn’t get up; she let the other dogs do the moving, but she growled deep in her throat and watched as the headlights cut down the hill, lighting up the big juniper tree that marked the turn at the bottom.
Well, that didn’t take long. Usually it took the Sheriff two days to get out here. Caleb, the old fart, must’ve gone in personally and raised a helluva a stink. But it wasn’t a cop car, or truck, or anything that looked close. If it had been any darker we wouldn’t have been able to see the boxy outline of the Scout. And there’s only one International Scout around here. I looked over at James to make sure he knew that it was Caleb coming to repay this morning’s visit, but he was already moving into the house.
Instead of turning our way down into the wash the Scout pulled forward, illuminating the logs that sat on peeling racks.
We waited.
The headlights went out, and though the dogs continued to bark, they were giving the vehicle a wide berth, staying back a good ten feet instead of approaching the driver’s door with wagging tails as they usually did.
Benjamin came to stand by me, all three boys in a rare moment of stillness. Jasper and Ash sat on either side of Sequoia. Dusty was still breathing on the papers, slowly pulling them apart, his long legs crossed at the ankle, his eyes moving back and forth between the Scout, the kids, and James who had planted himself at this end of the footbridge that crossed the narrow wash between this tiny house and the log home that we hoped to finish and move into before the end of the year.
When the Scout’s door finally opened it creaked, the dry creak of old in a dry country. He didn’t close the door, but walked around the open door and towards the bridge where James stood. His hands hung at his sides, maybe an unexaggerated attempt to show that he carried nothing. James glanced over his shoulder at me, leaned the shotgun against the bridge support post, and strode across.
“Evenin’,” James’s voice made us all jump a bit, commanding attention.
“Evenin’,” Caleb’s voice, raspy, belonged in this arid, dusty land. I hoped he had come, calm and rational, to let us know that he didn’t appreciate his dog being shot. But I knew Caleb wasn’t always so rational; his acid tongue had proved it on several occasions. We didn’t have much to do with any of the neighbors, at least not if we could help it. The few people who lived up this way generally stayed to themselves, so our isolation didn’t seem unusual. However, we’d had a couple of run-ins with Caleb back before the well was drilled. We hauled water up from the stock tank down at the bottom of the mountain; lots of other folks got water there, too, including Caleb, where a windmill pumps up an unceasing flow. It’s BLM land, Bureau of Land Management, so it’s government owned and leased out to ranchers. Still and all, it’s public land and no one, as far as I know, had ever said a thing about taking water from there. When the stock tank was full it ran over onto the ground, so filling up a couple hundred gallons every once in a while didn’t seem like a bad thing. Except if you ran into Caleb. He was doing the same thing, filling up on water, but he seemed to think he was the only one entitled and didn’t hesitate in letting you know that he knew the rancher and he’d gotten permission and what the hell did you think you were doing? And, even apart from his nasty attitude about the water and his occasional assertions that his dog was harmless, I thought the guy was a creep; one of those weird guys who just give you the shivering-willies. I’d made a point to avoid him after the first couple of encounters and as far as I knew James hadn’t run into him anytime lately.
Except for this morning when he’d gone over and shot his dog.
“What can I do for you?” James crossed the bridge and stepped between two log racks. He stood on the driveway amid the litter of the long thin pine bark shavings. He stood within several feet of the man.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be coming over here. Maybe I’m just stirring up trouble,” I could barely hear him from where I sat, but I shifted around, keeping Benjamin behind me, willing the boys to keep still, “but, I couldn’t just sit at home anymore stewing in this mess.”
“Well, Caleb, I’m…,” James started.
“No, you let me finish,” his voice was much easier to hear now, but the tremble of anger in it didn’t sound good. “I’ve had that dog for eight years, and I never had no problems,” I could hear him suck in his breath, “EIGHT YEARS!” I heard the pine bark crunching under his feet. Caleb continued, “It wasn’t until all you folks started moving in here that I’ve had any problems,” his finger pointed at James, stabbing with each syllable.
“Caleb, that dog bit the neigh…” James tried again.
“That dog has been with me for close to ten years and you had the nerve to come shoot MY DOG at MY HOUSE!” The anger had broken through. If he’d come here to have a rational discussion, or just to have his say in a reasonable way, that nice thought had come to an end. “HOW DARE YOU SHOOT MY DOG!” He’d walked up to James and I couldn’t see for sure, but it looked as if he was actually poking James in the chest. I looked at Sequoia. She was already on her feet, hands on her boys. I stood and corralled everyone in the direction of the house.
“I’m sorry you feel…” James tried again. I looked back when I got to the door. James hadn’t backed down any, even if his chest was getting prodded. Dusty was on his feet and moving down and away from the bridge. He would walk through the arroyo and come up the drive behind Caleb. I pulled the door to, leaving Sequoia in the shed with the kids. I went back to the bridge where James had leaned the shotgun against a post. I hoped nothing or nobody else would have to get shot today.
“You know I ain’t got a phone,” Caleb said. He had his voice under control again. I have to say that I think that scared me more than anything: leaping back and forth between ration and rage is never a good sign. I’ve worked with some real wing-nuts and the mood pendulum is generally a sure sign that it’s best to clear out of the way.
Caleb continued, “What? Did you think I was gonna let you get away with it?” His voice quavered again. I’d checked the safety on the 12-gauge and was willing the bridge not to creak as I moved across it.
About the time I hit the dirt on their side of the bridge, Caleb turned abruptly and crunched his way back to the Scout. I caught sight of Dusty sitting on the edge of a log on the other side of the driveway. Either Caleb didn’t see him or he chose not to react. James didn’t move, but at least now he knew I was there. I was sure he saw Dusty, too.
Caleb stopped at the nose of the Scout and turned, “I couldn’t call the law and you know damn well how long it takes them bastards to get out here, even if you’re dying,” Again he turned away, still talking, and moved along the passenger’s side. He squeezed up close to the vehicle to avoid getting caught in the cholla cactus.
“So, intead a calling, I just went right in. Drove all the way into Silver City,” he continued. His voice came from behind the Scout now. The spare tire swung out with a screech, and we could hear the rattling of the latch as he fumbled around, “Right to the courthouse.” The tailgate screamed open. Dusty hopped off the log. I felt James tensing. I swung the barrel of the gun into his hand, he grabbed it, checking the safety, moved forward a couple of steps.
“And ya’ know what?” Caleb continued. I had a sudden crazy urge to answer him, No, what? But I swallowed it and I thought I heard him grunt, “They didn’t give A FUCK!” Now I know I heard grunting, and his breathing, already labored, sounded harsh. He moved back up the driver’s side. I saw Dusty step backwards. In the darkness Caleb’s footsteps sounded heavy. I could see that he was carrying something, but I couldn’t make it out. And then I realized it was the dog. He was hauling that fifty pound pit bull. Our dogs had backed away, but now they perked back up, moving up and around Caleb’s feet. He kicked at Burr, nearly losing his balance. “THEY DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO SEE MY DOG!” His voice warbled around his heavy breath. Though now, when he hollered, it sounded more like he was holding back a sob rather than insanity. But I suppose madness comes in many forms.
“So I thought I’d bring him to you, so you can see what you’ve done,” he said, as he stood in the middle of the driveway. There was no longer doubt that he was crying; he sobbed uncontrollably.
If I wasn’t so scared, I would’ve felt sorry for the guy.
At least until he let go.
The dead dog THUMPED when he hit the ground.
Then the dogs were sniffing and crawling around its body. Caleb kicked at them once, half-heartedly. He turned, shoulders slumped, weeping audibly. He went back to the Scout and slammed the door.
“I hope you rot in hell,” he said. I almost didn’t understand that last bit, it was so quiet. The Scout’s engine turned over and over and over before it caught. The dogs, both alive and dead, emerged stark in the brightness of the headlights. Caleb backed the Scout into the juniper and turned to lumber up the hill.
* * * * * * *
“Holy shit, man,” Dusty said, and walked over to the pile of dogs. He helped James shoo off our four – no, five: Cobey was up and walking.
“NO,” James said. Cobey limped back across the bridge, but the other four walked off a few paces and waited.
“Holy shit, man,” Dusty repeated. The three of us circled the dead dog. Sequoia came and joined the circle. A few minutes later the boys were out and yapping on their stick horses, running and shooting at the dogs.
“I’m not burying the damn thing,” James said.
“Me neither,” I agreed. The ground here is parched and hardened. It takes me all day just to dig a respectable hole big enough to set a small tree. Not that I did much of that anymore. I’d gone through several experimentations of adding various types of soils and fertilizers to these holes, but each time I lost the tree. I tried apples twice and pears a few times before giving up. Sequoia hadn’t given up on the herbs and the grapes, though. It seemed like she could get just about anything to grow out of this rough and rocky land. It’s a good thing; without her green thumb we’d have no wine to drink, or vegetables to eat, and she’d have no medicinal potions to cook up.
“I say we drag it up on the hill so we can watch the vultures have at it,” Dusty suggested.
We’d known that this dog was a problem. It was a problem before it even bit the neighbor. Feeding it to the vultures was exactly what we’d wanted to do ever since it started skulking around. I knew for sure that if it hadn’t been for Cobey putting herself between that pit bull and our children, that something much worse would have happened. However, shooting it when it came over here was one thing. Shooting it on the neighbor’s land – the dog’s home – was something else. But I was more relieved than shocked.
“He wouldn’t move. Just stood right there by that damn troublemaking dog like he didn’t know what I was there for,” James said when he came back from shooting the dog this morning. He said that when he pulled up, Caleb shuffled out to the road with his hands in his pockets. The dog was already home; he followed his owner and sat beside him in the dust.
James continued, “So I took aim and I said, real slow and clear: ‘PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE DOG.’” I imagined that the color fell out of Caleb’s face in speechless disbelief. “I said it real clear. Not just once. Twice. And I wasn’t waiting any more for that damn dog to get up and take off. I had a perfect shot and I took it. BOOM!”
I both admired and wondered at James’ idea of justice: immediate and gratifying. It was better to deal with the effects of decisive action than to wait on that dog to attack a child; the dog was a more immediate danger. I agreed with him, but in my mind, things weren’t that simple. I was relieved that the dog was dead, but I was already thinking forward to the consequences; there would be consequences.
“Don’t drag it,” I said, “it’ll make a mess.” I stepped closer to James. I didn’t realize my hands were shaking until after I’d dug through his vest pocket and pulled out a pack of tailor-mades; the flame wobbled as I lit up. I noticed that the bright cherry-tip of Dusty’s cigarette was none too steady, either.
I smoked my cigarette and then, unwilling to leave, I smoked another.
While everyone else was getting ready for bed, I got ready for work.

Night shift does funny things to a person.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Amazon Novel Contest

I mentioned, over at the Grafton 123, that I entered my dusty novel in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and I've had several requests to post an excerpt.

I have to go re-read the fine print of the rules and then I will.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Be Still

With the weather cooling off for the first time this fall -and seeing as how I am trying to regularly add more content to this blog as well as to my other blog and to my web site- I rememberd this:

This was published last year in the Mountain Statesman, our local Grafton, WV newspaper.

“It’s gonna be a hard winter,” my grandmother would’ve said. A firm nod of her head and a sagacity underlined with wrinkles would have left little room for doubt.
Unfortunately, my grandmother is no longer with us, but her insight and wisdom live on…
Yesterday, while walking the Woodland Trail here at Tygart Lake State Park, I slowed my usual frenzied pace and breathed in the ever-so-slight fall crispness that comes this time of year. The air was still quite warm, but the underlying sweet-tangy aroma of the mountains preparing to burst into color reminded me that winter is not far off. With the thought of cold weather approaching, I found a cold, flat rock to sit on, sunshine dappling my hiking boots. And then, I did what my grandmother told me, a fidgety child, to do: Be Still.
The pleasure of sitting quietly in the woods can only be outdone with the awareness that comes with stillness: the loudness of acorns and hickory nuts falling through the tree canopy and thumping when they hit the forest floor; the softness of two deer feeding, making their way up the hill toward me; the call of a bird I can’t identify. I see a little spotted toad hopping toward a hollow in the base of a massive oak. Miniscule mushrooms and hundreds of early-dropped maple seed ‘helicopters’. There are thousands of hickory nuts and as many acorns, most still with their little hats on.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in the woods this summer, you’ll have noticed the abundance of tree fruit this year. This is the indicator that my grandmother would have used as proof of the hard winter to come. Botanists call this larger-than-normal production ‘mast’. It happens every three to five years, but this year is a particularly heavy year. With all the research and scientific data, still no one is quite sure why this happens. For a year like this, when all fruit production is elevated, the most popular theory is based on the measured rainfall of the few years previous: the precipitation of a couple of ‘wet’ years is able to support the growth of heavy foliage and therefore the extra energy needed for fruit production. Another idea, based on a mast of one or several, but not all, types of fruit, theorizes that the cyclic production of fruit encourages squirrels and other animals to diversify their food sources.
My camera flash startles the deer, now only 50 feet distant. Their tails rise like truce flags as they turn away, down the mountainside. I stand to stretch, watching them disappear. Whatever the reasons, mast ensures a plentiful food supply for over-wintering wildlife and the uneaten –or undigested- excess will guarantee a high germination rate, perpetuating the cycle. No matter how you choose to look at it, plenty of food is essential for a hard winter. As I begin my descent, I realize that Grandma was right about a lot of things; I’ll be interested to see if she’s as right about the hard winter coming as she has proved to be about the importance of stillness.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Writing Update

At MKStover.com, I keep an annotated list of writing projects.

Here there will be more detail.

Today's detail I posted over at The Grafton123.