In a dip at the edge of the hayfield on the top of a hill
past the rippling grasses, thigh high
and the grasshoppers and katydids humming away this warm summer evening
past the open sky and distant hills
down into the side of this small prairie
is a pond.
Small pine trees planted around it in the shadows. Reaching rays of orange sunlight shifting through the trees, their leaves the dark green of deep summer. Night comes closer here on the cool Northwest side of the hill.
Silent slice of sky in the grass, still reflecting pool. Glass broken by the toes of waterbugs, skimming the surface, leaving ripples in their wake. On the far side of the pond, a fallen aspen reaches out over the water, half submerged, half child’s jungle gym. White and black bark, shimmering leaves in the slight breeze from uphill.
Deep woods beyond the manmade pool, beyond the cliff that supports its downhill side. Ancient hemlock. Darkness and shadows and nightfall, wood-pewee, pine boughs and needles over the soil.
I’ve long been a proponent of cranking out words and upping your word count. That’s what writers do, right? Keep writing, and you’re bound to come up with something good among all those keystrokes.
This approach definitely works sometimes and for some writers, but there are other approaches too, and these can be refreshing. I was talking with a writer friend recently who reminded me that some writers have a limited number of stories inside them. Indeed, many authors like Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame only published one book, and found success.
It was a relief to me to consider the idea that a writer has a limited number of stories to tell. After my first NaNoWriMo success, I’ve been disappointed with my other attempts partly because I see myself telling the same story all over again. But perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s because that one story is my story. Maybe it’s my only story. And that’s all right.
Lesson of the day: don’t force it. Sometimes, forcing a story or word count is helpful, but in the end, writing has to feel natural to read natural. You don’t need to write a billion words to be a successful writer, unless that’s your thing. Only one story told well, in a way that pleases you, is enough.
A stiff tail of inky black feathers keeps this chicken-sized woodpecker upright on the ancient stump. Powerful jerks of its red-crested head send old bark pieces sailing down to earth, fifty feet below. Its pecking is slow and methodical. Its toes are reptile’s toes, clenched like a lizard on peeling bark. Its wings are jet black lined with cotton white. Its wingflaps are sudden and decisive, either extended in stroke or retracted mid flight. For such a large bird, its landings are elegant and graceful. A grown Pileated never misses its mark.
White fuzzy beard under its chin as this male looks over my head, aware of my presence, contemplating flight to greener pastures. He launches himself and glides with the slow heft of America’s largest surviving woodpecker. He flies into the gold morning sky, through single digit air with snow sparkles twinkling in it like magic, and alights on a willow a hundred feet away, only a silhouette.
There wasn’t anything special about it in particular. It was like many others of its kind, having a cylindrical shape with an accordion bend about four fifths of the way up its torso. This straw had green stripes longways down its pearly white sides. (Many of its kin had red.)
Yup. This was the last straw. I saw it only briefly, in somebody else’s fingers, surely destined for a long and illustrious career carrying liquid contents from cup to pleased consumer.