Bird Clocks, Woodpeckers and the Art of Storytelling

I went for my usual morning walk and spotted a woodpecker in the woods. I hear woodpeckers a lot here, but I seldom see them. I was walking when I heard the familiar tap tap tap nearby on my left. I looked up and there it was; scaling the pine tree, tapping experimentally here, moving to another branch and tapping there. Dark wings enfolded around it like a kind of velvet, feathered cape, head bright red and styled high. I stood there staring at it for a while and on the way home I kept thinking about it.

I thought about myself as a child staying in my grandmother’s house. In her bedroom where I slept (my grandma slept on the couch), there was a solar bird clock. I can’t remember who had given it to her, but I remember that it was a gift and it drove everyone –except my grandma and me–crazy. On the clock there was a picture of a bird in place of the numbers, each number was a different bird. Every hour on the hour during the daylight hours the clock would chirp–it would make the particular noise of whatever bird of the hour it was. I don’t remember all the different birds now, it’s been too many years, but I do remember that 12 o’clock was an owl.

I feel like I should also note that my grandmother had one of those singing bass fish on the wall. Another gift.

On my way home I kept getting this singular image of a young girl and her dog bird watching. It was this image that brought on a short story that I sat down and wrote immediately upon getting home. It’s about four pages and I’m sure in need of revision, but I’m happy so far with the bones of it. (Granted, I may hate it tomorrow. Such is the life of a writer.) The story flowed easily and ended up being a much different story than I intended. Really, it’s part of the same story though. A longer story.

Sometimes we like to think of writing as this kind of almost religious experience brought on by a muse. And while this sometimes can and does happen, when it comes down to it, writing is a lot of hard “ass-in-chair” time*. Just showing up and writing something, anything. Beautiful. Ugly. Brilliant. Shitty. Sometimes you end up writing a bunch of crap until you finally reach something good. But rare moments like this, where the story comes out cleanly without prying, are always a welcome blessing. And I, for one, am never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

-M

*Frank Conroy

 

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