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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Musings on Moving, Missing and the Mundane

An update.

If everything goes according to plan, two weeks from now I will be on Chinese soil.

Two weeks is a short amount of time, but China still feels like such a distant thing. The realities of packing and moving haven’t set in yet. Or more accurately, the panic of packing and moving hasn’t set in yet. The most I’ve done is make a tentative list of things to take with me. What do you put on a list of things to take with you across the world?

I keep trying to imagine what my days will be like there. There is a jogging path close to my flat that overlooks a river and mountains. I wonder what kinds of sounds I’ll hear, what kinds of flowers and birds I’ll see. I wonder what the view will be like from my bedroom window, if I can see my neighbors or the distant mountains. Of course there will be temples and the Great Wall, and markets but I wonder about these small, mundane things.

I’m preparing to say goodbye to this place. I don’t know that I’ll ever be back. I’ll have no one here to come back to. For a while I really loathed this place, and while it is not on my list of favorites now, there are some things about it that I’ll miss.

I’ll miss my morning walks. Trying to find the locations of woodpeckers by following their sounds through the woods. The random deer sightings, particularly a mother and child pair, shying peeking through trees, nibbling on the neighbor’s bushes.

I’ll miss these woods. I’ll miss the sweet musk of late spring. My blackberry brambles. The little wild rabbits.

I’ll miss my car. I’ll miss the long drives on winding, wooded roads, singing at the top of my lungs with no one on the road but me.

I’ll miss my dog, who sadly, I cannot take with me.

I will miss the man who looks at me with stars in his eyes. Who opened up an entire universe with his smile.

And of course my mother. My mother who drives me crazy. My mother who interrupts. Constantly. My mother who will buy me sweets on the days I am sad. My mother who does not understand me, but always tries.

 

–M

Autumn

Waiting for you, who sent my heart into frenzied bloom,
Boy
with clumsy hands—you had no green thumb—
Uproot this parched flesh,
make it full again.