Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The New Book

Last year the half-wine barrel under the Japanese maple had begonias in it after the freesias were done. This year I dumped a bunch of packets of old seeds I found in the garage into it, and this one nasturtium came up, the last growth that the disintegrating barrel will sustain. At the end of the season, the barrel will become kindling, if it doesn't fall apart first.

One nasturtium -- what a laugh! The plant took over the whole planter and is sending out tendrils, hoping to conquer the planet. In spite of the shady location, this sun-loving creature is thriving, and gracing the landscape with a whole new look from begonias.

The crispness of the reddish-orange spots on the petals astounds me. How does it happen that such perfect designs appear on a lowly vine? It's a mystery, one that I never tire of seeing.

Yesterday, my friend Cathy -- Cathy the Mad Horsewoman -- officially gave up on rehabilitating her big horse Rusty. Years ago, when Cathy and I first rode together, Rusty was perfect, trusting Cathy to tell him what to do, completely in sync with his rider. They were amazing together. Then she had to go to work full-time, and gradually, when they rode out, his demeanor changed. He decided he was the one who had to be in charge.

He became so willful that when she tried to remind him of his station as mount, he threw himself around so violently that Cathy flew off the saddle and nearly had him fall on her as he flung himself to the ground. Her left wrist and arm shattered, along with her faith in her beloved horse.

The past year has been difficult; Cathy tried riding her other horse, old Peanut, but was so fearful of another incident that trail rides were fraught with tension; then old Peanut died, nearly 30 years old. Under intensive training, Rusty seemed to improve, only to revert to Mr. Nut Case again two weeks ago. It broke her heart, for she really loved that horse.

Yesterday she threw in the towel, and accepted another horse, on lease. His name is Chip, and I met him today. He's adorable, a short horse with a big body, a well-shaped head, and a friendly demeanor. (If I was in the market for another horse, I'd have bought him in a minute.) She's ridden him a couple times, and they seem to work well together.

It's a new volume for her, a whole new story on riding and horsey relationships. Her story with Rusty, her story with Peanut -- time to close the book on those years and begin a new one.

Maybe that's what life is all about in our late fifties: new stories, new books, close down the pages that went before. What's up next? Who knows where the new horse will carry us all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Toad in Luxury

Before the sun hit the pool in the morning, this little chappie was on Lillian's pink inner tube floatie, surveying his resort.

Does he eat bugs off the surface of the pool? Are the mangled snail shells we find on the patio the remains of his escargot? Where does the toad reside during the hot summer days?

We don't know, and Toad is not disclosing.

Oh, Toad, remind me that floating on the surface of a cool pool is a worthy occupation.

You Toad, inspire me to find savor in humble foods.

Oh, Toad, your saggy and spotty skin are so beautiful. When I look in the mirror and see sags and spots, help me to remember that God thinks I'm beautiful, too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We were sitting out on the back patio (this is an activity that happens fairly often) one day this past week when we heard something new: a bird call that we had not heard before.

Yes, we know our birds; sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, hummingbirds, finches, flickers, mockingbirds, and especially the jays -- but this call was very different, loud and shrill, and coming from several directions! More than one strange visitor!

We grabbed our birding binoculars and circled the pool, watching a pair of birds zooming through the sky at high speed, calling out their panicky-sounding cry. One of them plummeted into our neighbor's sycamore, and we carefully approached, hoping for a glimpse of the new bird. I snapped a shot up into the branches, hoping to be able to see in an enlarged photo what we had been hearing.

Before we put the camera away, though, we did spot the bird in the tree. It was a gray cockatiel.

We counted four locations for the source of the calls, and after a few minutes in the sycamore tree, our perched subject took off, joined the others, and was gone.

I sincerely hope that those birds found their way home. We haven't heard them since that evening, so maybe they aren't lost any more. 

Either that or they're touring the almond  and apple orchards, stuffing themselves on nuts and fruit.

If, when cooler weather hits, we spot a cockatiel the size of a turkey, we'll know he found the vineyards and the orchards for sure.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Veins of Writing

Each vein has connections in this grape leaf, from the big structures to the little bitty increments.

This past week, I was asked if I imagined/wrote backstory on the characters in my fiction. Why yes, I do, at least for the novel-length fiction. Not as deeply for the short fiction, but there is still some time spent in thought about the characters, why they do what they do, and where they came from, and ... what do they like to wear as clothing and what do they like to eat and how do they talk to their friends?

You have to track those characters down and follow them to know about them, follow the veins and see who they've contacted, examine those contacts to see where they have been and what they are bringing to a story -- and write it down. Remember it in notebooks and in your heart. Don't fall into the pit of "Yeah, tomorrow I'll start to write this story" -- by tomorrow it will be diluted in your memory. WRITE IT DOWN, NOW. Or start typing and save the idea in a .doc file.

When your network of characters begins to link up, and the story takes off, the feeling is like that of riding a jet-ski into the sparkling waters of a summer morning. Kick it into high gear, and let your characters fly!

And you know, if you never get published, you still have the pleasure -- and it is a pleasure -- of following your characters into their stories.

No one in the world gives a crap about whether the leaf in the picture is part of a plant that bears award-winning grapes, or whether it is destined for a Greek dish, or is simply a backyard topiary. But the fact is, it grows, all the same, and it's beautiful.

Let your writing grow.