Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Convergence of Cardinals

Three weeks ago my husband heard a tap against the tall tower window at the front of the house. Tap, tap, and tap again and again. The source of the continual tapping was two cardinals intent on reaching something in the window. They started flying at our window at first light and continued until dusk. They took turns flying from their perch in the crab apple tree outside the window, up to the glass, fluttering their wings and tapping the pane with their feet, as through trying to land on the reflected branch.
They drove Martin Marmalade crazy. He sat on the second floor landing and meowed at them for the first day. He ignored them after that, recognizing that he couldn’t reach them and accepting the tapping as ‘white noise’ in a cat’s life.
My husband, not so much. His first attempt to dissuade them from pursuing the new desirable but elusive perch fell short of his intended result. He used our telescoping dust mop, the head being long and blue like Marge Simpson’s hairdo. He carefully placed the handle across the ceiling light fixture and leaned the mop end against the window.
Imagine the joy the cardinals felt when they spotted that fabulous nest – theirs for the taking! The assault against the glass increased, both birds stepping up the tapping. After a few days, we noticed only the male would return to tap against the glass. We thought the female wised up, or maybe she was on a nest in a real tree, but what of the insistent male? We surmised it had become personal and a guy thing with the bird.             

My husband, understanding the challenge, but wanting the tapping to cease, fought back with a guy thing of his own.  If you can’t make out what is at the top of the pole, it’s a coat hanger with a series of his old ties knotted at intervals to scare off the cardinal. And so, the trident made from old, out-dated, ugly ties, did the trick and frightened the feisty cardinal. We waited a day then removed the pole. The next day at first light he returned, tapping with renewed vigor since his feet and beak had rested a day. Or maybe he sent in a ringer who thought messing with us would be a lark. So the pole is back and keeping our red feathered friend at bay.  But I ask you, who is the real winner? I think the cardinal is sitting pretty somewhere, laughing his little beak off at our window display, tweeting, “Gotcha’!”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


   At season’s end, gardeners view their perennials with an eye marking development and appeal. One makes notes with ideas for the spring.
Writers do the same. At the end of story you make notes for the next story or maybe you realize you need more re-write.
   If a plant didn’t do well in a spot, I investigate the possible reasons for stunted growth or minimal flowering.  With a new purchase, a plant I’ve never grown before, I read the planting label, clarify the label with someone at the plant shop, and follow suit. If I’m purchasing a replacement plant, I look at the area where its predecessor died.
If an idea didn’t do well in one spot, perhaps I needed to move it to another location in the story.
   Was there too much shade to expect good growth? Perhaps the Lavender Twist Weeping Redbud grew too quickly and overshadowed the small Dogwood.
   Was the soil too alkaline or too clayey? Either amend the soil with an additive or dig out the clay and haul in better soil.
   Did the neighbors overspray of the weed-killer they use to manage their side, land on your plant? How does one amend a neighbor?
Maybe it was a great plot twist, a slender clue dropped gently into the story, but the characters were moving too quickly and trampled over it without stopping to discover the gift at their feet. Perhaps the story line had already developed so strongly that the twist seemed insignificant and was overlooked. But it was a great twist! What to do?
   This spring, I reviewed my transplant from last fall, a variegated red twig Dogwood bush. It seemed easier to move the bush than to move the larger shrubs and trees.
It’s always easier to move a small piece of business (regardless how wonderful) than move an entire story. Hard to move a grown ‘tree’ like location. Easier to send your protagonist out of town to follow up a clue and drop your seedling there.
   This would be the dogwood’s second move. Its first location was such a good choice that it grew profusely but I neglected to take into account that its growth would soon block the already narrow opening to the yard which gave access to my husband on the riding mower. If he couldn’t use that pass through to get from front to back his mowing pattern would be altered. And that’s another story!!
Every now and then a secondary character or sub-plot develops so quickly that you don’t notice that they are about to become an impediment to the story. The story line starts revolving around them. The pattern of the story could change drastically. That character or sub-plot has to move to the back of the stage.
   I moved the dogwood to a mulched area. I gave it two years to re-establish. During those two years, my gorgeous weeping shrub which grew slowly (partly because the top portion had been cracked in an ice storm) took hold and grew amazingly well in those two years.
The risk of moving that rising character is that they might become over shadowed in another part of the story. It’s all about balance and finding where each character belongs and thrives within the story.
   The dogwood survived the transplant and has new shoots. I suspect that in addition to needing sun it also needed different soil. Before the dogwood lived in the mulch I had planted a Callicarpa in the same spot. It languished until I transplanted it to the main garden. In the last two seasons it has developed the style of growth it’s known for and blooms beautifully. I believe that the soil under the mulch is tainted or at best stripped of nutrients. I’ve decided to leave the area to the redbud.
When a story or character doesn’t fit in the spot you thought would be perfect, you have to move on and let what works in that spot develop on its own. That just may be the thriller novel that works itself up from ground into your head. Or a pretty spot to put a bench.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Table Legs in the Garden

Sunday April 2012

The sun is attempting an end run around the clouds. Sitting in my garden at 7:30 a.m., I want to believe there will be sun today.
I’m in my garden most Sundays having a coffee and enjoying the view. Today I’m delighted by what has ‘popped’ especially in view of our early spring. Sitting in my garden always turns my thoughts to writing--gives me time to think through problems in a plot or character development. I don’t know why staring at weeds, dried out stalks from last season and new blooms struggling to break the cap of dead leaves, reminds me of writing but it does.

Today, I notice how crooked all the posts and shepherds’ crooks became over the winter. I haven’t yet brought out the wind chimes or the pots that hang from the crooks. I’ll have to boot up and stomp the metal bar at the bottom of the crook deeper into the ground. Now that reminds me of how I have to, in some stories, push down hard to develop a deeper level of engagement for the reader.  If I don’t secure the story with some strong groundwork, I could have to go back and straighten that premise after the story has grown and attached itself to it. Takes more work and you run the risk of breaking a beautiful stem or offshoot.
Last season, on a morning walk, I discovered five turned wooden table legs with balls for feet at someone’s curb. I carried two and drove back with the car for the remaining three legs. Don’t know what had become of the sixth leg. Maybe the table hand only five. More likely an earlier ‘picker’ needed only one.

I set them in the ground upside down with the ball at the top. They’re in all parts of the garden, highlighting a clump of plants, shoring up an old birdhouse post or just standing about.
They remind me of twists and clues. Do I need to firm up a ‘leg’before I can add a piece of business? Can I use a table leg to develop a clue, or theme, or a quirky McGuffin?

This is how my mind works in the garden. I’ve ‘plucked literary table legs’ from my discarded manuscripts and from fabulous stories I’ve absorbed. Sometimes they become an important bit of business and sometimes they’re just table legs in the garden.
Enjoy the garden on the ground and the one in your mind.

They remind me of twists and clues. Do I need to firm up a ‘leg’ before I can add a piece of business? Can I use a table leg to develop a clue, or theme, or a quirky McGuffin?

This is how my mind works in the garden. I’ve ‘plucked literary table legs’ from my discarded manuscripts and from fabulous stories I’ve absorbed. Sometimes they become an important bit of business and sometimes they’re just table legs in the garden.