QUAIL MUTTERINGS #47. Writing: Navigating the Obstacles (September 2017)

I must admit that I’ve been negligent about writing Quail Mutterings lately. My excuse is the same as everyone else’s: no time. But the fact of the matter is we all have the same amount of time available to us in a day and, for the most part, we simply decide, either consciously or unconsciously, how to spend it. For me, besides following my usual “to-do” lists, I’ve chosen to work on my other writing for the time being.

After retiring from The Dance Centre over a year ago, I’ve begun writing a fictional series about a dance studio. Each novel will focus on a different story ballet and include the adventures of some of the dancers. There doesn’t seem to be much available, in this vein, for eight to fourteen-year-old ballet-obsessed girls. There are plenty of books for horse-crazy kids so why not for dancers? They’re just as rabid for stories about their passion and so, I figured, who better to tackle this project than me? Thirty-seven years of fodder ought to keep me going for quite a while, I should think.

Last spring, when I had the rough draft of the first few chapters done, I met with a group of young dancers at a local elementary school. Each followed along on their pages as I, or a former student of mine, read aloud. We had the best time. Some of them contributed ideas about things they would like to see included in the story or ways to make it more interesting. It was a win/win. I got tips from my target audience and they got “extra credit” for participating.

Since finishing the full rough draft of the manuscript I, once again, am attending writer’s groups and classes. Having my work read and critiqued is essential in this process. The endless details to address in the re-writing and editing phases, such as believability, character point of view and arc of plotting, are next to impossible to get right without other’s feedback.

So now, back to the quail for a moment. I can only afford brief visits to mental wanderings while entrenched in my chosen endeavor. There are literally hundreds of quail in the canyon these days. Yesterday morning, during my run, I accidentally flushed out dozens of them from the sumac bushes lining the trail. I panted my apologies and carried on. After cooling down I took a cold shower. Not by choice, just no hot water. I suppose I’ll have to turn away from the writing project again and attend to the demands of a no-longer-functioning water heater. Things were going so well! Why now?

This morning, after a short writing session, it was time for a break. I headed down to the kitchen for a drink of water. Before taking a sip I noticed a fairly large bird lying in the dirt outside. It reminded me of a Porwil, but it was late morning, so that wasn’t right. I guess it startled when I went outside and it took off. Through the leaves of the Red Berry bush I noticed movement on the other side. I held still and watched. It was a big, beautiful doe. While watching her walk toward the trail I looked around for the two fawns who usually come around with their mother. Perhaps this was a different doe. Anyway, she made my day.

Since I’ve committed to this writing project for now, I’m not going to lead any of the docent-led hikes out at Ramona Grasslands Old Survey Road this fall. I will, instead, take walks on my own when I feel the need to break up the writing concentration sessions. Power hikes, walking meditations, trail running… whatever it takes. Plus working, of course. That goes without saying. And then, after looking up the mountain at the wet boulder beneath our water tank, I hiked up there to play detective. Great. It’s just what I thought it was. Our water storage vessel has sprung a leak! The fun never stops. The writing goes on hold once again.

 

Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

You can follow us on www.Facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon

 

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #46. What The #$@*? (June 2017)

Who, what, when, where, why and how did we get our country, the world and mother earth into such a mess? What the #&%*? I’m sorry. I just can’t go there right now. So instead, I’m going to try my best to focus on my own little neck of the woods and attempt to stay as positive as I can. There is A LOT to be positive about here. Still.

Right now I’m rereading Walden, taking a trip down memory lane, back to simplicity, serenity and integrity. As a teen, before ever reading Thoreau or any Zen Buddhist writings, I felt this way. I may not have been able to put it into words, I still can’t really, but it’s what resonated deep inside me and continues to do so. However, words are far too limiting to describe what really matters. We can only hint at or allude to what’s really important. Or what’s actually real. Or not.

I’ve been observing this beautiful juvenile Red-tail Hawk for the past month or so. He’s as big as his parents, but they continue to bring him food. He cries off and on all day long; a very distinctive call, one I became familiar with while obsessed, for months, with a pair of fledglings several years ago. Almost daily, I walk up the canyon with my monocular and find him perched on some boulder or in a tree along the canyon walls. I love him. From following the others around before, I became more adept at being able to know where to look even if he isn’t calling. It’s a special privilege to be able to catch a glimpse into their world and be allowed to live alongside them.

Going back to Thoreau, this spring I got to visit his old stomping grounds: Concord and Walden Pond. It was March and a thin layer of ice topped the southern portion of this large pond and snow lined the path along that side. A cold breeze blew across the water and I drew a scarf over my nose. Sunlight glittered off the rippling, mirrored surface and small waves lapped at the opposite sandy shore. Nestled amongst the pines was the site where Thoreau’s small abode had been. In another area, a replica of the structure he’d built for himself allowed one to go inside and experience the economy of size and necessities. There was just enough room for a cot, a small writing table and chair, and a wood-burning stove. It was all he needed. Actually, it’s all any of us really need.

Closer to home, after a winter of unusual amounts of rain, our ponds are now full. Wildlife abounds in the continued green of almost-summer, uncharacteristic for this time of year. Spectacular super blooms decorate our spring and I look out at the bright yellow river of Seep Monkeyflowers growing where the creek ran less than a month ago. Stunning. Little Western Toads hop through the tangle of wildflowers sprouting across the creekbed. House Finches, Canyon and House Wrens use the nooks and crannies of our log cabin walls as their condominiums adding grasses and weeds for interior comfort. Daytime choruses serenade us and fill the canyon with voices of many species of birds, too numerous to list. The Western Toads up the canyon, bullfrogs from the pond down the canyon, and owls combine for the nightly symphony. Our windows remain open so we don’t miss anything.

The ravens have returned to the area out by the horses and goats to lay claim to their rightful territory. Back when our beautiful donkey was still around they used to stand on her rump and peck out the wooly hair beneath, which had not been shed yet for the summer. She seemed to appreciate the massage and they, for their labors, took the fur to line their nests. Nothing like the barter system. You scratch my itch and I’ll scratch yours.

I go outside to sit on the porch toting my apple with almond butter, a delicious snack by-the-way, and watch dozens of baby squirrels play on the rocks. They snap their tails back and forth and run away from each other as if playing tag. Lizards sun themselves nearby, lazily aware of probably everything. Aahh, to appear so unconcerned, but be, nonetheless, aware. I find myself taking lessons from them. Studying the Zen of lizards. I decide to practice more, keeping in mind some words of Buddhist wisdom.

I vow to develop understanding

in order to live peacefully

with people, animals, plants, and minerals.

And

I vow to develop my compassion

in order to protect the lives

of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

 

I wish you all happy wanderings, peaceful meditations and productive contemplations.

 

Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

You can follow us on www.Facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon