Monday, July 28, 2014

Gathering the Threads of a Story

I have been posting on Mondays, but didn't get a chance to do so last week because I was visiting friends and we had no electricity, no telephone, etc. I explain below.

Readers ask writers a variety of questions but most of them are standard and expected. The most common is, Where do you get your ideas? This is never easy to answer because the answer is, Life. But during a recent vacation in Washington State, I watched an incident that I suspect will be part of a story in the future.

During a visit with friends in Mazama (pop. 200), in Okanogan County, Washington, we watched a column of deer, young bucks we first thought, trot and gambol across the open lawn, heading to the highway where they crossed almost every day. They had come from a woodland, crossed a river, and scaled the bank, a regular route. They were quickly gone but just as quickly one returned, diving into the garden and falling behind a bush. It was obvious from the gait that this one was injured, apparently nicked by a passing car or truck. Traffic moves fast coming down Washington Pass onto the first straightaway despite signs warning of wildlife crossing.

The other deer came back and nosed what we now thought was an injured doe, since we didn't
see the knobs of the young buck. The healthy animals lingered, grazing and dancing closer and then away. One seemed to nuzzle the doe. After a short while they left, again crossing the road. The doe tried to get up, failed, and fell again. Some time passed before she tried again, but she did, and when she got to her feet and moved into open ground, the damage to her leg was obvious and painful to see. The left foreleg dangled, bloody and torn. She took a moment to steady herself, then limped to the riverbank and somehow made it
down to the water. The river was still deep and the current strong, but after being carried perhaps thirty feet she managed to get a footing and clamber onto a small beach. She disappeared into the woods.

My friends and I commented sadly on the doe's fate. She couldn't live long with that much damage to her foreleg. Getting to her feet had been a struggle, and without agility she had little defense against predators. We knew a lynx lived in the area; my friends had seen it in their yard.

Late that evening the other deer returned, nosing along the garden in search of their missing
friend. After a while, finding nothing, they crossed the river to the woodlands. Watching deer cross the river to their nighttime haunt had always been a pleasant end to the evening. Every year we spotted the deer as we sat on the deck and stared up at Goat Peak, watched clouds float over the Cascades, and enjoyed the evening breeze. But this evening we thought about the diminishing herd. A neighbor had counted seven crossing her property recently, and today we had seen five, learned one was a doe, and that one would no longer be traveling with the others. The herd was down to four.

Mazama and Okanogan County was fighting the worst wildfires in its history, and that held
most of our attention. The fire had meant the shut-down of power, so without electricity and water we needed supplies. We drove south, counted clouds of smoke over ridges, and found any number of other people trying to learn what was going on. We knew towns farther south had been evacuated and others had suffered terrible losses. The firefighters were doing everything humanly possible but fire is relentless and unpredictable.

The following morning, while filling buckets with river water, we spotted the doe. She had
come down to the sandy beach to drink from the river. To my surprise her leg was clean of blood, and though her foreleg still seemed useless, she managed to get through the brush to the river. I did not expect to see the animal alive again, but there she was. The minute she saw us she fled with alacrity into the brush. I tried to get a photograph of her, but captured a mere flicker as she disappeared.

This is not the story I will write. It is a thread in that story, a contrasting strand that will highlight one aspect, or perhaps a filament to shimmer on its own.


  1. That's a wonderful story and those are exactly the sort of moments I love to weave into stories. Thanks for writing this.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen. It's hard to describe where we get our ideas, but truly they come from living life, seeing and remembering, holding an experience until we find the right place for it. Thanks for commenting.

  2. As usual, you illustrate a wonderful sensibility in your use of description. The story of the doe is touching.

    1. Thanks, Jacquie. I find myself thinking about her throughout the day, and wondering how long she'll last. Thanks for commenting and for the compliment.

  3. Thanks for the amazing but sad story of the doe. You told it beautifully.

    1. Thanks, Mary. I'm hoping my friend will report another sighting, but so far, nothing. Thanks for commenting.