Cougars and Dogs

san josef wagon road @ ronnings garden

A while ago I posted a short piece of flash fiction entitled Helplessness. This story was about a woman who takes her dog for a walk and they encounter a cougar. I received an email from a friend not long afterwards telling me that my story had her opening up a file on her computer to retrieve a little piece she had written years ago – a story that runs along a similar vein. It didn’t surprise me that we would have both created stories on the theme of cougars and dogs. We’ve both lived for years in an area where cougar sightings are common and my friend has loved dogs and walking dogs for as long as I’ve known her.

She sent me the story. I offered to do a bit of editing before giving her story a guest feature spot on my blog. (Just for the record, was it ever fun to edit someone else’s work for a change!)

So – I give you Becky – My Hero, a short story by my friend, Cheryl.

Becky – My Hero

It was my son Jeff who found me that morning, while memories of a gentle friend flooded my thoughts. becky 1I had tears running down my cheeks as I held Becky in my arms, her long, blond fur caked in blood. Beautiful, mischievous, dark-brown eyes were now closed by the trembling sweep of my fingertips. She had given her life for me.

I looked up at Jeff, and shook my head – as if to say, it’s too late. Time seemed to have no meaning. I wondered how long I had been sitting there on the dyke path. I hadn’t been able to carry Becky’s body away and I wouldn’t leave my dear old friend there, not like that.

Becky was a golden retriever born in the village of Port Alice on Vancouver Island. When she was just eight-weeks old, Becky joined our pack of friends and dogs for morning walks. She was a fluffy, mischievous little ball, but even as a pup she was a thinker and oh so curious.

Our group consisted of my dear friend Cathy, Sis my Chocolate Lab, Bootsie – a dog who was a mighty mouse mixture of sorts, and me. We would pick Becky up every morning as we started out on our walk. Often I would cart her along in my arms when her puppy legs tired out.

Our favourite walking spot was the dyke, a meandering path behind the Village. Puddles and streams often crossed our way. At the right times of the year, bears, deer, and sometimes even cougars could be seen. Cathy always packed the whistle and the bear spray. In the late summer and early fall the bears would be attracted to the plentiful berries. Becky and Sis made a game of chasing them away from their favorite treats. Bootsie, too old to join in such antics, watched from the sidelines.

When Becky was two-years old, my son Jeff adopted her and she became part of our family. Over the years our little dog-walking group lost both Bootsie and Sis. Cathy moved away and the pack dwindled to me and Becky.

On this fated morning, Becky was running free along the dyke. I had left her leash at home and was kicking myself for my forgetfulness. A Village Bylaw states that dogs must be on leash and in a small community, people can be picky about things like that.

I had been avoiding the dyke for a couple of days because reports of a cougar sighting in the area had been making the rounds. On this morning, the moon had fallen behind the mountains early and the sun had risen in a clear blue sky, warming the ground as steam rose all around us – it was too beautiful to resist the dyke. The smell of the forest, after the rain of the day before, filled my nostrils. Becky sniffed at every bush as was her usual practice.

image._p1442206A strange silence suddenly surrounded us. I saw Becky lift her nose, then her tail, and finally her hackles rose in a golden ruff down her neck and back. She stared up and past me toward the tree tops. I turned, with my heart beating wildly, to see what had drawn her attention. Becky’s gaze was riveted on a rock formation in front of us and before I could move, I saw the cougar leap at me.

Did I know what to do? Yes – I’ve lived in the North Island forever. Did I remember what to do? No, I did not. As the cougar bore down on me, I dropped to the ground and felt a tremendous weight skid across my back. Everything seemed to freeze. Becky lunged at the cougar and immediately the huge cat leapt from my back, accepting the dog’s heroic challenge. Lifting my head, I saw the cougar grab Becky by the back of her neck. I stumbled to my feet, clutching at the few rocks that came to hand, throwing these wildly at the cougar. My brain refusing to accept the sight of Becky held tight within the cat’s grip. I finally picked up a large tree branch. I took a deep breath and got myself within striking distance. With all my strength, I whacked the cougar on the side of the head. I managed to stun the animal enough that it released its hold on Becky and silently padded away into the trees at the side of the path, its tail making a menacing swish back and forth as it disappeared.

Becky’s brown eyes were calm but distant. Blood was flowing without check from her neck, soaking down her golden coat. I hastily pulled my sweat shirt over my head and tried to stop the bleeding. I applied pressure to the gaping wound, but it was no use.

I held her tight. I could feel her life force slipping away. She looked up at me and I saw her take her last laboured breath. As I cradled the body of this courageous animal in my arms, I felt that I had never known a greater love or felt a greater loss.

Crisis Situations – Are You Happy With the Way You Respond?

IMG_1497

Today’s DP Challenge – Honestly evaluate the way you respond to a crisis situation. Are you happy with the way you react?  This challenge really got me thinking!

The answer, in a word is – no!

Let me tell you a little story – because that’s what I do.

A few years ago my husband Bruce and I were visiting my dad and stepmom at their lovely home in Osoyoos, BC. It was the Canada Day long weekend.

Canada Day dawned as warm and beautiful as you would expect a July day in Osoyoos to be. We decided to walk down to the community park by the lake to enjoy the festivities – open stalls of people selling this and that, live music, brave souls being tugged up into the air clutching to the ropes of large, colourful, kite-like sails to paraglide over the lake – the motor boats used to get them airborne zooming loudly away from the shore, local colour in the form of a huge, yellow, floating banana, loaded down with screaming swimmers as it whipped around out in the waves of Osoyoos Lake, and of course – the massive Canada Day cake to be shared out amongst the crowd.

Chairs were set up in front of the band shell and the cake was clearly visible on a table nearby. Bruce and I had been milling around enjoying ourselves – we sat down for a couple of minutes to listen to the opening number from a local band. As the song was winding down, I could see the mayor and an assortment of local dignitaries getting ready to start cutting the cake. I stood up and gestured for Bruce to follow me – I wanted to position us a bit closer to the front for when they started handing out slices.

We had just left our chairs and were moving forward when pandemonium broke out. A very large motor home came down the small hill from the parking lot above, out of control, pushing a motorcycle and car in front of it. This mad train of vehicles whammed through the stalls and the crowd, passing right by us and crashing over the chairs we had just moments before been sitting in.

I froze where I was standing. It was only later when I replayed the scene that had unfolded before my eyes that I realized other people reacted quite differently. Bruce moved so quickly that he was able to catch a woman who had been sent flying – blood pouring down her face from where her shattered glasses had embedded themselves in her skin – before she even hit the ground. I stood completely frozen while the motor home continued its path of destruction, knocking several more people over like match sticks and pulling down a few stalls. It ground to a halt quite suddenly against a tree at the edge of the slope of grass that led down to the lake. I was still frozen in place when Bruce returned to my side – other more qualified first aiders had rushed to assist the woman he had caught.

I wonder to this day – would I have stood that frozen in place if the motor home had been bearing right down on me?

We never found out what caused the motor home to crash through the crowd. Several people were injured, a couple of people seriously so – but no one died.

So – there you have it – in the event of a crisis people have a few choices – fight, flight or freeze. Given the nature of the crisis, any one of these three options could have their own merits. The problem is being locked into one response regardless of circumstances.

The whole experience certainly left me wondering about my value (or lack of) in a crisis situation. This daily post has given me an opportunity to revisit these wonderings and I am no closer to any answers. But I certainly enjoyed perusing the photos we have of Osoyoos and remembering the fun visits we had there with my dad and stepmom, Ann.

(The photo above is a beautiful sculptured fountain that sits on the waterfront of Osoyoos Lake.)

Is it Too Late for 2013 Resolutions?

DSC_0137

OK – so it may be January 16th already – a bit late for resolutions about structuring my time in 2013, but better late than never, as the saying goes. Things are getting a wee bit out of hand in my little corner of the writing and blogging world.

What I need is discipline – you know what I mean, right? A big note posted right in front of my face in a large font, with bold-face words saying things like:

  • You will only check out your blog stats, read other people’s posts, and do comments for one hour per day
  • You will regularly post to your blog on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and once on the weekend (no less and certainly no more – there is a limit to the amount of your stuff that people want to read!)
  • You will write a minimum of 3000 words per day on The Light Never Lies (the fascinating sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight – cue the band for a shameless plug)
  • You will get up from your chair in front of the computer at least once every hour for at least ten minutes
  • You will stop drinking so much coffee
  • You will  . . . . . blah, blah, blah

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and when I get into laying the law down in this way, I am sure as tooting on that road. The minute some voice in my head (let’s call this voice Ms. Crack the Whip) even starts thinking about the word discipline, another voice (Little Miss Never Grew Up, aka Spoilt Brat) rears up and says – ya, right – you want to screw with my fun – think again – not going to happen. Then the internal battle of the wills gets going and you can guess which of the two voices wins the fight.

So – let us re-examine that you will list from the perspective of another voice (we’ll call her Ms. Compromise). Every part of me is pumped about getting through this first draft on of The Light Never Lies – so no problem there. On the issue of the blog – I’m enjoying doing whatever I want, whenever I want – so I’m not going to get too much traction on trying to rein that in – not right now, anyway. It seems that there might be room for consensus on the issue of not posting more than four times a week as a maximum. Everyone agrees that Spoilt Brat was getting in there a bit too often with her need for instant gratification – pushing the publish button when everyone else had agreed to leave things in draft form for at least one more day. There also seems to be some hope on the issue of getting out of the chair more often. On the down side, there’s no use even thinking of asking the Brat to cut down on the coffee. Let’s be realistic here, you’ve got to pick your battles.

Well, there you have it – baby steps for sure but it’s better than nothing – right? As Cesar Chavez says – it’s like digging  a ditch, you’ve got to do it one shovelful at a time.

(The inevitable disclaimer – don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to compare my petty time structuring issues to the very real and heroic struggles of the United Farm Workers to organize and work for justice under the leadership of Cesar Chavez – the quote in the picture above is more an inspiration than a comparison.)

 

 

 

Starting Over – The DP Weekly Writing Challenge

road collapse

This is my short story offering for the DP weekly writing challenge.

Starting Over

 

Sometimes there is no starting over. There’s no pulling yourself up by your boot straps, whatever that might mean. There’s no dusting yourself off and getting back on the horse that threw you. Sometimes you come around a curve in life and the road simply falls off into the abyss and you go right over the edge. After that, there is no starting over – all you can ever say is that there was a time before the life you knew came to an end and then there was now.

 

She sat through each and every day of the trial. She listened carefully as the witnesses gave their testimony. She concentrated with all her might on the prosecution’s case against her son and the defence lawyer’s attempts to lessen the damage made each time the prosecutor drummed the word rape into the minds of the jurors sitting in the box to her left.

 

She felt it was her duty to listen. She knew that everyone who looked at her, thought – how did you screw up? She’d always had mother guilt – a cavity, a bad grade, not baking enough cupcakes for the school fundraiser – you name it – she had the guilt. Of course her son had a father, and friends, and a whole culture that shaped who he had become – but she knew she was the one who had failed him. When the final accounting was made – it was her head on the chopping block.

 

At night she lay awake and the past rose up before her closed eyes in endless images. She remembered the little boy he had been. The way his golden streaked hair fell around his chubby toddler face, his dancing eyes reaching out to her as he raised his flailing arms to be picked up. She saw him setting out for his first day of school – his Spiderman pack strapped proudly to his back. The years of parent teacher interviews and early morning hockey practices flooded her memory. If she closed her eyes, she could see his bedroom in crystal clarity. Always a litter of dirty plates holding dried pizza crusts, empty Coke cans on dresser tops, clothes strewn everywhere and her nostrils flinching at the smell – a teenage boy’s sweat mixed with the odor of running shoes and sports gear.

 

She had watched him change from the open, sweet kid he had been in elementary school and she had done nothing. She saw the way an attitude of taking whatever he wanted started to edge its way into his being – cut him some slack, her husband had said, he’s like a God out there on the ice. He was a talented athlete and he had a charming smile and he got away with the attitude. She worried about him spending so much time with the guys from the team. She didn’t know any of those young men’s families. The coach said they were all good kids and it was normal for the team to hang out together – that’s the way it was in a small town – you had to find the pack you needed to run with. She let that go, too. The parties, the drinking and God knows what else – she stopped fighting all of it in the face of endless litanies of boys will be boys – leave him be.

 

Then in his senior year he had been invited to board out in a nearby city and play Junior A hockey – a big break everyone said. She spoke up then – she said she didn’t think he was ready to leave home. Everyone said she had empty nest syndrome, she shouldn’t stand in his way – this was his big break. She just needed to cut those old apron strings. But when he came home to visit he wasn’t the same kid. She had looked into her son’s eyes and she had seen it – seen the darkness there that he shook off as he quickly moved away from her.

 

The lawyer had been blunt – there was no question that her son was guilty – all they could do was try to mitigate the damage, maybe create some doubt by shedding suspicion on the girl or emphasizing the group dynamics of the event. When she talked to her son, he had given a multitude of excuses – he was drunk, the other guys egged him on, she was asking for it – all the girls that hung out around the team were asking for it. Even he could hear the way his words sounded in her ears but it only made him defensive and then angry. She had left the room and found a bathroom where she could vomit her system clean in endless spasms of wrenching pain that made her feel empty and drained and somehow, lost – as if she wouldn’t be able to find her way out of the bathroom and back to the lawyer’s office.

 

She saw her son stand up beside the lawyer to receive the verdict, looking like a young executive in his expensive suit. On the count of rape – guilty.  He turned at that moment to search out his mother’s face. She saw something shining at the corner of his eye, a look that flitted over his face for the briefest moment. She was reminded of the little boy he had been. Maybe a tear – she hoped with all her heart it might be a tear of regret, not one of self-pity. She watched the bailiff lead him away through a door at the side of the courtroom.

 

Now, there was only the time after she knew all the details of the crime her son was guilty of – and her conviction that she was the one who had let him down. There was no starting over from that.

(Image credit – Google images)

 

 

 

A Weekend Comes and Goes

It’s been a busy weekend around here! Getting Bruce all set-up with his own photography blog – Through the Luminary Lens  For those of you who don’t know, Bruce is my husband and the guy who has taken almost all of the great photos I feature on this blog. Hopefully now that he is out on his own he won’t get greedy and deny me access to his work.

We’re trying not to be each other’s sock-puppets   but it’s just way too much fun to like and follow each other to resist the opportunity.

Yesterday, I taught myself how to create a new page for the blog – blog roll. Today I decided to create yet another page, entitled – Published Work of Old. I thought I would post up some of the articles that I have authored and co-authored for peer-reviewed journals. These seem like they were written by someone else, in another life – but no folks – it was me.

From my perch at the end of the kitchen table, working on this and that, I watched Bruce install some really spiffy trim boards around our new kitchen window as well as along the cedar ceiling where we had installed some gorgeous lighting that left a few wires sticking out like sore thumbs. Our kitchen renovation proceeds in fits and starts – but at least this way I am able to relish each and every upgrade.

Started out Sunday chatting on the phone with four-year-old granddaughter, Emma – she told me she had pizza for supper the day before and I said – guess what? We had pizza last night, too. I actually heard her gasp in disbelief. And when I told her I was going to have pizza for lunch today as well – I could practically see her little jaw drop. She was on her way to a play gym to meet her BFF Marcus for a morning of climbing and sliding and generally running their little feet off.

I spent more time than I wanted to this morning investigating LinkedIn and creating a profile for myself. The whole platform is still more than a bit confusing to me, but I joined a group called Geezer Writers – a forum for writers over 50 who are starting out on a writing journey at this later stage of life. Right on!

I rounded out the afternoon by having a wonderful talk on the phone with my son, who lives in Ottawa. He is on a two-year, fully paid sabbatical from work to go back to school. The joy of all things related to having any opportunity to learn something new bounced through our conversation. Good stuff, education.

So, a weekend comes and goes. Two steps forward on some fronts and one step back on others – but it’s all good as Dylan says.

(For some strange reason, I’ve been thinking about this picture I took down in Arizona a few years ago. Something about the look of the sky and the way the tree is outlined against it – not sure how it relates to this weekend coming and going – but it was on my mind.)

IMG_0435

If I Follow You – Check This Out

Drumroll Please

Cue the drum roll please . . . I’ve just created a blog roll page! I tried to double-check each and every link but human error being what it is . . . please stop by my blog and check out this page. Click your link and make sure it takes people to you. If you want to say anything else about your blog please feel free to use the comment section. I promise to update this page each time I follow a new blog.

Making this page took more time out of this sunny and bright Northern Vancouver Island Saturday than I was expecting but I really enjoyed the process and was reminded once again why I follow each and every one of you!

I am indebted to a post on The Daily Post – Build a Better Blog Roll   for the inspiration to get this task done.

(image credit – Google images – dreamlaughcreate.blogspot.com)

Finding an Outline Plan that Works

I’ve been working on a couple of interesting outlining ideas for The Light Never Lies and they’ve really paid off in terms of word output – I managed almost 3000 words yesterday and if even every second word of that is usable, I’m pleased by the outcome.

A couple of days ago, I took twenty sheets of blank paper and cut them all in half so I had a stack of forty pieces of paper. I went for forty because I think the book will have about forty chapters (mostly based on the fact that Disappearing in Plain Sight was that long). I then dug out a few packages of sticky notes in two colours – bright yellow for current action and a lime green for back story. I started writing action segments on the sticky notes and putting them onto the chapter pages.

This task was fairly straightforward for the first ten chapters of the book – the first draft of these chapters are already written. Chapters eleven through thirteen were sketchier but still doable. I can see that far ahead to where the story is going.

After Chapter thirteen, I had to switch gears and move to the bottom of the pile of chapter papers to fill in stickie notes for the last four chapters – these aren’t written yet but were pretty easy to outline. I’ve known how the book would end for a while now.

That left me with quite a stack of blank pages to cover the middle of the novel. So, I just started brainstorming every idea I could come up with for action scenes, descriptions, and back story, writing each idea onto a sticky note and placing it at random on the leftover pages. The time will come to arrange the ideas in some kind of storied order. The most important thing now is to have a sense of what the action could be. And naturally, the more I write and think about the characters, the more connections I make related to how they interact with one another. The characters definitely begin to drive the action of the story and I need to leave space for that to happen.

The other thing I have been working on are drawings for the layout of certain settings in the novel. By no means to scale (my architectural design trained husband would double over laughing looking at these sketches) – but they give me a spatial understanding of how characters can move around the settings and what they might see in a given location.

I learned something important writing and editing Disappearing in Plain Sight. Well, I actually learned several things but in the interest of brevity, let me stay on track here. I created elaborate back stories for every one of the characters in that book and wrote endless notes and descriptions of the various settings. What I didn’t realize then, was that only a fraction of that stuff would ever find its way into the finished novel. I’m glad to have learned that reality. I think it will make it easier to distinguish, in subsequent drafts of this newest novel, what really needs to be cut. Parts of the story are written for me so I can continue to explore the characters and allow them to move the action of the story forward. This is a necessary process for the author but not something readers need not be subjected to. What is it Stephen King says – first draft minus 10% = finished draft.

P1060249