Friday, January 16, 2015

Arthur and Matilda, An Act of Fiction, Part 2

Once again, this is an old act of fiction that has been simmering in my drawer for years.  I dusted it off and began to think of these characters during my writing workshop in my second grade class.  I am nearing the end of the final chapter – it being written way out of order.  I have drafts of about 3 others including this first one where we meet our protagonists.  Here is the final small chunk of the first chapter.  If you want to read it from the beginning, click here or simply scroll down to my last post.


“Wanna race?” he dared.

“Sure.  To the tall pine down in the valley and back to this old stump.  I’ll give you a head start, Brother.”

This was too much.  “Oh, no.  I insist.  Ladies first.”  This was all she needed.  Like a streak she was off. 

“What…  Who is this bird?” he asked himself.  With that he took off as fast as his wings could pull.

She had a good lead on him.  Why had he let her get that head start?  Now there was a good chance he would lose – and to a smartbeaked female.  His pride would take a beating if he lost.  But he was a strong flyer as well as agile and, after straining with all his might, gained on her steadily.  The muscles in his shoulders and chest heaved.   His legs and feet were pinned back to make his form more aerodynamic.  He wasted as little energy as possible to get maximum speed.  Snowcapped pines sped by along with scrubby oaks still clinging to their crinkled, golden leaves.  It began to snow lightly and Arthur had to squint his eyes.

Gaining.  He could see her well now.  Slowly he got closer.  He couldn’t believe how fast she was.  No female he had ever known came close to his flying ability.  The distance between the birds decreased and Arthur could see the muscles through the female’s feathers; flexing, extending, bulging, smoothing.  She was a magnificent creature.  But the closer he got, the more he sensed that she might actually be holding back. 

She was playing him.

While she should have taken the straightest line to the tall pine, she darted between limbs and rocky ledges, taunting him to follow at incredible speed.  There was a break in the clouds where a shaft of sun shone.  Playfully, she headed for it.  When the sun shone on her sleekness, on her muscular body, Arthur was lost.

He caught up after a tremendous burst of speed.  For the first time during the race he could see her face.  She didn’t even look as though she were straining.  “Oh, there you are,” she spoke calmly, not at all like one flying in a race.  “I was wondering if you would ever catch up.  So much for ladies first, am I right?”

With that she began pulling ahead, even though Arthur was flying flat out.  “Who is this bird?” Arthur repeated to himself as he viewed her again from behind.  Once again the sun slipped behind a low gray cloud.  The gently falling snow increased.  Arthur no longer looked ahead at the tree around which they would fly.  He had eyes only for this bird.  This magnificent black creature.  The tall pine was about 100 meters ahead and the winner of the race was a foregone conclusion.  Knowing full well that she would arrive first at the stump, Arthur only gazed at his new acquaintance, his rival in this race.  He was mesmerized by her bulging shoulders, her streamlined form, how effortlessly she pulled herself through the air. 

As she reached the topmost bough of the tall pine, instead of circling it and heading back up the ridge to the stump where they agreed the race would end (this was no race, Arthur thought), she quickly fanned her tail and spread back her powerful wings.  It was a near perfect landing, almost unbelievable considering her speed.  And yet she made it seem effortless. 

Arthur swooped around her awkwardly and lit beside her on the branch, snow drifting down lazily as the bough bounced from his ungainly landing.  “I thought the race was to be around this tree and back to the stump in the snowfield,” he puffed.  The female examined him calmly.  Once again she cocked her head to the left, then to the right and back.  Her beak was smooth and shiny, the tiny hair like feathers at its base were just… perfect. 

“I didn’t want to embarrass you any more than was necessary.”  She spoke calmly.  She was not out of breath from the strenuous flight.  Again Arthur was impressed.  His own heart was beating mightily.  He tried to suppress his respiration so as not to give away his weariness.  “No need to hold your breath Brother.  You flew hard,” she said matter-of-factly.  “You are not half bad.”  Again, she eyed him up and down. 

“You’re not so bad yourself,” was Arthur’s weak reply.  He could not take his eyes off of her.  “The name’s Arthur, by the way.” 

“Mine’s Matilda.  Pleased to make your acquaintance, Brother Arthur.”  He hoped that she wouldn’t see him as ‘Brother Arthur’ for long.

Arthur felt a sea change.  He knew that there would be no turning back.  He doubted that he would ever again encounter a crow such as this.  Looking into Matilda’s sparkling black eyes he saw his own tiny reflections.  She must have seen hers too.  She bent forward.  Slowly, delicately, until their beaks almost touched.  Arthur was holding his breath again.  But this time he was not trying in any way to impress for he was lost to her.  He just didn’t know what this lovely, unpredictable creature would do.  There was a pause when the two seemed to exchange breath.  She cocked her head to the left very slowly as though she were considering something very important.

“Beat you to the stump!” she cried in a burst of speed and black feathers.  The clouds parted and a sky of deepest blue was revealed. 

“Oh no you won’t,” Arthur was after Matilda in a flash.  But of course, Matilda won.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Arthur and Matilda, An Act of Fiction

Years ago, so long ago that my only copy was printed on a dot-matrix printer, I wrote a little piece about two crows who fall in love.  It’s called “Arthur and Matilda”.  I wrote it in my third grade class and used it as a way to teach my young ones out of my own writing.  I showed them how to outline a potential story (prewriting notes).  I shared my craft throughout the process (setting, character development, conflict, mood).  I shared how authors often ask others for ideas and advice (author’s circles).  I remember talking about how generative writing is; that one idea often leads to another to another – but one has to write to get the momentum going.  Using an overhead projector (yes, I am that old), I went through my revisions in front of them.  Then, along with everyone else in the class, I published my piece by reading it aloud. 

I had forgotten about the story but discovered it in a file drawer in my closet last fall.  I thought it might be a good idea to dust it off and keep it going.  I looked through my old prewriting notes and there were other chapter ideas, some notes about my research into crows along with pictures of crows I had gathered from nature magazines.  There were false starts and scratched out paragraphs torn from my writer’s notebook – my original drafts were all written by hand.  This was probably back in 1994 or 95. 

So this fall I started what might be the last chapter for a manuscript about these characters.  I am not quite done writing it yet and have a bunch of middle chapters to go.  I spend about 45 minutes per week on it in my current second grade class.  Once again, I am teaching from my own writing, sharing passages, asking for ideas, discussing setting and character development. 

I thought I’d share out this act of fiction a little at a time here on the blog.  I’ll start with part of that first chapter, where Arthur and Matilda meet.  Perhaps it will give me some needed momentum to keep working on this book idea.  

Arthur and Matilda – Part One – At the Stump

Arthur the crow was old.  He was so old that he didn’t even remember.  Not that it mattered.  All of his acquaintances had died or become lost to him.  All of his family had gone.  It was a curse, this old age. He often wondered why he was chosen to live this long, to see so much.  

On Arthur’s last day he flew around aimlessly.  He didn’t know that it was his last day but he had a feeling that the end would be coming soon.  He wasn’t sure where he was.  He didn’t care.  He knew his time was short and he was glad for it.  Glad because he felt that Matilda was close. 


How he missed her.  Like most crows, they had mated life.  Since Matilda was gone, Arthur’s life had no real purpose.  He still ate, preened his feathers and generally took care of himself, but he was no longer a young sparky bird.  No.  He was old and lonely and sad and longed more than anything to see Matilda.  His Matilda.

Arthur spotted a stump below in a snowy field.  He was tired and sore.  He wheeled and swooped.  Nothing fancy.  There was nothing fancy in his flying anymore.  His sharp talons gripped the stump.  It was a tree that had been cut by humans.  The top was flat and unnatural, and rose about his own height above the ground.  The frigid snow and ice that capped the stump made his bones ache.  He didn’t care.  He wanted just to rest.  Perhaps to sleep.  He was simply too tired to go on.    He didn’t know if he would ever fly again. 

A gray mouse scuttled across the edge of a crusty snow bank where the snow had drifted before freezing.  Arthur spotted it easily.  That scene reminded him of Matilda.  Most things did now.  Matilda.  She was close.  Somehow he could feel her.  Matilda, whose eyes shone like no other bird he’d ever known.  Matilda, whose feathers were jet black and sleek, every one in place. 

It was on a day not too different than this that he first saw her.  As he sat on the snow-encrusted stump, he remembered…

Part Two

a crow at my bird feeder

Foolish mice, he thought to himself.  Don’t they know how easily they can be seen in this snow?  This will be easy.  It was a juvenile mouse.  Not quite a meal, but definitely an appetizer.  With a flip of his right wing tip and a fan and curve of his tail feathers, Arthur dove sharply left.  It was a tight, fancy maneuver.  Arthur had always prided himself in his ability to make sharp turns, stop quickly, dive and swoop sharply.  In all modesty, he was the best at flying.  He knew it.  

Wing tips back, tail feathers slightly fanned, claws extended, almost to the mouse, brown fur, snowy backdrop, frightened beady little eyes, a squeak of fright, then… 

A shiny black flash in front of him, a rush of feathers and wind, and the mouse was simply gone.  Arthur was so startled that he took a tumble on the rigid surface of the snow.  There was a light dusting of crystals on top of the crust and it rolled off his weather resistant feathers as he stood back up.  “What the…?”

Perched on a stump, looking down at him with the dead field mouse under her left claw was a beautiful young crow.  A female.  She was about his size. 

She paused a moment examining him.  “So sorry,” she said as she tossed the mouse up into the air.  It rotated in the air above her head for a moment.  “I guess you weren’t quite fast enough.”  The small mouse dropped into her open beak.  She gobbled it down in one swift gulp.  Impressive, he thought.  She turned her attention back to Arthur and looked down at him with curiosity.  “You are pretty fast,” she said with some admiration.  Arthur thought she might be smirking at him, making fun. 

“That was going to be my breakfast,” mumbled Arthur, embarrassed at his tumble in the snow. 

Was,” she chuckled.  “That is the operative word in that statement.”  She eyed him critically, cocking her head to the left, then to the right and back again.  “You braked a little too hard, Brother.  That mouse almost got away from you.”   Her black eyes sparkled.  The sun reflected from her feathers.

“That mouse,” Arthur interrupted as rudely as he could, “never had a chance.”

“True,” the young female shot back.  “It never had a chance as soon as I spotted it.”  She looked past him now, as though she were looking for her next meal. 

He ruffled his feathers and laid them neatly in place.  “You got the drop on me is all,” he remarked casually, trying to seem nonchalant about losing the meal.  “Anyone could have done that.”  As he looked up at her, trying not to be too obvious, he noticed how perfectly black and even her feathers were, how smooth and muscular her wings and shoulder muscles were, how powerful she seemed.  Sure she was pretty.  Almost all young crows with the self-respect to keep themselves in shape were pretty.  But this bird had something special.  She was cocky and strong and apparently flew like the wind. 

“You’re not as fast as you think you are,” he said. 

“Oh Yeah?  Maybe not, but I am a lot faster than you.  I just proved that I think.”  There was more of that boldness he found so inviting. 

“Wanna race?” he dared.

“Sure.  To the tall pine down in the valley and back to this old stump.  I’ll give you a head start, Brother.”

This was too much.  “Oh, no.  I insist.  Ladies first.”  This was all she needed.  Like a streak she was off. 

“What…  Who is this bird?” he asked himself.  With that he took off as fast as his wings could pull.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Camera in My Pocket

I've said before what a great thing it is to have a phone in your pocket all the time with a camera.  Some days I don't make any calls at all but I rarely go a day without taking a picture.  So maybe it's a camera with a phone attached.  It's not a great camera - although they get better all the time.  But you can do a lot with them.  I'm going to include a few shots that have been littering my desktop so I can clear the deck.  This is not great photography.  I know that.  It's just being in the right place at the right time - with a camera in my pocket.

A dewy little argiope we watched until she 
was great with eggs.

We are loaded with bumble bees.  I've never been stung 
by one but we hang out together all the time.

They seem to like just about every flower 
we have to offer.

For several days we were in the migratory 

flight path of these monarchs.  They were all 
over the lantana.

Another butterfly we see regularly is 
the spicebush swallowtail.

How lucky was I to catch this wolf spider 
covered with her youngsters?

These little guys are regular visitors to our 

hydrangeas and hang out near the 
lights at night for easy prey.

Here are a couple lucky shots of a dolphin in Charleston.

Finally, I took this little one's picture 

downtown while
waiting for a haircut.  

There are examples of technology that I haven't quite gotten used to yet.  My friends will tell you that I need to answer emails more regularly and by the time I get on Facebook it will be old fashioned.  Oh wait, I may have already missed the boat on that.  But I will always be glad for the camera in my pocket.