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Sunday
Aug312014

Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 243

(This is the eighth in a series of posts that chronicle my year-long writing project. I'm writing fiction to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota. This post includes commentary and the beginning of an early draft of a story in progress. For more information about this project, please scroll down to Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 1, or click here.)

The other day I was talking with a friend of mine who’d received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant last year. She knew I was going through a tough time in my personal life and offered some reassurance. “Don’t worry, Wendy, you’ve got a whole year,” she said. “And when life happens, you just have to take time out to deal with it.”

I spent my birthday with my tribe, grateful for their presence. L to R my siblings: Burgess, Diane, Janey, (me) and Miriam.This explains why I’ve delayed until the last day of month for my Wolf-Ely Writing Project post. Life is happening. August, a month I usually relish marked by my birthday and the last cicada-buzz-filled days of summer is challenging me in ways I never anticipated. The good news is that friends and family have enveloped me with their love and support. And, at the end of July, I received tons of feedback on how to strengthen my stories from my mentor, the fabulous children’s book author and Hamline University professor, Sheila O’Connor.

Now, if I could only get to that revision process…when life settles down. After all, I have four more months to write and share my work with you. Oh, and mark your calendars for Nov. 7 at Open Book in Minneapolis for my first public reading. The second reading will follow in Ely, date and time yet to be determined. More about that in next month's post.

And speaking of dealing with life, this next excerpt from the story, Reality Show, features Daisy, described by a writer-friend of mine as “a gun-totin' gal and a volatile person.” She struggles to accept how her choices have resulted in unintended consequences.

Ah, but doesn’t that describe us all—not the gun bit—but the unintended consequences?

Reality Show

Daisy Johnson put the pistol in the holster. Every day since she’d found Thelma’s remains, she carried a gun when she went into the woods. It made her shiver just recalling how the dog might as well have fallen into the Amazon River and been nibbled to death by a thousand piranhas. In a pink, blood-soaked patch of snow, the wolves had left behind a full pearly-white skeleton with the head and tail intact but for one gnawed-off ear.

Daisy hadn’t actually fired the gun since then—but if she needed to, she’d have no qualms about following the old adage: shoot, shovel and shut up. Since the Endangered Species Act no longer protected wolves, technically she could use lethal force to defend her dogs without it being a Federal offense. But goddammit, if she ever saw one of those monsters trespassing on her property again, she’d blow it away. She still had to be careful, make sure it was legal. If not, she could face $2,000 in restitution and up to a $3,000 fine—plus a year’s free rent in the county jail. Earlier in November, she’d missed out on the lottery for this year’s license, but she was successful after standing in line for two hours—first come first serve—at the hardware store at getting one of the unclaimed licenses. It would cover her ass just in case, at least through January when hunting season ended.

Strapped on like a commando’s, the holster clung to her leg as she trekked from the house down the snow-packed drive in her black snowmobile suit. She hoofed it up the hill, around the corner and out to the row of mailboxes along Highway 121. A pickup truck roared past kicking up a white dust devil from last night’s snowfall. She opened her box and pulled out a Greenstone utility bill, the December issue of Guns & Ammo and a red Netflix’s envelope. Good. She could finally watch Liam Neeson kick some ass in The Grey.  A shiny black SUV pulled up and the window rolled down.

“Howdy, neighbor!” It was Becker, a man with unnaturally dark hair for his late forties and teeth so perfect and white it hurt to look at them.

“Hi, Ted,” Daisy said. “You all have a nice Thanksgiving?”

“You betcha,” he said. “Heading back home to the Cities.”

“Hi, Daisy.” His wife waved from the passenger side. A teenage boy and girl with earbuds poked into their heads sat in the back already tapping away on their smartphones.

“Hey, I got that live webcam up and running,” Becker said. “It’s gonna be great. When the motion detector goes off, it’ll trigger an alarm that sends me an email to my phone—and with infrared light, it sees just like those night vision goggles they used when they killed Osama Bin Laden.”

“Theo,” his wife whined. “It’s cold. We need to get going.”

Becker’s eyes fell to the holster on Daisy’s leg and he grimaced.

“Theo,” his wife repeated.

“Well, you have a good one,” Becker said. "See you next spring." They flashed Ken-and-Barbie smiles, the window rolled up and the SUV accelerated down the highway.

Daisy shook her head. Thank God Becker was going to Jamaica for Christmas this year and she didn’t have to deal with him—or his wife—for another six months. It wasn’t that they weren’t nice people. It’s just whenever Becker crossed her path, he could not shut up about his latest home improvement or techno gadget or how grand it was to live in Greenstone. Yeah, it was special for him to spend time Up North here communing with nature, but that kind of talk got real old real fast for someone who lived here. Full time. All the time. 365 days all-through-the-fucking-winter-time.

Daisy walked back down the driveway to the house. When she rounded the corner, she smiled at the custom-made street sign she’d recently mounted on the trunk of a tall red pine. It read: Psycho Path. She called her place other names, too, The Happy Halfway House for Orphaned Animals and Shangri-La. Hell, people in town thought she was crazy the way she kept collecting wayward dogs over the years, as many as six at once—all rescues from one kind of abuse or another. But she wouldn’t have had it any other way. She loved them all. They were her family. And no better place to have her family than here in heaven, 10 acres of forest situated on the border between Greenstone and the Boundary Waters. Except in her case, heaven came with a little hell. Shangri-La sat smack dab in the middle of wolf territory. …

 

Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Monday
Jul072014

Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 189

(This is the seventh in a series of posts that chronicle my year-long writing project. I'm writing fiction to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota. This post includes a the beginning of an early draft of a story in progress. For more information about this project, please scroll down to Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 1, or click here.)

Medicine Man

Henry’s shoulders itched. Sweat soaked his T-shirt. If the snow weren’t so deep he and his niece, Sundog, could have skied instead of snowshoed to their cabin on Turtle Back Lake. He hadn’t been back since they put Grandpa to rest ten years ago. They buried him where the loggers left the white pines standing for fear of upsetting the living if they trespassed over the roots that curled around the dead Indians buried there.

At the age of twelve, Sundog was a real trooper. Hardly a complaint out of her since they’d left the truck in the parking lot at the end of Broadax Trail, the entrance to the Boundary Waters. It’d been three hours since Henry led her across the snow-crusted plain of Broadax Lake, then the long hilly portage through forests and over bogs to Turtle Back Lake. Henry and Sundog would weather the storm for a day or two in the shelter where he’d spent his summers as a child before enlisting with the United States Marine Corps. If Child Protection Services had the guts and the gall to stick it out waiting for them at his mother’s house, they’d have to fight all six-four, 250 pounds of him. Court order or not, they weren’t taking Sundog away from her family and putting her back in that foster home in Duluth.

Henry stopped and readjusted the harness to the sled that held their sleeping bags, blankets, stove, fishing gear, cook kit and enough nuts, dried fruit and jerky to last if the trout weren’t biting. A raven flew up to the top of a nearby red pine and bobbed as it cawed in a throated rhythm. Raven, bearer of magic, messenger of the cosmos. It had followed them ever since the parking lot, appearing and disappearing.

If child protection services brought the sheriff with them, that would be another story. Henry would have no choice.

“How much farther?” Sundog asked. Her eyes squinted into two black slits as she blocked the sun with her mittened hand. Two crystal rainbows framed the sun on each side as it crawled along the southern edge of the January sky. Sundog looked and acted just like her grandma, with warm brown skin and questioning, always questioning. “I’m tired.” So much for no complaints. Her jacket was tied around her waist and a red scarf hung off her neck like an elder’s shawl, loose and free. She squatted and sat back on the ends of her snowshoes.

“See that cliff up ahead?” Henry pointed to a rusty-colored rock wall rising from the edge of the lake snow. “That’s where Medicine Man is. We’ll rest there.” Henry traipsed ahead, breaking a trail of waffle-like prints in the snow followed by four parallel lines streaking behind the sled. He didn’t look back.

When he reached the cliffs, he unhitched the sled, removed his snowshoes and leaned against the stone wall. Snow frosted the ledges and falls of ice cascaded down one end between two black-stained faces of granite. He waited. Sundog methodically followed his tracks across the brilliant, sun-dazzled snow. Her brown cheeks had turned red with exertion. Her scarf had joined the jacket at her hips. After she pulled off her stocking cap, shocks of black hair stuck out every which way like a wet muskrat. It was a shame the foster mother had cut her hair. It would take another year before it grew to fall past her shoulders again. On the cusp of womanhood, and she looked like a boy.

“Water?” Henry passed his bottle to Sundog. She pulled the stopper with her teeth and sucked greedily at the bottle like a newborn fawn. She wiped the drips off her mouth with her sleeve and passed the bottle back to him. “You’re not much for words today,” he said.

Sundog smiled and shrugged her shoulders. With all the screwed up events in her short life so far, she was surprisingly easy going. Maybe a little too much so. Or maybe she was just shy around him. He could intimidate people with his stature and the military stoicism he just couldn’t shake after 20 years—that and his slate-blue eyes that could see into a person’s soul. Or so he’d been told. Like his mother and his grandfather and his fathers before him, Henry was raised 100 percent Indian. It was his father’s Norwegian blood that startled people when they met him for the first time expecting to see what they imagined an Indian should look like. And even then, when they knew he was Indian, white people treated him like he were one of them. But Sundog? She didn’t have his complexion of protection, and after three court appeals all ruling in favor of his mother to care for Sundog, Child Protection Services was still determined to strip Sundog of her Native family and make her a white girl. It’s no different, his mother had said, than when they put me in the boarding school.

Henry passed the water bottle with Sundog until they emptied its icy contents. He climbed to a ledge on the cliff, sat down in the snow and leaned up against the rock. Sundog removed the snowshoes from her hot-pink boots and followed. She sat beside him, copying the way he dangled his legs over the ledge. The sun hit his face full on. It felt good. No wind, just stillness. Blue sky from horizon to horizon with a zipper line of snowshoe tracks bisecting the white plain of snow on the lake. Sundog put her scarf back on. Henry shivered and put on his jacket. He closed his eyes and the sun made a blood orange of his eyelids. A shadow flickered across. The raven flew over and lit in the spruce boughs above them. It clacked its beak, ruffled its feathers and walked about like a big-footed clown poking its nose into the branches flicking chunks of snow down upon Henry’s head.

“So where is Medicine Man?” Sundog said with her face to the sun and her eyes closed.

Henry brushed the snow from his hair and stood. The raven hopped deeper into the tree boughs and disappeared. “Right here.” He pointed a few feet above her head. “You walked right past him.”

She stood. Eye-to-eye with a cluster of iron-red figures taking up no more space on the stone than half a snowshoe, she pulled off her mitten. “Hello, Medicine Man,” she said, and traced his uplifted arms and five-fingered hands. Her finger fell to the perfect silhouette of a bull moose, antlers, beard and all then behind it, a wolf with a long bushy tail. She underlined the scene as her finger tracked a horizon line streaking below the three beings.

“Cool, huh?” Henry smiled.

“Yeah, cool.” Sundog smiled back, her crooked teeth gleaming. “One, two, three,” she counted the canoes hovering over the beings. “One, two, three, four, five, six,” she counted the hash marks beside the canoes. Then she reached up over her head and pressed her hand to a red, wind-blown cross high above the scene. “What’s the story?”

“Nobody knows.”

“Who painted these?”

“Nobody knows, but whoever did was here before our people.”

“The Anishanabee. First People. That’s what Grandma calls us.”

“Remember, someone always walks the path before us, before you and me, Grandma, great grandpa, before the Indian villages on Sucker Bay, Balsam Island and Pillow Rock Portage. Before the miners, the loggers, the Voyageurs and the French fur traders. Before Columbus, the Vikings…”

“Before Medicine Man?”

“And before Medicine Man, yes,” Henry said. “There were others.” ...

 

Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.