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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.