Research is not a dirty word. Or: A story about an elk, an eagle, and two-hearted women
|Bull elk on Lookout Mountain|
Take this elk, for instance. Large antlers serve bull elk well during the rut, when they're sparring to test strength and endurance and hopefully gather up a harem of cows. But twice this winter, my neighbors and I have seen big bulls tangle with the orange plastic mesh fencing used on construction sites. This particular bull is a member of the large herd that lives here in our mountain community, and we've all been concerned about him. "When do elk shed their antlers?" a neighbor asked. "March or April," I answered, then I called my son in Montana to confirm. "Yep," he said, "late winter or early spring."
I call this grassroots research. And it piqued my curiosity. Eventually the antlers end up on the forest floor where they provide calcium for chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and other rodents. You can tell a rodent-chewed antler by the teeth carving. I found this ornamental tine when hiking on our Wyoming ranch several years ago. What causes elk or deer to shed their antlers? Lowered testosterone levels (which vary from animal to animal) cause the bond where the antlers join the pedicle to weaken. I learned that
|Deer tine found in the Black Hills|
Even Jack London had to rely on second-hand research. Many of the tales he wrote, and we love, he first heard sitting in the Klondike bars up at Dawson in the Yukon.
|Photo by Gary Caskey Photography,|
Vee Bar Guest Ranch, Wyoming, during 2009
Literature & Landscape of the Horse Retreat
What is familiar is comfortable. What is unknown, is worth pursuing, at least for writers. Writers are, if nothing else, hunters of words and story. We are studies in contradiction, enjoying our comfort zones yet always yearning to move beyond them.
This dual dynamic exists in our most memorable characters, too, who are often contradictions with opposing forces pulling at them. Years ago, when a female character began forming for my novel All the Water Yet to Come, I heard Colorado poet Anita Jepson-Gilbert read her poem "Everywoman" (the title poem of her new and powerful collection).
harbors two hearts one faithful and
|Roxanne Swentzell & Rose Simpson|
during 2009 river trip with Page
who return each year
to churches barns
to nest with mate and
brood solidly against the wall
shielded from shearing wind
the storms of chance
but deep beneath the bones
encased and bolted tight
she bears another heart
flapping raptor wings
that ache for solitary flight
to scale the sky
to heights unkown
then plunge to earth
in wild pursuit.
As writers, we must explore - we must allow our creative vision to soar, but we must then tether our words to the rock-solid earth with research that will give our stories and poems a lasting foundation.
To purchase Everywoman, contact Anita Jepson-Gilbert.
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