Occasional dispatches from the Maine wilderness-The 4:15 Snowplow and NANOWRIMO


Sounds play a big part in my real and writing lives. When we moved from Chelsea to Hartland, one of my nonnegotiable conditions was that we had to have a metal roof. Our Chelsea home had suffered a fire years before we bought it and the repair job was less than professional, leaving the back side of the roof with a pitch which was steep enough so no one in their right mind would get up there in anything but dry weather, but insufficient for snow to be removed easily. I dreaded winter storms because they required me getting up on the lower roof over the dining room and using a snow rake to remove accumulations from the upper one. There were times when the footing on the lower one was so treacherous, I donned creepers even though they weren’t very kind to asphalt shingles. Anyhow, 27 years of dealing with that every winter made having a metal roof a bigger priority than friendly neighbors or a country setting.

Our new place, a lovely yellow Victorian, sits on one ace of land in town with neighbors who are fine, but our contact is limited to a wave or an occasional assistance with backyard mowing. It does, however have a killer metal roof. Therein lies the connection to my comment about sounds. Anyone with a steeply pitched metal roof knows what I’m talking about. Every snowstorm comes with several built-in avalanches. Those gentle white flakes falling so gracefully earthward form gangs, usually after midnight and at an agreed upon time come thundering down, usually scaring the heck out of Bernie our three year old shih tzu and waking Beth and I from a sound sleep.

Every location brings its own sounds and I like the familiarity of many of them. Some make their way into my writing. The banshee wail of chill winds coming around the corner outside my 2nd story computer room where they lament their fate and try fruitlessly to sneak under the window’s edge is one while another is the clean hiss of fresh snow falling on towering evergreens on a late December afternoon. Pleasant Street provides other interesting sounds. There’s the brrrrrt of logging trucks jake-braking down the hill into town, the crunch-rumble of snow plows gradually intensifying as they leave the center of town, heading toward Athens, the neighbor’s oversexed rooster who crows 24/7, loons and geese on the Sebasticook River behind the Ireland Cemetery just up the street and last, but not least, the house jarring rumble of empty semis as they hit the perpetually recurring pothole in front of the house where countless efforts to fix the aging sewer line have taken place.

This morning, I was roused by the snowplow as it went by at 4:15. Beth was already up and drinking her first cup of coffee. Normally, I roll over and go back to sleep, but today, I had an unexpected burst of energy and got dressed. By 5 my coffee was made, the Bangor Daily News read and the driveway shoveled. I may well fade early this evening, but the day is off to a promising start despite impending avalanches.

This year was my first attempt at completing the National Writing Month challenge of 50,000 words. I don’t have an official bucket list, but if I did, this would certainly be on it. By midnight on 11/30/12, I was at 58,000 words. I think it helped to have a book growing in my head for seven years, because there were a lot of those words already lurking in various brain cells, just waiting to escape. Like most books in progress, there were times when the two characters grabbed me by the throat, slammed me against an invisible wall and told me in no uncertain terms that THEY were telling the story and I was just a scribe. I’ve learned to be cool with that over the years because those generally turn out to be the best parts of some stories. I was worried that once the accumulation in my head was all on paper , I’d start struggling. Instead, several new elements sauntered in at the right moments, expanding the original plot in ways that I never expected. I hope to have the rough draft completed around the time the last avalanche comes off the roof. I’ve included the first couple pages to give you an idea of how it begins.


“Meet you out front, Solly?”

Solomon Hezikiah Walker nodded as Kirin Leach pulled her head back from the door to his office and disappeared. He frowned as the clicking sound of her high heels faded down the corridor. She was the only person who dared to use the nickname he had abhorred since his teen years. There were times he could still remember being taunted by older kids on the scrubby playground at Balsamville School. Then there were a lot of things he remembered from that part of his life which were far from pleasant. He logged off from the library network and got ready for their regular afternoon break.

“Someday I’m going to sneak into your office when you’re in the bathroom just to satisfy my curiosity.” Kirin tapped the oversize belt bag Solomon wore whenever they walked around campus in the afternoon.

“Trust me, there’s nothing exciting in it, mostly stuff that years of compulsive behavior and a lot of bad memories cause me to carry just in case.”

“In case of what?”

Solomon chuckled. “Dragon attacks, alien ants, rogue politicians, the things you see as headlines in those wonderful periodicals at the checkout counter down at Bill’s Market. I didn’t say carrying them made sense, just that they make me feel more comfortable. Which way are we walking today?”

Kirin waved in the direction of the new research lab west of the football stadium and strode off.

Solomon let her get a ten pace lead before following. While his clothing was suitable for a walk around campus, Kirin’s attire wasn’t. Neat, but well-worn cords, a wool shirt and New Balance hiking shoes had become his trademark attire years ago when he was hired as head of the library reference staff. In fact aside from his daughter Kate’s wedding, his interview almost fifteen years ago was the last time he had worn a tie.

Kirin, on the other hand, wore shoes that made him wince every time he thought about what they must do to her feet. Her designer suit, while certainly doing wonders for her figure, couldn’t be much more comfortable than the shoes, but, as his late father would say, she dressed fancy almost every day. He suspected it was a residual effect of having been dumped by her ex-husband for his co-anchor on the local TV station two years earlier. Kirin was funny, spiritual, smart and a good friend, but she was bedeviled by a mass of insecurities when the right buttons got pushed and Jimbo Leach could still do so almost at will.

“I’ve never seen a bird like that.” Kirin pointed to a hemlock on the other side of the path from the bench where they were sitting at the halfway point of their two mile walk.

Solomon shaded his eyes to get a better view. She was right, the iridescent purple feathers looked out of place on the crow sized bird. “You’re eyes aren’t lying. It looks like someone’s breeding pigeons with dwarf peacocks. I’ve been hearing from other faculty around campus that they are seeing all sorts of creatures which don’t look right. One fellow who works at the athletic facility swears there are pink turtles in that little pond by the track and I overheard a French instructor say she almost ran over a chipmunk the size of a fox. I’m wondering if there’s more to that new research facility than the university is willing to admit.” He was about to admit seeing something odd himself when Kirin interrupted him.


She looked up from her cell phone and swore. “That bastard is doing it again. He’s supposed to pick up Tansy and Cassiopeia after their dance practice and he’s begging off because that witch he dumped me for has been invited to a cocktail party at the governor’s mansion tonight.”
“You’ve never explained how someone named Jimbo ever came up with such esoteric names for girls.”
“Long story that barely makes sense the way he looks and acts these days. Ten years ago, he was pretty decent, albeit a bit flaky. He was in advertising at the radio station and spent a lot of time reading classics and mythology. He got both names from stuff he was reading and at the time I liked the sound of them. I sure wasn’t thinking about how other kids would react when the girls got to school. Thank goodness most everyone now calls them Tans and Cass.”
“What happened to Jimbo?”
“I’ve been trying to figure out the answer that question for the last two years and all I’ve succeeded in doing is drive myself nuts. He was fine until one of the morning personalities was killed in a car crash and they talked him into spot filling the position. His personality changed overnight. Gone was the interest in classics, the girls and not long after that, his interest in me. He began dressing in a totally different way, staying out late and making flimsy excuses, spending money on things that were just for him and had no practical value. Out of the blue, he filed for divorce, accusing me of being an unfit mother and having serial affairs. It cost me most of my own savings to hire an investigator to refute his claims. Two days after the divorce, he married his bitch co-anchor.”
Solomon turned from watching the strange bird and looked at Kirin. “Do I detect a note of bitterness?”
”Bitterness would be a good starting point, How about adding hurt, confusion, and an almost complete melt-down of self-esteem. Believe me, if there was any way I could get full custody of the girls and get him completely out of my life, I’d do it in a heartbeat, even if it meant going into debt for the next twenty years. I’m documenting each time he fails to follow through on a commitment like this one. Hey, I thought we were on our walk, not a therapy session.”
“And you don’t feel better for having gotten stuff off your chest?”
“I guess, but somehow I always seem to do all the talking when it comes to personal stuff. Mr. tough guy.”
Solomon winced inwardly. Kirin was right, even after twenty-five years of going to AA meetings regularly, he still had a mortal fear of letting go, losing control and talking about how he felt. It sucked, but it was one of the survival skills learned back in his playground days and despite the price, it had served him well.

“Where did that come from?” He pointed to a swirling thunderhead that was scudding toward them from the western mountains. Solomon stood and grabbed Kirin’s hand. “We better hope we can make that culvert under the east access road or we’re going to be in big trouble.” A ground shaking roll of thunder emphasized the urgency in his voice.
Solomon could hear the wet roar of a downpour getting closer as lightning bolts lit the low clouds with ever-increasing frequency. The culvert, which also served as a shortcut for walkers and joggers was around the next bend and had a raised asphalt path he hoped would keep them dry.
“Dammit!” Kirin would have hit the walkway hard if they weren’t holding hands. The heel of her left shoe went spinning across the path.
Solomon didn’t hesitate. He scooped up the broken heel before lifting Kirin and tucking her close to his chest. “No time to argue about whether you can hold your own. This storm is too dangerous for pleasantries,” he shouted as he jogged toward the culvert.
Kirin, sensing the urgency in his voice, didn’t argue.
They barely made it before rain began falling so heavily that neither could see the trees on the opposite side of the path. Water started flowing through the culvert, quickly reaching the bottom of the narrow walkway where they stood. The wind which was howling through the culvert, carrying a stream of stinging droplets with it, made staying dry impossible and remaining on the walkway extremely challenging.
Kirin was shivering uncontrollably when she pulled out her cell phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“I’m going to alert the circulation desk that we’re going to be late returning from our boring afternoon break.”
Solomon was rummaging through his pouch, looking for the plastic poncho he was certain he’d stashed in it when a sickly green bolt of lightning hit several trees across the walkway before ricocheting into the culvert. The last thing he remembered was Kirin’s scream as it hit her phone.

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2 Responses to Occasional dispatches from the Maine wilderness-The 4:15 Snowplow and NANOWRIMO

  1. Deanna says:

    Please let us all know when this one is published. I am looking forward to it…Dee

  2. thelma straw says:

    Thanks for what is a wake-up call to moi! Ever since I started writing crime novels, I’ve lived in a Manhattan apartment on a busy street and realize now I try to blot out the sounds of the city and the everpresent banging of construction, renovation, etc. from within the building here. I do use all the other senses, but you made me realize I don’t use sounds!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

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