Flower Riot and Paying Deep, Deep Attention

Sandra Neily here:  It was a wonderful day except for the tick. Grateful for Maine’s Tick Lab.)

This week my second novel, Deadly Turn, was finally published. It’s taken years, with a long break for cancer treatment and then more time to revisit and recraft what I wrote years ago. (Leave a comment on this post. I’ll scramble your names on pieces of paper, close my eyes, and send 2 of you a free copy. Leave emails, please.)

The novel and its drama take place deep in the Maine woods where wild flowers are often shy (Lady Slippers, Purple Trillium). This week, however, I was seeking sun and the riot of flowers that cover ski slopes near my home. Early July is best, just when Lupine is fading and right before Goldenrod (which I’ve never liked … go figure).

I wanted to see how many flowers I could visit on one hike up the grassy slopes. Their names are below so you can test yourself. To identify some I didn’t know, I used this amazing plant ID ap on my phone when I got home with pictures.

I spent a lot of the ‘hike’ sitting in flowers or on my knees, watching flowers. Maybe after creating characters who pay deep attention to the natural world, I needed a field trip away from the keyboard so I could practice deep attention. It was a wonderful day. (Except for the dog tick. Very grateful for Maine’s Tick Lab.)

 

More Deep Attention: In this excerpt from Deadly Turn, teenager Chan shows us how it’s done.

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As we worked our way downhill, climbing over downed trees and skirting raspberry thickets, I could see Chan’s generosity everywhere. Piles of cedar brush were mounded next to tall balsam firs where sheltering deer could nibble cedar until the spring thaw eased their hunger.

In a marsh, old tree snags sticking out of a small pond supported square boxes with large round holes: wood duck nests built and nailed up by the boy. Wood ducks usually nest in trees, but these birds had luxury condos high above predators hungry for spring eggs.

Chan sat on a log, pulled off his rubber boots, and waded toward a tiny island, bending to pick handfuls of grass as he sloshed ashore. Birds flapped around his head as he shook the stems and they rained down white kernels. He turned and pointed. “No dog,” he said.

I pulled Pock into a sit. Two ducks swam so close that we could see each feather as if we had a magnifying glass. Pock shivered slightly but sat still. Long ago my dog had learned that his lips would never touch a fast duck. Their webbed feet treading water, the birds swayed back and forth, staring at us. The male wood duck looked like an extravagant art installation staged far from a museum.

He had bright red irises that matched the red of his bill. His wing feathers were iridescent blue slashes, and his vivid green head sported white racing stripes that folded into feathers pointed backwards like an aerodynamic bike helmet. Someone with minimalist tendencies had finished him off. His body was geometric blocks of brown shades, some with a copper sheen, other hues compressed between tiny white lines that looked like contour lines on a map. The basically brown female blended into her surroundings, but blue wing feathers marked her as a wood duck.

“Oh, Pock. Have you ever?” I asked. He was still trembling, oblivious to ducks as living, breathing art.

Scattering the birds and wading back to us, Chan grinned. “Wild rice. If I was hunting them, it might be illegal—feeding them during hunting season. ‘Specially since I planted it. But I’m not hunting ducks, and I make sure no one else is either.”

By a massive beaver dam, Chan had chain-sawed a pile of birch for the beavers. Beavers don’t usually need help from anyone, but drag marks under the water showed the residents were storing up the limbs they’d eat after ice closed the pond. “Wait, here,” Chan said as he carefully shouldered his shotgun and navigated logs mudded into the top of the dam. Pock didn’t even look back as he raced after him.

I didn’t see the deer carcass on the far side of the dam until a bald eagle landed on it. Each jab of his curved beak brought up something red and stringy. He may have been eating, but his intense yellow eyes tracked every move I made.

He wasn’t bald. White feathers overlapped his head and cascaded around his shoulders in a fashionable shag haircut. His feet looked like bright yellow rain boots with knives at each toe. I had a flash of a James Bond movie where lethal objects snap out of everyday items and kill people. A bit of white brow sagged over each eagle eye, gathering darkness into his stare.

So many flowers on one hike! From top to bottom: Meadow Hawkweed and Orange Hawkweed, Bird Vetch, Hedge Bedstraw (Also called False Baby’s Breath), Milkweed, Common St. Johns Wort, Bladder Campion (Maiden’s Tears), White Meadowsweet (butterflies love it), Daisy, Buttercup, Purple Meadow Rue, Yarrow, Lupine, Wild Strawberry

Sandy’s second Mystery in Maine, Deadly Turn, was published in early July. Her debut novel,“Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novels at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby’s Breath), Milkweed, Common St. Johns Wort, Bladder Campion  (Maiden’s Tears), White Meadowsweet (butterflies love it), Daisy, Buttercup, Purple Meadow Rue, Yarrow, Lupine, Wild Strawberry

Sandy’s second Mystery in Maine, Deadly Turn, was published in early July. Her debut novel,“Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novels at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.

About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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6 Responses to Flower Riot and Paying Deep, Deep Attention

  1. Julianne Spreng says:

    What an incredible post! My Nana used to sing “Lady Goldenrod is swaying in the soft September air. She’s a princess I am playing with a crown of gold to wear. Autumn soon will deceive her. He will steal her gold and leave her, just a maiden all forlorn.” Can you tell she was born in Great Britain in 1896? It’s only one of her many songs I can remember anymore.

    We always referred to the first flower as Indian Paintbrush. It grew in the open fields where the tiny, sweet wild strawberries could be found. Maiden’s Tears grew wild in the back of Nana’s house outside Ottawa, ON. I never new what to call it, but we enjoyed popping the flowers. When I traveled to Alaska several years ago, a whale watcher taught us how to see the eagles in the trees. He told us to look for the golf balls. “You’ll never see the birds, but you’ll see the white golf balls.” It ‘s uncanny that it works. We never missed another sighting after that. Here in Ohio, they are becoming numerous. A huge, ancient nest is visible every time I head to the post office. And sure enough, you can see the golf balls:)

    Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Julianne! Thanks soooo much for this terrific reply. I love the Lady Goldenrod lyrics. Maybe I have trouble with that flower because it signals the end of summer. And I will still call those flowers “Indian Pantbrush.” I learned that too, but in researching the post, I came across the “real” ones from out west. No matter, we’ll just keep on with what we knew as kids, shall me? And the “golf ball” thing was priceless. Will use that. And it’s true, if you look for the whole animal we often don’t see it. I learned to see deer as moving brown shadows. And to finally see trout, only when there was a flash of white belly as they rolled over on one of my flies. And I am getting better as seeing slow moving ferns and ground cover as porcupines, hopefully before my dog can see one. In any case, I made note to use this idea, going forward. Thanks for that gift. You’ll hear from me about the book. Sandy

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  2. bereksennebec says:

    72 years old and I learned something new from reading the excerpt. Never knew beavers cut white birch, always thought of them as poplar lovers only. Great column.

    Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks, John, Much appreciated. Am guessing Poplar is first choice though: seems like a softer wood. I always send my manuscripts off to wildlife biologists who help me “catch stuff.” Thanks for checking in!

      Like

  3. Kay Garrett says:

    Loved reading the excerpt from “Deadly Turn” and can’t wait for the opportunity to read this wonderful sounding book.

    As one who loved photography, I can appreciate seeing the beauty of nature if one only slows down and observes what is around us. There is bounty of beauty albeit some that is so small that you have to be looking for it to see it. However, once you do the view can be breath taking. We have the great fortune to have several nesting eagle pairs close by to us. They most definitely are amazingly graceful to see and fun to watch interact with their little ones and each other.

    Loved the excerpt because it was so vividly written than it was almost like you were there viewing it yourself while being completely true to life in details.

    Shared and hoping to be one of the very fortunate ones selected. I love to shared my love of books and give thanks to the author’s for their talents by leaving honest reviews and sharing those reviews on social media. Thank you for the chance!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    Like

    • Sandra Neily says:

      Oh Thanks so much, Kay. I so appreciated your words about the “small” and lovely and your feedback on the excerpt. I have your email and will be in touch about the book.

      Like

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