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I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

Released

April 4th, 2014

Last week I told you about our resident frog we called Brad Pitt. This week I am following up to the story.

My husband is the one who had named Brad. In doing so he brought humor to the problematic story of a Pickerel frog overwintering inside our house. While Brad was able to hide there, his pit had no food in it, and after we moved in to the once-vacant house, his quiet hibernation retreat had become a noisy, disruptive place. Plus, from the human perspective, there's simply something socially unacceptable about allowing frogs to live in one's basement.

I was never quite sure how many frogs were there. It turns out, the number was at least three. I know because I caught two and a good friend caught one.

Yup, you read it right, the weather finally warmed and the frogs have been caught and released.

They went from living here....

...to living here.

One by one I found them outside the hole, making them accessible to catch. Nervously I carried them up the stairs, through the kitchen and dining room, and out the door.

I captured two on camera before they disappeared into the landscape.

Brad, the smallest one, was first.

Within 24 hours, two bigger frogs followed.

Look closely and you can see bits of pink insulation stuck to him, the same material that can be seen floating in the second shot. One time I saw Brad trying to eat the stuff; the human space is no place for Pickerel frogs to live. The three are hungry and tired, and I'll never know if they'll survive, but at least they now they are back in frog habitat.

While my human footprint might be huge, I will leave the wooded space around my house for them and many other species. Sure, I could fill in the wet spots, plant lots of grass, and develop a "proper" yard, but a frog couldn't have a good life in that kind of landscape any more than in a basement drain. Leaving a place for them is the only fair thing to do.

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Brad in the Pitt: A story about (not) living together

March 28th, 2014

We moved in, so now he must leave. How typical? The human arrives to the detriment of another species.

It doesn't matter that he was here first. It doesn't matter that his impact didn't extend beyond the square-foot-sized, watery, below-grade space in which he lived. It only mattered that we -- the new rulers of every inch of this place -- wanted him gone.

I did ask nicely at first. "Crawl up the pipe now," I urged. I thought it was worth a try, even though I knew there was no way he was going to vacate the 65-degree warmth to enter the 20-degree winter. He stayed put.

For a while we simply accepted him into the family. I'd say hello and ask him how he was whenever I was down there doing laundry or retrieving a new light bulb from the shelf. He never answered.

Then, the morning after a heavy rain, I found the basement floor covered in an inch or two of water. Descending the steps to investigate, I saw another resident in the middle of it all. This one was bigger than the one we called Brad (who lives in the) Pitt. He was stretching his legs like a prisoner who had earned a few minutes of lap time in the recreational pool. "You can't be here unless you stay in the pit!" I stressed. "Please get back in the pit," I begged.

After I got the pipe open and draining again, after the pool had disappeared into a wet floor, he defiantly went everywhere else but where I wanted him to go: under the washer, into the overturned trashcan, around the dark perimeter of the basement. I gave up. I left the lights on, went back upstairs, took off my boots, and fretted about our newly found flooding problem. And I wondered, where had Brad been in all this? Had he to deal with this over-sized companion in his little hole this entire time?

Days later, utility pump in hand, it was time to drain the pit. With one hose out the window and another in the hole, my husband and I watched the water level fall as the murky silt stirred. Soon two eyes appeared near the bottom, so we switched off the pump and left. We had extracted enough water for the test we were doing. All we could do then was wait to see if the groundwater would recharge the hole, and the little bit we left for Brad and his friend wouldn't impact the results.

When I next saw Brad he was laying outside his hole, looking peaked and weak. I could have caught him, but I didn't try. To avoid messing with our experiment, I left fresh water by his side in a tray instead of pouring it into his hole, just in case it would help him. He eventually dropped into the thick murk as he usually did, and I decided to leave him alone.

What kind of frog was he? I wondered. This time he answered with a mating call. Walking past the basement door, I heard a low, guttural snore, the likes of which would come from a swamp. His call gave him away; he was a Pickerel Frog, and with the onset of spring I suddenly had bigger worries. If he and his friend got along so well and his friend was actually female, that little hole could soon become a thousand-bed nursery. "Brad, you've really got to go now," I yelled.

Pickerel frogs hibernate under the silt at the bottom of puddles and don't emerge until after the weather warms. The temperature outside at the time was 18 degrees. What would I have done if I had caught him? I couldn't just toss him outside. And how many frogs would soon be in basement if I didn't?

The fate of the frog pair in the drain is still unknown. Will they die of starvation or hibernation interruption? Or will they hop out the same pipe through which they came in? All I know for sure is that we are the humans, so they are the ones who must go. We are a kink in the natural system, and frankly it just isn't fair.

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Defining Connection

March 7th, 2014

For this week's post, I invite you to read a page on my Website. I wrote it to illustrate what I mean when I say, "connected to Nature."

Click here to read.*

I welcome your observations. What is connection for you? You can share via the feedback link below or by sending me a private email. Or you can record your thoughts quietly in a journal or sketchbook.

Take time to reflect and answer the question. You might find it's one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself today.

*Full URL:
http://www.thewritebeat.com/What.html

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Danger 360

February 21st, 2014

It happened while I was standing on the other side of the house in the driveway. Whoosh. In a second I realized what the noise was. Nearly a one-foot-deep accumulation of snow had let loose and slid off our steep roof, all in one big avalanche.

Had I been standing in the fall zone, I might have died.

It keeps happening while driving. The present condition of our local roads is horrendous. Deep holes have formed where a mixture of ice, road salt, thawing, and plowing have bore into the asphalt. The worst craters are hidden in melt water, undiscovered until too late to miss.

It's as if the creators of the action-adventure video called driving have added a new challenge level to the game; only here, real people could get killed. While not deadly themselves (unless you're a tire or an axle), reactionary drivers are darting around the potholes, often crossing into the oncoming-traffic lane. Unlucky is the one in the swerver's path.

It's bound to happen while walking. Storm-after-storm our Eastern Red Cedars, with their feathery evergreen tops, collected the snow and ice without letting go.

When the weight exceeded holding capacity during a recent ice storm, trunks snapped in two. Hundreds now have their tops detached, and many are still dangling in the air, the falls interrupted by snags. They will drop, someday, sometime. I can only hope it's not while I'm walking underneath.

It completely surrounds me; danger is everywhere.  When winter ends the scenarios will change, but the potential will remain. Heat stroke, lightening strikes, snake bites. Invisible killers such as Lyme disease will lurk outside my door.

Nature-made threats or man-made crimes, it has become clear to me how easy it is to dwell on what could happen. Meanwhile, we can spend a lifetime taking precautions and thwarting the odds of hardship, but none of us can make the hazards go away.

Should I enjoy the adrenaline, that bodily response that gives me the energy to run?

Should I cower inside my home? It's tempting when my tolerance is low, drained by a harsh and trying winter.

No; I choose to cherish.

The end can come without warning. There is no way to know if you'll be the next poor bloke standing, driving, walking or living in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stressful perhaps, but without the pending doom, I would be complacent about the fragility of life.

So it is with awe, not fear, that I stand and consider the deep rubble of snow, ice, and shingle dirt that now cover my front lawn. Whoosh. The event took fewer than two seconds, proving that every moment counts. I'm glad I was standing in the driveway, bearing audio witness to the scene. I'm glad that life is not without threats. And like the snowman in the snapshot below, I'm glad to be alive, even if it's just for one more day.

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Rejecting the Mold

February 14th, 2014

I've always been one to follow the rules. For the most part, rules makes sense. Consider what happens when drivers decide to ignore that one about the yellow line down the center. Still, much of life is about breaking convention, too.

As a writer, my world is overflowing with rules. For instance:

  • Put a period at the end of a sentence, except if it's a question, then a question mark.
  • Use "and," "but," or "or" to join two complete thoughts into one sentence.

The list goes on and on and on.

Proper word usage, spelling, and arrangement prevents communication chaos, and the average person accepts the basics, even if he or she can't name the reasons why they're followed.

Meanwhile, artists of all kinds are known rule breakers. Those who have the courage, confidence, or complacency to throw off the shackles, shake things up, and shatter conventional thought usually find success in doing so. They ignore the stuffy mindset that believes rules are more important than results.

A famous example is the late Gertrude Stein who used very few commas (or any punctuation) in her writing. Her work is tough to read, but she has many fans. And she is remembered as a successful someone who broke sovereign rules.

Additionally, when an artist reaches a level where the critics roam, she learns of rules she never knew existed, rules made up to suit people's personal tastes. I am forever learning about these expectations from other writers, particularly through clubs or conferences where we come together to talk about the craft. And this is where I start to get ... well ... unruly.

An example of this includes the doctrine, "Never open a piece with a quotation." I obviously didn't know about that one when I wrote "The Reward of Taking a Risk," a story about a friend. I guess the publishers didn't either when they put it in the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul's anthology called the The Dating Game! without ever mentioning my opening.

"Clare found some guy on the internet,'" Gail said, the apprehension coloring her face.

That was the way it was written, and had they changed it, the piece wouldn't have been the same.

Truthfully, these kind of rules make me cringe every time I hear them, not because of the advice, but because of the dictorial way in which they are expressed, like the faithful reciting the 10 commandments. You hear them whereever "students" are hungry to be better writers and the "teachers" are soundboarding what they were taught. Learners must be careful not to fall into the mold, the sterile trap of conformity.

Which brings me to their favorite mantra of all: "Thou shalt limit the use of adjectives." Adjectives are noun modifiers that color our world. They are bright, vibrant, dark and soothing. They are good, wise, and perfect. I haven't counted them, but if they weren't supposed to be used, they shouldn't have put so many in the dictionary. I agree that over described nouns become adjectival speed bumps that leave readers tired and frustrated. But behold the power of the adjective. Like lead bullets, they conjure an image better than any lonely noun can.

Imagine you're on a drive in the countryside. Among the tall trees, winding roads, and blue skies you find the occassional sign, luring you to stop. Here, adjectives make the difference. For instance:

Without any adjective this sign would simply read, "This is a park." Nice, but not the same.
 
Here are a few more:
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, other people's stylistic rules. They may start with the best intentions, but they go sour when they morph into a gospel that impedes creativity, communication, and expression. And if you think the adjective gets a bad wrap, you should hear what they say about the adverb.