Ears Along the Trestle
Has your imagination ever gotten the best of you? You know … to the point where the sound of a snapping twig is, no doubt, a mountain lion crouching in the creosote bushes? Or that smell – a thick, musky animal scent – is definitely a band of wild javelina?
Okay … most of you would not have those thoughts since they’re so specific to the Arizona desert. But my point is that the mind has the wonderful ability to heighten our senses – sometimes creating fear, sometimes euphoria.
I don’t often get spooked during my morning jogs, but it has happened on those two occasions mentioned above. And again last week when I heard crunching up above me near the train trestle. I glanced up just in time to see ears descending along the ridge on the other side of the tracks. The glimpse was so quick, I couldn’t tell: Dog ears? Coyote ears? Bobcat ears? Mountain lion ears? Crap.
The most unsettling part of my recent brush with nature was that the mysterious ears were taking the same trajectory as me. We were both headed down the hill, under the trestle, sure to intersect at some point. To be sure this didn’t happen, I clapped along like a happy fool, hoping to scare “it” away.
Lest you think I’m a wuss, I would say that, generally, even the rustling of something under a nearby bush doesn’t rattle me since I’m used to seeing the usual noisemaker: most often a harmless rabbit or lizard. I’ve even stepped around rattlesnakes to continue along my jog.
But there are days when my mind “goes there,” making for an adrenaline-packed exercise routine. I never did see the owner of the ears, but rest assured, whatever it was, it jogged right along with me, conjured up in my mind every step of the way.
For Writers: What is it that triggers an overreaction in our senses? A certain thought already rattling around in our heads that seems to explode with each breath once we’ve been startled? Pure fear? An eerie sound? A smell?
Whatever the catalyst, as writers, I think we need to take a time-out after such an event. Pull out the pad and paper and scratch out that sensory experience while it’s fresh. We’ve got to find a way to harness that fear, that adrenaline, that overreaction – for the sake of our novels. Just think how much more vivid our descriptions would be if we could transport ourselves back to those moments of heightened sensory perception…
I, for one, did just that after these incidents. I came home, jotted notes about the way my body physically reacted, the thoughts zipping through my head, the smells, the sounds, so that, when I’m writing a frightening scene or a nature scene, I can borrow from my own personal experience. Give it a try!