Nov 10 2010

Ears Along the Trestle

Melissa Crytzer Fry

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.

This bobcat was photographed on our property with the trail camera we set up to capture wildlife. He is a fine specimen, ranging on the very large size for bobcats (we estimate he’s a 30 pounder, at least). Click to enlarge.

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!

7 Responses to “Ears Along the Trestle”

  • avatar K Says:

    Great idea to jot down notes about how you feel physically and mentally when you are startled. I have had therapists recommend that I write down my dreams if they are really vivid or seem to have meaning in our awakened state. To use these examples in future novels or other short stories is an excellent suggestion. There is nothing more genuine than fear or excitement!


  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Love the idea of jotting down notes,Melissa. I will surely start doing it now, instead of relying on memory. Just like people keep Dream Diaries, the idea of keeping these notes handy is extremely important when we have to incorporate such scenes in our manuscripts. I just added a scene wherein my Protagonist feels intense fear.


  • avatar Melissa Crytzer Fry Says:

    K & Rachna – the topic of dream diaries keeps coming up. I will have to add that to my arsenal of novel fodder as well (thanks to you both). I think one of the greatest examples of the fear/excitement phenomenon is roller coasters and our obsession with them … We PAY to scare ourselves silly so that we can experience that adrenaline “excitement.” Well, at least crazy people like me LOVE the sensory experience of a good roller coaster!


  • avatar Linda Faulkner Says:

    I think that, as writers, our imaginations are catalysts. I live in the Rocky Mountains and, several years ago, my husband and I were walking our four dogs. We were in our driveway, about 1/4 of a mile from the house, when an animal rustled in the forest. My imagination kicked into overdrive and I asked my husband, “Wouldn’t it be neat if a dead body rolled down the hill?”

    He, of course, thought I was nuts. But I wrote that imaginary scene down and it wound up being the opening scene in my first published mystery novel.

    You just never know when the stuff you write down in your journal or other notes is going to come in handy…


  • avatar Melissa Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I LOVE your story, and even more, I love the fact that it became THE opening scene in your novel. Bravo! Your story lends more support to the importance of keeping notes, indeed. And it’s proof that the imagination is a wonderful thing.


  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    This happens to me ALL the time on my evening walks! We’ve had more than a few mountain lion sightings and recently a black bear. I’m sure you come into contact with more really wild wild life than we do out here in TN, but it is still VERY unnerving when I hear a crackle in the woods above me and wonder what kind of claws and teeth it has! I’ve never thought to check out its ears! ; )


  • avatar Melissa Says:

    I don’t know, Jolina. I think you have plenty of just-as-wild critters in your neck of the woods. Mountain lions and bears – that’s pretty impressive and pretty darn wild.


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