Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Cold December Evening ...

If only you could talk, I thought of the old oak tree at the bottom of my lane. As a teenager, I considered it ancient. The perfect Halloween specimen, it towered above me stripped of all bark, leafless, and pocked with more woodpecker holes than I could count. Keenly aware of its magical qualities even at a young age, I loved to run my hands along its weathered texture and contemplate the wondrous things it might have seen. There was no question—the tree felt special to me, but it would take one very cold December evening to prove just how special.

I’d always been a quirky kid. Gravitating more toward right-brained activities, I was a bundle of untapped creative energy ready to explode. Coming from a musical family, it only made sense that I would find my singing voice first. Singing brought me great pleasure; it was an acceptable way to release some of the pent up creative energy that, even as a small child, drove me mad. As for the journey to my writing voice, I'd categorize that as more of an expedition, an ongoing expedition, but its origins can be traced back to, you guessed it, the old oak tree.

Flanked by woods on three sides and a field on the other, I grew up “nestled” in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. We didn’t skateboard when I was growing up, we trekked across cornfields to our neighbor’s house passing old barns and antiquated farm machinery along the way. It was a simple life filled with simple pleasures like the occasional high school basketball game. On this particular evening in December, I received a phone call from a friend asking if I’d like to go to the game. “Heck, yeah!” was my response. The only stipulation? I’d have to walk to the bottom of my long driveway because there was no way her car would make it up our snow packed lane.

It was the perfect winter evening, still, frigid, and quiet, the lack of sound broken up only by the crusted-over snow crumbling beneath my feet. I heaved a steam-filled sigh when I finally reached the pavement. Standing ear bent for the sound of her car, I breathed into my cupped hands then raised my eyes toward the moonlit December sky. Where is she? I jumped in place as I marveled at the intensity of the moonlight, alternating one foot then the other. And then just like that, I stopped. I stood still— completely still, frozen in place by the undeniable sensation that someone or something was watching me. I could feel eyes, their intensity bearing down as I struggled to swallow. Moving ever so slowly, I slid my eyes toward the tree … my tree, and there it was—a great horned owl sitting perched atop my perfect Halloween prototype. Its immense frame sat black against the December moon, and then without much warning it spread its enormous wings and swooped silently over my head to disappear into the tree line.

Sigh.

I will never, ever forget that experience. It was the first time I wished I could put into words what I felt in my heart … the first time a scene haunted me … the first time I longed to put down on paper what was coming to life inside my head.

It was the moment I started to think like a writer, even though it would be years before I actually put those thoughts on paper.

As for my tree, time eventually took its toll. I came home from school one day to find that a road crew had cut it down and carted it away. I got off the bus and plopped down beside the only thing that remained … an enormous stump. I won’t lie. Tears were shed. Many tears. As for the great horned owl, despite my best efforts to reconnect, it remained elusive. For years and years I searched for it. My husband and I even took our boys out “owling” one night in the hopes that I might see another great horned owl. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be … until I finally started to write Courting the Flame.

It’s strange how images stick in our brains. The image of the craggy old tree was difficult to let go. You’ll understand when you read the book. As for my great horned owl … well, we’ve finally reconnected. Each and every night when I sit down to write, it hovers just above my head. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m fairly certain that my great horned owl was also my muse, the guiding spirit that finally said, “Enough is enough, Diana. It’s time to start thinking like a writer!”
Hey … no one ever accused an owl of being unwise, right? Gotta love that owl!