Fall Recovery: How George Sands Pulled My Feathers Out of the Fire

Donald Shephard

My old writing muse, Neva Davis, met a fate worse that death. At the age of eighty, she moved to Texas. When my wife and I retired to Mendocino I wanted to regain my muse. So I joined this Creative Writing class. It is not my first Creative Writing class. I am not a Creative Writing class virgin. But this one is different…in the nicest possible way. I have high hopes.

Listen in to last week’s session with the instructor. She said, “Pick up a book.”

I thought, “I’ll get a library book.”

She said, “Go outside and pick up a bookmark from nature.”

I thought, “Leaves are a bit corny. Deer are hard to catch. I’ll use a wild turkey feather.”

She said, “Put the bookmark in the book. Bring the book next week and read a few sentences from the page you have marked.”

I thought, “OK. I can do that.”

Then she said, “’Fall Recovery’, what does it mean to you?”

I looked at my fellow bad-boy-in-the-back-of-the-room and said, “Ron, are we supposed to tie these together, or is this a second assignment?”

I got an eloquent shrug from Ron.

Then she said, “Bring a photograph and tell us what happened.” Ron and I both shrugged.

I thought, “I can tie these together, after all, I got away with that Thai tie thing.”

So I took a book from the Fort Bragg Library; The Haunted Pool by George Sand (1851). I took this old book home and started to read. George Sand wrote a sort of author’s note she called a “Notice” at the beginning of her small book. I lucked out. It contained these words:

I wished to do something very touching and simple, and I have not succeeded to my satisfaction. I have indeed seen and felt the beautiful in the simple, but to see and to paint are not the same thing. The best that an artist can hope is to persuade those who have eyes to look also. Do you, therefore, see simplicity, - see the sky and the fields and the trees and the peasants, above all, in that which is good and true in them. You will see them a little in my book; you will see them much better in nature.

I thought, “There’s your quote, now for a bookmark.”

Someone is feeding the wild turkeys around here but I plan on them feeding me at Thanksgiving. I have a recipe for turkey stuffing using chestnuts and bourbon. I plan on using the Wild Turkey brand of bourbon. I thought, “I’ll use a turkey feather sharpened like a quill. That’s apropos.”

In anticipation of the fun I allowed myself a shot of Wild Turkey before chasing one down. They come and scratch under our deck where some seed has fallen from the bird feeder. I spent two hours chasing wild turkeys and not one tail feather to show.

There is one particularly slow old bird that frequently wanders from the flock in an absentminded sort of way. I identify with that bird. I call him Thomas, which I pronounce Tom Ass. I had left him alone. It would have done my old ego good to outrun a young bird but those victories are left to my fantasies. So I ran after Tom Ass.

Now Tom is not the swiftest turkey in the flock in many ways. As he came out from under the deck he headed south instead of north. North leads to open country and freedom. South led to my picture window. Tom crashed into the window and fell, stunned, to the deck.

His imprint looked as though one of Harry Potter’s quidditch snitches crashed into my window. Trust me, it was not. As I pondered why on earth Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey for our national bird, Tom stood on the deck with his head drooping slowly forward till his beak touched the deck. Slowly, slowly he raised his head and then it sank down to the deck again.

I thought, “Not long for this world.” I ran over and plucked a feather from Tom’s tail. As I hung onto the deck railing gasping for breath, Tom abruptly took off in an elegant turkey trot. I returned to the living room and gently lowered myself into an easy chair to whittle a quill.

I thought, there you have it; the book, the bookmark, the quotation, the fall recovery and the photograph. A nice neat package but I’m a bit concerned about next week’s assignment. If the instructor says, “Sex life, giraffes, bungee cords and Mazola oil,” I am calling in sick.

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