Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Flightless Bird

Flightless, because they are no more.

Today I just wanted to give a shout out to a bird that used to grace our eastern forests, the Carolina Parakeet

These bright, beautiful birds were driven to extinction by the early 1900s, but in 1787 they would still have presented a startling, lovely sight in the old growth forests of western North Carolina.

I was pleased today to give a couple of Carolina parakeets new literary life in my current scene in progress.

So here's a longish (first drafts always are) descriptive passage from The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, written today:

In the dogtrot between their cabins, Tamsen perched on a stool while Julia Holcomb rubbed a salve into her hands, cut and blistered after helping harvest corn in the fields.

“It’s rendered hog fat," Julia said of the salve. "With sweet-balm and mallow-root from my garden.” Though she’d spent hours at the same task, Julia’s hands, accustomed to such work, were barely reddened.

“And rose petals?” Tamsen asked, detecting the pleasing scent—obtained, no doubt, from the canes climbing trellises around the cabin, still producing a few pink blossoms in mid-October. Beyond the roses and abundant lavender beds, late root vegetables and herbs still clung on valiantly in neat, fenced plots.

Across the slopes of the hollow sparks of autumn’s flaming hues promised what would soon be a glorious blaze, yet Tamsen couldn’t help wishing she’d come there in springtime instead. The cleared acres of Nate Holcomb’s land, especially those around the cabin he’d built near a spring—which cooled the butter and cheeses Julia made—must be a veritable Garden of Eden in the warmer months.

With the flora came fauna aplenty. Since her arrival Tamsen had counted four cats--including the hopeful gray that had visited them in the barn--two dogs, six goats, a cow, an oxen team, three hogs, two horses, a rooster with a harem of hens, and a large wicker cage beneath the dogtrot, hung on a cabin wall, where in all weather save the dead of winter, Bethany kept a pair of nesting parakeets. Tamsen had heard of such birds, with their brilliant green and yellow plumage and ruddy-feathered heads, but had never seen one east of the mountains. 


  1. Oh my, what gorgeous detail. Lovely job. :-)

    Especially fond of the last sentence -- "ruddy-feathered heads" in particular. I hope, when you do decide to trim this down, you keep that bit!

  2. @Jill, thank you! And yes, the bit about the bird's plumage stays. It's all the rest I mean to cut back some. I do natter on in the first draft.

  3. It's such a beautiful, vibrant scene. I hope you will keep your lovely parakeet! What a great idea to use that in your story.

  4. Carla, Oh, the birds stay for sure. It's most of the other stuff that needed trimming back. I've found I need to cram scenes full of setting detail and character beats until I find the RIGHT ones (right in tone, subtlety, word choice, etc). Then I can trim the rest away.

  5. Lovely description. But what is dogtrot?

  6. Beth, a dogtrot is a covered area between two cabins (or what you'd call a home built in this style). A dogtrot cabin will have two separate structures with a covered "patio" area between, with no back or front walls. The open area might be floored, it might be dirt. Here are some photos: