Sunday, July 31, 2016

On memory and revising . . . one scene.


Frank E. Henry, c. 1920
So many times I think of my grandfather as I write. I was the oldest girl, tall and awkward. He took me out hunting, talking softly of the tracks we spotted and teaching me how to walk in the woods. 

Neither of us would guess how his memory walks with me even today.

I thought of my grandfather today as I wrote and revised this passage from Rivers of Stone, a story about Catriona (Cat), a young girl disguised as a boy, who works for the Hudson's Bay Company in mid-19th Century Canada.
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    Jacob was awake when Cat and Kitchi returned to camp, carrying five snow geese, skinned and with the bones removed. Kitchi squatted by the fire, Cat beside him. He showed Cat how to wrap the flesh of the birds over branches. He staked the birds over the fire to roast, taking particular care with the liver.

    “You could have taken me with,” said Jacob.

    “Maybe next time,” said Kitchi. “You were sleeping.” He used his knife to saw off a piece of the partly cooked liver. “You want some?”

    Jacob shook his head. “I’ll come back when the bird’s cooked. I don’t eat no blood.”

    Kitchi smiled and ate the liver. “Good.” He turned to Cat and lowered his voice. “Eat light if you have to. Better to not eat at all. That way, your body listens for danger.” He tipped his head at Jacob now walking back to Stores. “Be careful with that one.”

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Now this is only a few paragraphs, so you might wonder how much time went into revising this passage?

I wanted to doublecheck a few things, most important how to cook the birds. One way is to roast the bird in a hole, dug into the earth and with coals on top. My grandfather taught me how to spit the birds and cook them more quickly over an open fire.

But then I found background on native culture that reinforced my idea that nothing goes to waste. These people are too hungry. Another article suggests that before hunting, warriors would not eat at all, partly a spiritual preparation and partly to ensure the body stayed at full alert.

As I wrote, I remembered an incident with a beloved native poet, Tim Bowman, now long gone. Tim had invited me to talk with a group after a reading. I hovered on the outside of the group. He finally said, "Beth, come join us. Didn't you see me tip my head?" Such signals replace speech, but I would have to know that. Being outside native culture, I had waited. 

My other research about native culture suggests that all that is known is not shared outside the community. My hope is to not overly romanticize what I do not know.

And that's this week's report on the revising. My goal is still to finish the edits/revisions by the end of the year. May your own projects go well.