Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Sneak Peek at a WIP

 I was looking at the blog and realized that I had not posted in quite a while. My apologies, but I've been working on putting together my current work in progress. As the Owl Flies is a collection of spiritual stories and poems for all ages. Currently, Emily Hurst Pritchett is hard at work on the cover and 12 illustrations, one for each story. My wife, Stephanie Shaughnessy is also working on the four illustrations for the poems will accompany the stories.

I have received the pencil sketch drafts of each of the twelve illustrations, and I will one here. I am also sharing a story from the book to give you a little taste of what the book will be like. This book will be a leap outside my usual genre, and I hope that some of my current readers will take that leap with me. I any case, I would appreciate any feedback in the comments section.

To Beaver or Not to Beaver

Once there was a large forest.  In this large forest there was a lake.  In this lake there lived a family of beavers.  They lived out in the middle of the lake, and it was their job to maintain the dam that kept the water of the lake from flooding the forest.

Every morning Father Beaver would go out and inspect the dam.  Then all the beavers would set to work; cutting down trees to replace rotten sections of the dam, preparing mortar to plug holes and seal cracks.  The beavers were also the forest's early warning system.  If there was danger, they would smack their large, flat tails in the water to alert everyone.

All the beavers loved their work.  All that is except the youngest, Jeffrey.  He hated the dam, and he hated his job.  Most of all, though, he hated being a beaver.  For one thing he could not stand his teeth.  He had two front teeth that were big and square and stuck out over his lower lip.  They were very useful for gnawing wood, but they made him feel awkward.  Then there was his tail.  It was long and wide and flat.  It was perfect for packing mortar into the cracks in the dam and for steering when swimming, but on land it dragged him down and made him feel clumsy.  Besides all that, beavers were also fat.  The fat was useful in keeping them warm during their extended time in the water, but he wished he could be slim and limber like his cousins the otters.  On the whole, Jeffrey decided that being a beaver was about the worst thing someone could be.

One morning, Jeffrey decided that he did not want to be a beaver any more.  He had been watching the birds near the lake and was fascinated by the way they soared through the air and skimmed over the water.

"I think that I shall be a bird," said Jeffrey.  "It must be wonderful to fly.  They don't have a care in the world.  They can fly anywhere, any time they want."

Looking around, he saw an outcrop of rock about three feet high.  Climbing to the top he spread his front paws and prepared to fly.

"I hope I'm doing this right," he muttered.  "Maybe I should get a bird to show me the proper way to take off."

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and jumped from the top of the rocks.  For a second, he had a free feeling as he floated through the air.  Then his stomach lurched, and he felt himself plummet down to the ground.  Dazed and confused, he lay senseless for a few minutes.

"Oohh," the young beaver groaned as he rolled over and looked at the birds flying in the sky above him.  "I guess flying is harder than it looks."

"Haw, haw!  Caw, caw!" cackled a voice.

Jeffrey propped himself up on his elbows and looked around.  There on the rocks above him a crow was laughing at him.

"What's so funny?" asked Jeffrey.

"Caw, caw!  Flying is the easiest thing in the world if you're a bird," laughed the crow.

"Well, I want to be a bird.  I want to fly."

"Where are your feathers and your wings?" asked the crow.

"Do you need those?" asked Jeffrey.

"Of course you do.  You can't fly if you're not a bird.  It's something birds do.  You're a beaver, you can't fly."

"But I don't want to be a beaver," said Jeffrey.

"Well, you can try, but if you do you'll wind up killing yourself," the crow warned and he flew away.

"I guess he's right about that," said Jeffrey as he stood up.  He winced and rotated his shoulder.  He was going to be in pain in the morning.  Jeffrey decided that, while he might not be cut out to be a bird, there were other animals he could be that were just as interesting and exciting.  He thought a lot about what animal he wanted to be for the rest of that day.  By the time he was ready for bed he had made up his mind.

The next day dawned bright and sunny.  Jeffrey awoke stiff and sore.  He stretched and dove into the water.  He swam out from under his house, and by the time he had reached shore he felt more like his old self.

Jeffrey had decided that he would be a great hunter and stalk his prey.  He wanted to be a wolf.  He also decided that he would go right to the source and learn firsthand the ways of the wolf.  He would ask the advice of Old Gray.  Old Gray was the oldest wolf in the forest.  He kept to himself because of his age and was ignored by the rest of the wolf pack.  Jeffrey was a little intimidated by the wolves, but he thought he would be all right with Old Gray.  Jeffrey waddled deep into the forest until he came to Old Gray's cave.  Gulping nervously, he peered into the cave mouth.

"Hhello?  Old Gray are you home?" asked Jeffrey.

"Who wants to know?" a deep voice growled.

"It's me, Jeffrey Beaver."

There was movement inside the cave and a large gray wolf came into view.  He moved slowly, as if his joints ached.  He was very thin.  He looked Jeffrey over with piercing blue eyes.

"Well, so it is.  And what may I ask is such a young beaver doing so far away from the lake?"

"I don't want to be a beaver.  I want to be a wolf."

"Ha, ha!'  Old Gray chuckled as he took a step closer to Jeffrey.  "And why would a beaver want to be a wolf?"

"Wwell," Jeffrey gulped.  Old Gray was making him more nervous than he anticipated.  "I want to be a great hunter, you see.  It would be much more exciting than gnawing trees."

"I suppose it would," Old Gray's eyes narrowed, "But why would a vegetarian want to hunt?"

"Oh, you know, for the sport of it, the thrill of the hunt."  It seemed to Jeffrey that the wolf's eyes had a hungry gleam.

"It is very exciting," the wolf took two more steps toward the little beaver, "I love a good chase."

Jeffrey was now having serious doubts about consulting Old Gray.  Maybe it would have been better to try to be a wolf on his own, after all.

The wolf sighed and shook his head sadly, "But beavers are too fat and slow to be good sport, even for one as old as I.  Besides, there is not enough meat on you to make more than a mouthful.  I am too old, and my time is almost done.  Go home, Jeffrey.  Go back to your lake.  You are not a wolf, you are a beaver.  Go before I change my mind and eat you after all, fat or no fat."

Jeffrey turned and waddled away as fast as he could.  From behind he heard Old Gray give a long howl that made him run all the faster.  He had been silly to want to be a wolf.  He would have to think some more.  There must be something that he could be, something other than a beaver.  By the time he got back to the lake, he had another idea.  He went to bed that night thinking that he had the perfect solution.

The next day Jeffrey made his way to the edge of the forest.  At the edge of the forest was a tall mountain that was called, oddly enough, Tall Mountain.  At the foot of Tall Mountain was a blacksmith's shop that was the home of Hallo the dwarf.  Hallo had dug a mine into the side of the mountain that provided him with all sorts of ores and precious metals for his work.  He forged many useful tools and implements.  He also crafted many beautiful things of gold and silver.  That was what Jeffrey wanted to do, be a smith and make all sorts of beautiful and useful things.

Jeffrey entered the smithy.  The air was hot and had a heavy metallic smell.  The only light came from the fire of the forge at the far end of the room.  At the forge was Hallo.  He was about three and a half feet tall and had a long red beard.  He wore no shirt, and his heavily muscled arms wielded a hammer and tongs as he fashioned what looked like a knife blade.  The clangs of hammer hitting metal rang throughout the smithy.  Jeffrey walked up to Hallo and tapped him on the shoulder.

 "Aaihh, what the...?" exclaimed the startled dwarf.  "Oh, hello Jeffrey, my lad.  Don't sneak up on me like that.  I could have smashed my hand."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know how else to get your attention."

"That's all right," said Hallo with a chuckle, "It's good to see you.  What's so important that's made you come out all this way to see me, eh?"

"Well, I was wondering if you would take me on as an apprentice.  I'd love to be able to work metal into beautiful things."

"That's a fine aspiration Jeffrey," conceded Hallo, "If you're a dwarf.  But I don't know if it's a good idea for a beaver."

"Couldn't you let me try?  I know I'll be good at it if you give me a chance."

Hallo laughed, "You're a game little chap, I'll give you that.  Okay lad we'll give it a try."

So, Hallo demonstrated to the little beaver the proper way to hold the hammer and tongs.  He showed him how to heat the metal until it reached the proper temperature for hammering.  Hallo showed Jeffrey how to hammer iron and beat gold.

After the lesson, it was Jeffrey's turn to try.  The little beaver tried to pick up the tools, but his paws could not grip them properly.  Even if he could have gripped them, he was not strong enough and his arms were not long enough to use them.

"I'm sorry lad, but it's my opinion that you'll never make a smith," said Hallo.

"Then what will I be?" asked Jeffrey.

"What's so wrong with being what you are?  Why don't you want to be a beaver?"

"Because beavers are so ordinary.  We can't fly, we can't hunt, and we can't make beautiful things.  We don't do anything special or useful," said Jeffrey dejectedly.

"What do you mean beavers are not useful?" asked Hallo incredulously.  "Are you daft or something?  If it weren't for you beavers my house would be flooded.  Without your dam half of the forest would be under water.  By cutting down trees you create open meadows in the forest where animals can come to graze.  When there is danger, like the fire we had last year, you warn everyone in the forest by beating your tails in the water.  So you see you do serve a purpose and what you do is special.  No other animal in the forest can do what the beavers do."

"Gee, I hadn't thought of it like that before.  I guess what we do really is important.  Thanks, Hallo."

"Don't mention it, lad.  Now run on home before your parents start to worry."

Jeffrey said good-bye to the kindhearted dwarf and returned to the lake.  He found new pleasure and satisfaction in his work.  All in all, he decided, being a beaver was a good thing.  It had taken him a while to realize it, but although the things he did seemed mundane and boring to him, they were important to everyone else in the forest.  And that was something that he would never forget.