An Unexpected Encounter with Wildlife Becomes a Magical Moment in Fiction
By Leslie Wheeler
One of the pleasures of having a house in rural Western Massachusetts is the opportunity to see wildlife at close range. I’ve observed deer, bear, bobcats, foxes, beavers and otters on my property, and every time this happens, I feel like I’ve been given a gift. But there is one species of wildlife I didn’t think I’d ever see–a moose.
Then one Friday in September, a few years ago, I went to my house in the Berkshires, and discovered that a cow moose, about a year old, had taken up residence, drawn by the pond on the property, the old apple trees laden with fruit, and also perhaps by the hope of finding a mate. She followed a track that took her out of the woods, onto the back field, across it, around the pond, and down the front field to the driveway, which she crossed to return to the woods and begin another circuit.
Around dusk on Saturday, I’d gone into my fenced-in vegetable garden when I looked up and saw her standing a few yards away, watching me. She was so quiet I hadn’t heard her approach. I froze, fearful that a sudden movement or sound would frighten her away. After a few moments, I slipped carefully from the garden, and stood stock still, returning her curious and unafraid gaze. Although not a bull moose with antlers or a cow with a calf to protect, she was still a very large animal. Finally, breaking eye contact, she continued on her leisurely circuit around the property.
Sunday morning, I watched from indoors as she made yet another circuit. She even ventured onto the patio, the closest she’d come to the house. And there I was without my camera, knowing full well that this might be my last chance to get a shot of her before I returned to town. Then, as I began to pack up, she made a second circuit, and armed with my camera I followed her along the patio to the front of house, where she stopped and regarded me with the same unafraid eyes. I took two pictures before she finally hoofed it away.
I returned to Boston, never to see that moose again, but the experience inspired me to write a scene in my new mystery, Shuntoll Road. In it, the main character, Kathryn Stinson, wakes up at dawn the day after a fire has raged in the woods around the house she’s renting. She goes outside to see if it’s still burning and spots a big animal on the far side of the pond. It’s not a moose, but a white stag, a legendary creature, which does exist in real life. To her surprise, the stag approaches her, stopping a few yards short of the patio, where she’s standing. Then it turns around and bounds back to the pond, where it stops and looks back at her. The white stag does, this enough times for her to think it wants her to follow it—into the burnt woods where she makes an important discovery. Later when Kathryn expresses her wonder at why the white stag appeared to her of all people, her boyfriend says, “It’s a mystery. And a gift.”
Readers: Have you have had encounters with wildlife that you’ve used in your fiction?
Boston library curator Kathryn Stinson returns to the Berkshires, hoping to rebuild her romance with Earl Barker, but ends up battling a New York developer, determined to turn the property she’s been renting into an upscale development. The fight pits her against Earl, who has been offered the job of clearing the land. When a fire breaks out in the woods, the burned body of another opponent is discovered. Did he die attempting to escape a fire he set, or was the fire set to cover up his murder? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to other questions about the developer’s connection to a friend of hers who fled New York years ago for mysterious reasons. The information she uncovers puts her in grave danger.
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An award-winning author of nonfiction, Leslie Wheeler writes the Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries which began with Murder at Plimoth Plantation, recently re-released for the first time as a trade paperback, and the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries which began with Rattlesnake Hill and continue with Shuntoll Road.
Check out my books at my website: http://www.lesliewheeler.com