Guest Author- Leslie Wheeler

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?

Shuntoll Road

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.


Amazon – Note they do not show this as a pre-sale, but if people order from Amazon it will still get to them at a reasonable time not what they show on their site.

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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.

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14 thoughts on “Guest Author- Leslie Wheeler

    1. Thanks for your comment, Paty. You’re fortunate to live where there’s lots of wildlife, and I’m glad to hear you use them in your mystery series. And thanks again for hosting me on your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. We live in the foothills of San Jose and there are many wild animals around. Not all are particularly dangerous, but the Mule deer can get pretty big and there is the odd mountain lion who may stray down from the hills in the early morning hours. I love it all. But I don’t go walking around dawn!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Heather. Your mention of wildlife in the foothills of San Jose, reminds me of my own experience growing up near the mountains in Southern California. There were lots of coyotes around and we’d hear them barking at night, and sometimes see them when my family and I went for walks in the neighborhood. My sister and I even used a coyote call as a signal when we’d go into each other’s rooms at night, when we were supposed to be asleep. And to this day, the sound of coyotes is a pleasant rather than scary noise, because it reminds me of my childhood.


  2. Great post! I’ve never used wildlife in fiction; never thought about it, honestly. The closest I’ve come to wildlife is seeing a deer, watching water fowl, or hedgehogs and raccoons foraging. Does a dog getting skunked count? Anyway, thank you for the post. Wonderful food for thought.

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  3. Great post! I’ve never used wildlife in fiction; never thought about it, honestly. The closest I’ve come to wildlife is seeing a deer, watching water fowl, or hedgehogs and raccoons foraging. Does a dog getting skunked count? Anyway, thank you for the post. Wonderful food for thou


    1. Thanks for your comment, Missye, yes, a dog getting skunked does count, and I have a story about that, though I’ve never used it in fiction. Many years ago, when some friends came to visit in Western Mass, my little black-and-white spotted dog ran out to greet them and got sprayed. The husband arrived bearing a key lime pie he’d made, and didn’t understand why we were wrinkling our noses at it, until we explained that the awful smell was coming from the dog. The dog didn’t understand either why she was doused with tomato juice and banished to the basement for the time being.

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  4. Wonderful encounter, Leslie. I haven’t used my example yet in my fiction because the memory is still too raw and the right story hasn’t come along yet. But here’s mine:

    Driving along Rte 144 in N. Andover, MA, during rush hour, traffic began to swerve ahead of me where it narrows to two lanes bordered by woods on both sides. Then I saw a deer in the road on my side. I passed, pulled off the road, called 911, and walked over to her. Poor beauty had been hit by a car and her back leg was broken. Every time a car approached, she struggled to get up, which put her farther into the traffic lane. Her back was to me, so I called out in a soft voice and continued speaking while I approached. She turned her head and saw me, but didn’t struggle. I continued to speak softly and squatted by her back. She let me stroke her neck and back, and eventually her head. A large pickup trick was approaching and she began to struggle. The driver swung closer to the edge of the road and stopped, blocking other traffic from hitting us. He got out and stood back, out of the way. A driver on the other side of the road stopped and crossed traffic. I couldn’t imagine why, until the woman told us she had hit the deer, driven farther up the road until she could turn around and come back to find out if the deer was able to get away or was badly hurt. I was the only one the deer let get near and I continued to stroke and speak soothingly. She never trembled and gave any indication of being afraid of me. Several times she turned her head and looked me in the eye, then turned back to watch the others who had gathered. This was the 2nd time I’d found a deer hit by a car and had to get the police. I knew what would happen when the State Police came, but I stayed anyway.

    The experience with that deer was very humbling. She put her trust in me and let me give her a small gift of human kindness, yet I feel I was the one given a gift.

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    1. That’s a beautiful story, Claire, and I hope you find a way to use it in fiction, or non-fiction perhaps. I can see it as a personal essay, along the lines of the ones that appear in the Globe Sunday magazine under the heading of “Connections.” Your point about the exchange of gifts between you and that deer is well expressed and so true!


  5. I had an encounter with a bull moose in Yellowstone, crashed through a camping area tearing down tents, he clomped right by me. I was the only one there. And we have had bears where I live and I wrote about a bear invasion in my book, Bears With Us. Loved the post, thanks for sharing.


    1. Hi, Marilynn, you sound like you were very lucky to escape unharmed by that bull moose in Yellowstone. I’m curious to learn more about the bear invasion where you live. May have to find your book. I’ve had my share of run-ins with bears where I live in Western MA, where they have mostly proved to be a nuisance–getting into my blueberry bushes and eating the berries, which I finally dealt with by putting up an electrified fence, knocking over garbage cans, now secured with padlocks, and destroying my bird feeder, which they have done so many times I’ve lost track!


  6. Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Paty. I look forward to receiving comments on my post, specifically if others have used wildlife in their fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

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