I started a creative writing course in September and our first assignment was to write a 500-word story with only one primary character and one primary setting—not a heck of a lot of space to develop anything. Thankfully walking the dog (or more accurately standing around while she wanders slowly from sniff to sniff) gives me lots of time to mull over story ideas. That slow-paced dog walking was the genesis of the fictionalised episode I created for the assignment and have included below.
Imagine my surprise when my cousin Kelsey posted a similarly-themed photo on Instagram the day after the assignment was due. Eerily appropriate. And I’m delighted that Kelsey has given me permission to use that image to accompany the story here.
That creative convergence is just one of the wonderful things that has arisen from this creative writing course. The course is giving me confidence in my writing ability, making me think about the mechanics of storytelling, and encouraging me to push my creativity—I certainly wouldn’t have plotted out an Instagram influencer-inspired spin on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ otherwise! 😆Nor would I have actually read Kipling—I’m very much out of practice with the whole required reading part of schoolwork.
My plan is to post more of my creative writing here and to actively pursue publication in the year to come. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please send them along! And I hope you enjoy both the writing and imagery Kelsey and I have created.
I stand watching the long-legged bird at the water’s edge, running through the possible names for it in English, German, French, Danish. Heron. Der Reiher. La grue. Crane. Kranen. I’m uncertain whether this sharply-pointed beak belongs to a heron or a crane, but the voice of my bird-watching mother in my brain pushes me to settle on ‘grey heron.’
Whatever its scientific classification or common name, I feel a kinship with this gangly silvery-toned bird. Ardea cinerea, or something very close to it, is common both in the dyke-bound suburb of Vancouver where I was born and in the outskirts of San Francisco where I first lived outside my home country. It waded into the boggy heath of a former tank training ground near my flat outside Munich, stalked the shores of lakes I hiked around on weekends in Southern Alberta, tromped through the snow of my local park during the sole winter I lived in Brussels, and paraded along the moat of a medieval fortress I passed by on my way to work in Copenhagen. Now it lands along the banks of the square-edged, man-made lake within a stone’s throw of the Swiss Alps, in this place I currently attempt to call home.
The grey heron has been a constant everywhere I’ve lived, whereas the feeling of belonging, the sense of being settled, has been far less reliable. There’s some intangible alchemy that made Calgary feel like home, but California not. A magical calibration that allowed life in Denmark to slot into place, but keeps Zürich unwieldy, unpleasant, unwelcoming. Maybe my migratory adaptation stops short of the 37th parallel.
To the right I catch a glimpse of movement through the low-lying morning fog. Barking a hello or perhaps a warning, a dog lopes towards the water, encroaching on the grey heron’s territory. With a screech, the stationary bird frees its massive wings and rises into the air. There is something prehistoric, primordial about its flight. The pterodactyl-like quality of its movement speaking to the timelessness of this bird, its elegant ability to adapt.
The heron’s movements are graceful, but its distinct “Frarnk” call leaves no doubt as to its displeasure at being moved on. Through that single, universal sound the bird conveys everything necessary. Would I possess that same eloquence in any of the languages that flit through my mind?
The heron will blithely move on to its next perch. It will not question whether it belongs in its new location, but rather fixate on practicalities—finding food, avoiding dogs, staying alive. My worries are vapid in comparison, decidedly human.
I have to believe that both the grey heron and I will comfortably resettle. That unfamiliarity and foreign languages do not create an insurmountable barrier. Both this ubiquitous feathered creature and I will find stillness and contentment—and a landing place near to the water.
An original story by Laura Matheson © 2019