Monday, 2 January 2023

BEGINNINGS

Before becoming a weekly garden columnist in 2001, I had written and published two books of humourous garden stories. However, I began writing long before that. At the age of fourteen, I was given a writing opportunity as the official Press Secretary of my local cycling club (no one else wanted it). It was my job to write a short account of the weekly club run and submit it to the local paper, the Holmfirth Express. The only instruction I received was that it should be written in the third person – ugh. I never in any way or at any time looked on this as me being a writer. It felt more like a chore, scribbling down the account every Sunday evening. I feel sorry for the editor at the time as I’ve no idea how he managed to interpret my pigeon scratches. Nevertheless, he made something presentable out of it.

It wasn’t until around 1993 that I took up writing again when I was required to write and present speeches. It soon became clear that all the speeches I wrote, delivered without notes, turned into stories. I went on to tell these stories for a few years at Mary Eileen Mclear’s storytelling barn in Baden, Ontario. Besides weekly columns, over 1150, I also wrote about plants and gardens for magazines such as Canadian Gardening, Grand Magazine, Garden Making, and in the US, Farmers Almanac. Many of these can be seen on the sidebar under Garden Stories and Green Trips.

The stories I've compiled do not feature plants at all, and they've suffered little from editing. They reflect what I was thinking, reading, experiencing, or reminiscing on at the time. Many were meant to be for telling, rather than reading. Not in any chronological order, some are serious, some not, and some are silly.

Scroll down or see the full list in the sidebar to the right >>>>>>

David M. Hobson


FAERIES IN THE WOODS

This story was written at a cottage in the Caledon hills, Ontario in August 2003. With a small group of writerly friends, we'd been invited by the host to each write a fairy story featuring her grandaughter, Merrily-Sue, and the woods on the property. This was my contribution.

“I’ve seen them! I’m sure I’ve seen them, down in the magic wood beyond the pond, in the ballroom.”

“The ballroom? In the magic wood?” smiled Granny Sue. “What ballroom?”

“You know, the place where all the trees dance, where they all twist and twirl, then flop down exhausted. At least they look as though they’ve been dancing.”

“Oh yes, said Granny Sue. I know where you mean. I know exactly where you mean, and I know exactly what you mean. I’ve just never thought about it that way, but you are right. It is a ballroom. And you say you saw faeries there?”

“I did, I know I did, at least I think I did.”

“You know, Merrily-Sue, I once had a cousin who always claimed he’d seen red and yellow striped rabbits,” smiled her Granny. “No one else ever saw red and yellow striped rabbits, and no one believed him. He went on and on about them, too, even convincing some of the little ones that there really was such a thing until the whole family began ignoring him. They didn’t listen to him at all. No one did. Whenever he mentioned the subject, he was told to go watch TV. Finally, he stopped talking about them, even admitting, eventually, that he may have been mistaken. It was probably a trick of the light, he’d say.”

“You mean there aren’t fairies.” said the little girl, disappointed.

“Ah,” said Granny Sue, “I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that at all. There may even be red and yellow striped rabbits. I’ve just never seen one, but that doesn’t mean a thing, not a thing. You see, adults can’t see the things that children see, and they can’t hear the things that children hear. Most of us have all five senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, except I do believe that when we are born, we have extra ones, but as we grow up, most of us lose them by the time we’ve become adults.”

“Do I have extra ones?” asked Merrily-Sue.

“Of course, you do, darling.”

“What are my extra senses?”

“Well, you have a sense of joy. All children have a sense of joy. That’s what makes them smile and laugh so much. Children see joy in everything, but no sooner do they begin to giggle, along comes an adult who says, stop that, be quiet, you’re making too much noise. Before long, the children laugh a lot less. As they grow up, they laugh less and less until eventually, some never laugh at all.”

That’s true, thought Merrily-Sue. All her friends laughed, but so few of the adults did. “But you laugh, Granny. You laugh all the time. Why didn’t you lose your sense of joy?”

“It’s a secret, but one day you’ll understand.”

“What are my other extra senses?”

“Perhaps the most important sense,”

“Tell me, tell me,” begged Merrily-Sue. “What’s my other sense.”

“Why, it’s your sense of wonder, and I hope you never lose it. You know when you’re out playing in the woods or by the lake. You see a flower, and you stop and you stare. I’ve seen you do it. You see the colour and you say to yourself, wow, that’s the bluest blue I’ve ever seen. Then a butterfly lands on it and you do a double wow! I’ve watched you by the pond when you go frog spotting. One will suddenly leap in the air, skip across a lily pad and dive into the water as though he was a circus act. You giggle and again, something inside says WOW! That’s your sense of wonder. You have the biggest and widest sense of wonder of anyone I know.”

“But what sense do I need to see faeries, Granny Sue. Do I have a faerie sense?”

“You certainly do, Merrily-Sue. Some people call it a sixth sense, which is an extremely useful sense. I think it’s a combination of all your senses. To see faeries, you need to roll all your senses all into one.”

“Can we go see the faeries together, granny, please? said Merrily-Sue, who was just a little nervous about going into the woods alone, and was still not completely sure that she had seen the little people.”

“Of course we can, dear. We’ll go down to the — what did you call it? — the ballroom, this very afternoon.”

That afternoon, after Merrily-Sue had had her nap, she and granny walked down the hill, past the pond, along the trail and into the ballroom.

“Where are the faeries, granny?”

“First, we must be very, very quiet. Like all the other creatures in the wood, faeries are shy and won’t show themselves at all if they know someone is watching. Let’s sit here on this fallen log and wait.”

Merrily-Sue was perfectly silent as she sat beside her granny.

“Now.” said granny Sue, let’s test all our senses. Listen really hard and see what you can hear.”

“That’s funny, said Merrily-Sue, “When I listen really hard, there’s lots of different noises. I can hear little insects buzzing, of course, and I can hear leaves rustling, and all kinds of quiet sounds. I wonder which one is made by the faeries?”

“What about your touching sense,” said granny.

“You mean when I stroke something soft.”

“Yes, that too, but also when something touches you, something even softer, like the air on your cheek.”

Granny Sue took a large leaf and used it like a fan. “Feel that, Merrily-Sue?”

“Ooh! That is soft.”

“Now, what do you smell, Merrily-Sue?” whispered her granny.

Merrily-Sue sniffed. “I can smell flowers — those yellow ones over there on the other side of the creek. What about my tasting sense, granny? Should I taste one of those berries?”

“No, dear. It’s not wise to eat berries in the woods unless you know what berries they are. Taste this,” said granny, taking a chocolate bar from her pocket, she broke off a piece and popped it into Merrily-Sue’s mouth.

Together, Merrily-Sue and her granny sat quietly, sucking on the chocolate as they listened to the silence.

“Where are the fairies, granny? Will we see them soon? Merrily-Sue was tired from the walk and crawled onto granny’s lap.

“Watch, watch and use your sense of wonder. See the sunbeam shining down through the trees. Watch closely. If you see it flicker and change colour, that will be a faery gliding through it.

The trees formed a canopy that only let a few shafts of sunlight through. Merrily-Sue lay back in her granny’s arms and watched the sunbeams. “I can see them, granny, I really can. I’m sure I can see the fairies.

As she said this, Merrily-Sue’s eyes began to close and within moments she’d fallen asleep.

“Oh dear,” said Granny Sue, to herself, “looks like Merrily-Sue didn’t have a long enough nap this afternoon.” She carefully gathered the child in her arms and began to walk back up the hill to the house.

“Have they gone?” came a whisper from the clearing.

“Yes, they’ve gone.”

“Thank goodness,” said the first. “I could feel that the little girl was about to make me visible, she was trying so hard. If she hadn’t fallen asleep, she would have seen us for sure.”

“Is that so wrong?” said the second voice.”

“No, not really, but adult faeries always tell us little ones that there are no humans, that they’re just our imagination, but it’s not true. I practised and practised until I was able to see them. Next time the little girl comes down into the dancing forest, I’m going to help her see me, just a little. She looks so happy and kind, and I bet she can keep a secret, just like her granny. In the meantime, let’s wake up those tired old trees and start them dancing.”

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PICTURE THIS

As he began to speak the room was hushed. Silence lay like layers of dust on a long-forgotten tomb — pretty quiet, huh! Those words are from a novel by writer, Auberon Waugh. When I first read that line I stopped, went back, and read it again. It was the most exquisitely descriptive image of silence I had ever read. An honour I had previously reserved for Gordon Lightfoot’s forests too silent to be real. Both writers could have said, it was silent as a grave, so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, or quiet as a mouse. None of which would have made a best-selling novel or popular song.

Those expressions are cliches, trite, overused, everyday expressions. There is a problem with using cliches in a speech. As I'm sure you've aware, only 7% of a speech's impact reaches the audience through language. This is partly because many words are repetitious, and since we speed listen, we don't register the ones we have heard before. We block them out. If there are too many cliches, then a whole sentence may be ignored. This leaves gaps where the audience may stop listening, it gives them the opportunity to tune out. Don't let them! Words should flow like sun warmed honey. Cliches interrupt that flow. It then takes something special to bring them back.

 How do you do that? By making your words more descriptive, painting pictures the audience can climb into. These pictures should be vivid but simple; remember, the spoken word, unlike the written, cannot be reread. Your listener should be able to see, hear, taste, smell, and even feel the images that you portray.

 The way to do this is using descriptive language, to make use of simile or metaphor. These structures are all linked. The example I used at the beginning of this presentation — silence lay like layers of dust on a long-forgotten tomb is a simile, it uses imagery which intensely describes silence by saying it is like something else, a direct comparison. Silence lay like layers of dust; this picture is then compounded by describing the layers of dust — on a long-forgotten tomb. How much more silent can you get than that? Can't you just visualize it.

Imagine you've entered a mausoleum, it's cold and dank, the door slams shut behind you with an aggressive thud. There's just one beam of light, it pierces the room like a shard of glass. Focusing on the tomb like an expectant spotlight waiting for the star of the show. The silence whispers your name, then, the lid on the tomb raises slowly, a stench corrupts the air of the crypt. The air around you rushes by, pulling you, forcing you forward to the open casket. Words drowning in viscous gurgling nightmares that manage to escape and reach your ears. Sorry I got a little carried away. That was a little exaggerated, but you get the idea. It's amazing what you can do with a simple thesaurus.

 Here's another simile describing how angry someone is — he was like a pit-bull with a migraine. How much angrier can a person get? Of course, the trick is they’re ones that work, for example — he was like a dog with a headache??? Doesn't quite make it, neither does bear with a sore head. That one is worn out.

Metaphor is like a simile but omits the words "like", or "as" for example: after a snowfall, silence lies on roof and road. Silence is a metaphor for snow. Like similes, metaphors link things which are dissimilar. Life again climbs above the horizon. Life being a metaphor for the sun. Beware too of mixing metaphors... They took the wind out of his sails, and he ended up with egg on his face. You see, good similes and metaphors don't come easily, it's like pulling teeth! Oh no! cliche alert! What can we use to describe something that is difficult, something fresh. Any suggestions? How about It's like getting a kitten off a blanket; or It's like getting a three-year-old into a snow suit. Anything but a cliche!

By using similes, and metaphor you can make your speeches much more vivid, more picturesque, and more interesting. You can make your words breathe life into a speech you may otherwise have died with.

 I'm going to end with a few more examples of imagery. For instance, life for many is just a cruise down the highway, (metaphor) but lately I feel as though I'm on a dirt road driving a beat up old Volkswagen and It's beginning to rain, and the windshield wipers don't work, and I really should have put some more air in that front tire, and what’s that funny noise from the engine, and oh no! Are those flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror?  We stop, he gets out and walks towards me. He's built like a Klingon with an attitude to match. (simile) His icy stare freezes me in my seat. (metaphor) He says, "Where's the fire buddy" (Cliche!). Goodbye Have a nice day!!! (Whoops)

 As he leaves the lectern, the applause begins with a few tentative motions, then erupts into a beastlike roar of assertion, before subsiding into the silence that had greeted him. The silence of one hand clapping. It was so silent you could hear a dream breaking. It was so silent you could hear Casper's heartbeat. It was so silent You could . . .

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