My Vocabulary Can Never Express my Relationship with Nature - by Pamela Beason
I and my partners in crime (writing) here at Free RangeWriters, Gregory Zeigler and Dave Butler, were recently honored to have all three of our essays appear in the latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal. The issue focused on environmental mysteries, and essays from many of our other colleagues were featured in that issue as well. The editors spelled my last name wrong--it's Beason, not Beeson, but they got my author website URL correct--https://PamelaBeason.com--so I forgive them. In case you didn't get that issue, here's what I wrote, all about my relationship as a writer with wild places and animals.
Toss in a Bear or a Snake
Like most writers, I spend a lot of time in my imagination. I might be fretting about a dispute between my characters, or trying to invent a plausible red herring to divert attention from the real culprit. When I’m sitting in my office, my fictional worlds often seem as real as my tangible one, which is complicated enough. My thoughts are often in the past, the future, in a different season or location, or even on a different planet. I can be a like a greedy baboon rampaging through a cornfield, grabbing onto a new idea before I’ve dealt with all of the issues I’ve already collected.
This mental meandering never happens when I’m exploring in the wild. Then, I am firmly in the present. If I didn’t stay there, I might fall into a ravine or end up sliding over a waterfall. I feel the breeze on my face, I hear the raven calling from a tree, I notice how rock layers were warped by tectonic activity, how lupines smell like grape juice under the summer sun.
I’m a scuba diver as well as an avid hiker, snowshoer, and kayaker. Nature is a huge part of my life, so it infiltrates all my books, too. Where another writer might insert a car chase or a shootout to add suspense, I’m likely to toss in a bear or a snake.
I’m often frustrated by how my vocabulary simply cannot convey the magical qualities of many wild animals. The word “astounding” cannot express the amazement I feel when peering through a transparent jellyfish or watching an octopus change its skin pattern as it oozes through tiny tunnels in a coral reef. “Astonishing” is too feeble a term to describe the way bats echolocate, or the way conchs and nautiluses manufacture their shells. How could “resilient” ever adequately define the rufous hummingbirds that visit my feeder during a blizzard? Can I ever explain what it’s like to watch giraffes battle for supremacy or hear a leopard’s hoarse call in the dark? The challenge of writing about wildlife can be exasperating.
Of course, wildlife has not always been friendly and pleasant to me. That’s the nature of Nature. An unseen rattlesnake sounded its warning by my ankle as I walked through a Kansas field in the dark. In Glacier National Park, a grizzly abruptly appeared, ambling toward me on the same trail I was hiking. An unfamiliar insect stung my cheek on a hike in Hawaii, and half my face swelled up so badly I wondered if I’d stay conscious until I reached my car. Ack, ack, and ack! But somehow, even these unpleasant encounters make me feel more alive than I ever do while walking down a city street. And among my circle of friends, these natural “disasters” make more interesting stories, too. On my first cross-country ski outing I fell into a tree well and questioned how I’d ever get out, with one ski buried and the other still attached to my foot by my ear. I had no idea I could do the splits like that.
Even without animals, natural sights and experiences can leave me wordless, too. I have been blessed to stand on a summit and view wave after wave of blue-tinged mountains extending to the horizon; to admire the dazzling brilliance of sunsets, rainbows, wildflowers, and autumn leaves; to witness breathtaking showers of meteors and dances of northern lights in the winter sky.
I know that as I age, I will no longer be able to hike and snowshoe and kayak for miles, and even if I can still jump off a boat in my scuba gear, eventually I might not be able to climb up the ladder at the end of a dive. It hurts my heart to think that someday I won’t be able to see the miracles of wild areas up close.
But it hurts my heart even more to think that some people don’t care if they ever experience any of this. They have no idea what they’re missing.
So, before the decades catch up with me, I plan to have as many outdoor adventures as possible and write them into my books, trying my best with my inadequate vocabulary to portray the awe-inspiring world of nature and animals.
I write multiple series. Each has a slightly different focus, but they all include animals and nature. My Sam Westin mysteries (Endangered, Bear Bait, Undercurrents, Backcountry, Borderland) are my “adventures in the wild” series, and as many readers have guessed, Sam is pretty much a younger, gutsier version of Pam.
I’ve worked as a private investigator and I’ve always been fascinated by animal intelligence. In my Neema mysteries (The Only Witness, The Only Clue, The Only One Left), I brought these two aspects of my history together when I created Neema, a signing gorilla who is the only witness to a major crime.
In my Run for Your Life trilogy (Race with Danger, Race to Truth, Race for Justice), my protagonist, champion teenage runner Tanzania Grey, competes in extreme endurance races around the world, where she naturally encounters all sorts of wild animals. She also has a most unusual pet at home.
Even my two romantic suspense books, Shaken and Again, have cats and raccoons and opossums and sea life. And earthquakes.
I can’t imagine my life without animals and nature. If you’re a mystery reader who feels the same way, check out my website at https://pamelabeason.com.