Nature and Mystery
This snapshot (below) was taken on my way to a skate ski in Grand Teton National Park on a recent stunning April morning. After driving through an elk herd on the move, past several moose, a blue bird flitting from fence post to fence post and a pair of ravens soaring suggestively, it was what was absent that stuck me the most. Jets. Not a single sight or sound of jets. Let the earth breath.
Please enjoy my piece published in the spring edition of Mystery Readers Journal.
A Great Horned Owl, easily over two feet tall, appears and disappears from the limbs of a spruce tree right above our front steps. I’ve talked to Bird—our name for him—and have felt his riveting yellow eyes locked on mine, but I have never observed him flying or for that matter moving anything other than his swiveling head. Kind of spooky and magical.
Facebook is blowing up right now with posts from local folks who, while pumping gas at the Maverick, have been watching a cougar with a kill on the snow-covered butte above our town of Jackson.
Photo by Chuck Schneebeck
Moose and deer and occasionally elk walk right through our backyard—sometimes we can hear their antlers scraping the rear wall of our house as they seek the relatively snow-free path under our eves. Snow regularly reaches four feet deep in our yard.
Thousands of elk spend the winter on the 25,000 acre National Elk Refuge in the valley below our house. And where there are elk, there are wolves slipping from the sun into the shadows.
I haven’t even mentioned the surround-sound mountains.
And people ask me how I can stand to live in Jackson Hole in the winter.
I’m one lucky writer. The Yellowstone Ecosystem is my inspiration. My “backyard” is a mysterious and magical place and occasionally, as a result, unexpected things happen in my writing.
For example, my first novel, The Straw That Broke is about a battle (resulting in abduction and murder) between corrupt officials and radical environmentalists over the overtaxed water supply in the endangered Colorado River. Water.
My second in the series, Some Say Fire, is about arsonists setting forest fires as acts of terror and intentionally leaving bodies in each burn. Fire.
No surprise, although I did not set out to do so, several readers quipped that I had covered two of the four natural elements. Now, they proposed, I should write about earth and air.
Here’s the kicker, I started my third novel (available summer 2020) without a title but expecting my protagonists, Jake Goddard and Susan Brand to solve a mystery set against the background of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom in the Eastern United States.
But when you write about place, and the mysteries inherent to place, and you are fortunate enough to live in a spiritually powerful place, magical things happen.
You’ve heard of, and perhaps have experienced, characters determining their own fates in a narrative, but how about an entire novel doing so? I like to allow my stories to evolve organically, and in this case, what started out as a mystery about fracking in Pennsylvania, ended up as a mystery about the extractive industry in general, the reduction of national monuments in Utah, and climate change and the young warriors for the planet inspired by Greta Thunberg. Oh, and did I mention rare earth metals? My title, chosen late in the process, is Rare as Earth. Earth.
That leaves air. Guess there are going to be four novels in my trilogy. Might be best to call it a “thrillogy.”
I love mysteries, and I love nature, and I’ve found Mother Nature to be a gal who knows a thing or two about mystery. Toss in the usual suspects, and stir in a few of the seven deadly sins, and you’ve got the ingredients of a savory environmental potboiler.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go out and shovel my damn deck—again. Living in paradise can sometimes be hell.