We had experienced many new concepts since leaving city life behind and moving out west. Conversations now focused on matters that I never thought would cross my lips—horses, cows, horseshoes, supplements, small farm animals, and wild animals. Weather also was a big topic, as well as how to protect yourself and your homestead from it. We learned about growing fruits and vegetables and, of course, we experimented with various means of dealing with the dreaded varmints, especially the chipmunks and squirrels who regularly threatened them.
The wildlife that lived on my place loved me. Each time they saw a new plant in the yard or in a pot, they assumed the buffet line was open. Deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits relished every flower I set out. It was so frustrating. They should have been satisfied with the bird seed they raided out of the feeder every day, but no, they were glutinous to a fault.
One particular chipmunk, a rather industrious fellow, climbed inside the long plastic tube of the bird feeder, and ate so much seed, he became too fat to climb out again. I discovered his plight when I went to refill the feeder and saw one eye smashed against the plastic cylinder, blinking at me. I was so startled I nearly dropped the feeder on the ground. I shook it vigorously upside down, trying to get him out, but he barely budged. Kobi, our dog, stood by, anxiously licking his chops in anticipation. I removed the top from the feeder and gave it one last huge fling. A furry torpedo flew past the dog and plopped to the ground, rolling. As soon as he stopped rolling, he righted himself and scurried to the shelter of a nearby tree. He was too fat to run very fast, and though Kobi pursued him, he managed to dodge safely about and made good his escape. I thought that was the end of it until a few days later I found him again stuck in the feeder. Apparently, he had to lose some weight before he was thin enough to climb back into the tube. Some chipmunks never learn.
I just had to take a few minutes and draw this little fellow!
Enjoy more stories like this in my book, Go West, Young Woman!
This Interview appeared in the Mind, Pen and Spirit. www.kareningalls.blogspot.com May/2017 Nancy Quinn is my guest author this week who has an eclectic and interesting background. She is not only an author, but also an internationally known wildlife artist. She has always had a love of animals and nature and has worked as a conservation law enforcement officer and volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation center where she brings birds and reptiles into schools to educate children of all ages.
What inspired you to write your first book? I found the support and interest of people who wanted to hear about our rather atypical life, inspiring.Friends and family seemed to enjoy my perspective on our unusual adventures and often suggested I write a book. I didn’t think I could write; I already had a career as a wildlife artist, but the idea of becoming an author appealed to me.Since all of my dreams and goals have been well out of my comfort zone, the more I thought about it, the more willing I was to step out of it again and give it my best effort.
What books have most influenced your life? I think most every book I have ever read has influenced me on some level, either positively or negatively.My love of reading and my favorite authors did inspire me to want to someday be included among them. I adore the James Herriot series and Nancy Drew mysteries, which I still read with my daughters.Being from a law enforcement and investigation background, I enjoy solving a good mystery, and am always on the lookout for a new one.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? My editor will tell you it is the mechanics of punctuation! I tend to focus on the clarity and structure of my ideas when I am writing.Being and artist, I want to paint a picture with words, so I am intent on creating a visual image in my initial drafts.After I have finished making what I have seen in my mind flow onto the keyboard, I have to go back and edit the words and punctuation very carefully.Otherwise, the reader may become lost trying to follow my train of thought.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? I still like to sit in my favorite chair by the window and use a spiral notebook to make an outline and hand written notes to refer to when writing my manuscripts.I know it isn’t as efficient as using the computer, but since I sit in front of a monitor all day, I look forward to any chance to gather my thoughts and write with a gel pen while gazing upon the mountain peaks from my picture window.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book? I would have to say the amount of time it takes for the book to reach production.Once the book is written, it requires months to properly edit and reedit it, and to find photos or art to compliment the manuscript.Then one must choose a cover design, look at formatting and presentation, and a host of other decisions that are needed before it goes to print and is available on the book store shelves.And then, there is marketing…
What do you think makes a good story? It requires a subject that has general appeal, good continuity, and engaging details that bring the reader along and make them feel part of the experience in the story.I believe these qualities apply to both fiction and non-fiction as well.
Where do you get your ideas for your books? My ideas come from our true life experiences, so I sift through our life and decide which ones would most entertain and inspire readers.
What book are you introducing to us today? Go West, Young Woman! is the true story of the first five years of my family’s modern day pioneer adventure. Honestly, have you ever found a cougar on your swing set or a moose in your driveway? We were a military family.When my husband retired, we left Washington, D.C., to live what we thought would be a “calmer” existence in rural Montana.We were surprised at just how unprepared we were for the challenges ahead, both comical and adventurous. The humor of our early encounters with cattle and local customs only masked more ominous confrontations we would share with predators and the natural elements. I like to think we discovered the true meaning of the “code of the West,” a concept we believe has not entirely vanished from the American way of life.I am currently writing the sequel, which will cover approximately the next five years of our story.
How did you come up with the title?It’s the title of the first chapter in the book and encompasses the whole premise of the story.My publisher, Hellgate Press, suggested we use it as the title of the book.I thought it was a great idea because it invokes a feeling of adventure, hope, and a new start in life. Along with occasional humor, these are the themes in every vignette in the book, which is how I composed it – as a series of often connected short stories tied together chronologically to maintain continuity. This is my nod to the influences of James Herriot and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
What is the main thing you hope readers remember from reading your book? I hope they remember it was fun and uplifting; that my book is about hope and perseverance, with the idea that living a personal dream is achievable, whatever it may be.
"It looks like a modern-day covered wagon,” I quipped as I examined the heavy blue tarp that covered the back of our new pickup truck, a gunmetal grey Ford F250. Underneath, were stacked my husband’s tools, along with other basic necessities we would need for our new life in Montana. They filled the eight-foot bed, and overflowed into the U-Haul trailer his mother had managed to secure for us. It was the last one available in the tri-state area, and thanks to her dogged efforts, we acquired it, instead of one of the thousands of graduating seniors who were disgorging this same week from nearby Florida State University.
As we hurried about, checking the lashings one last time before we departed, I scanned the scene. It was a bright and beautiful spring day, and the sun glinting off of the metal body contrasted sharply with the shimmering tarp. Colorful as it was, I tried to imagine it was not unlike the prairie schooners of the pioneer stories I loved reading in my childhood. The idea that I too was moving west was like a dream finally come true. But it had started as a nightmare... My thanks to Ms. Quinn for sharing about herself as an author and her journey in publishing her first book. Please leave a comment or ask a question. I know she would love to hear from you.
These are insightful questions, and offer a look into my personal history and how my experiences shaped me as an author and an artist.
1.Your journey has taken you from Michigan through Florida and Washington
D.C, all the way to Montana. What are your defining memories of each of these
2.I was born in Michigan, so it will always hold my earliest childhood
memories. Since my father, the noted artist Boyd A Zimmer, died there
when I was 6, it is the most defining memory of my life and it shaped my
future. One of my strongest memories was shortly before his death, when
he carried me out of our house one night after it had caught fire from a
lighting strike during a violent storm. Some of my happier memories from
the Great Lakes State include sitting in a Sanders Ice Cream Shop enjoying a
hot fudge sundae, and spending summers in Traverse City where I played at the
lake and picked cherries from the local orchards. A favourite memory is
playing board games with my maternal grandmother, “Gram”. Regrettably, a
couple of years after my father’s death, my mother remarried, and we moved to
Florida. It would be many years before I was able to reconnect with my
family in Michigan. Living in Florida was much different from life in
Michigan. The intense cold of winter and the overcast days were replaced
by sunshine and very warm, humid weather. The extra time spent outdoors
provided me ample opportunities to pursue activities that engaged my love of
both wildlife and art. By age 19 I was working in conservation law
enforcement as a Duty Officer covering a third of the state, where I monitored
and controlled the movements and communications of state wildlife officers
responding to both routine calls and emergencies. In my spare time l
handled all kinds of birds and mammals as a volunteer for the Audubon Society.
This included taking many different species of birds into the schools and
teaching the children about them. Seeing their faces light up is a memory
I hold dear. Eventually, I gave up the security of my law enforcement
post to pursue my passion for art. Perhaps it was my bond with my late
father, but I always felt that my true calling was drawing, painting, and
sculpting wildlife. It was a struggle at first, but eventually I
established a reputation for myself and was managing fairly well. A few
years later, after I had married and started a family, another pivotal moment
occurred in my life. My husband had been recalled to active duty as a
United States Air Force Officer, and was stationed at the Pentagon when the
terrorist attack took place. My husband, fortunately, survived, but the
next six years dramatically changed our daily lives. The demands of a
military at war meant precious little quality time spent together, so I put my
art on hold and focused on raising our two daughters. When he retired in
2007, we moved as far away from Washington, D.C., as we thought practical, preferring
rural Montana and an opportunity to begin a new kind of life. We eagerly
embraced the wide open spaces and breath-taking scenery. Designing and
building our western home was our first big challenge and the beginning of our
new adventure, and that’s really where this story starts.
3.As a mother, what is your view of the world that your girls have grown
up in, especially when compared to your own childhood and adolescence? Without going into upsetting details, I
will admit my experiences growing up were unpleasant. Therefore, my first
priority has been to give my children a happy and safe family life, filled with
fun and loving memories. Country life has advantages that I wanted them
to experience, and regardless of where we lived, I wanted to raise them with a
sense of hope. Stepping into the outside world will have its
difficulties, so my goal for my daughters is to have them prepared to face
life’s realities while still achieving their dreams.
4.You successfully made the leap from law enforcement to art: a massive
change in career path. Was it daunting to take that decision, and if so, what
gave you the courage to try? The most daunting aspect was giving up a regular pay check! The
transition itself was rather smooth. I had been supplementing my income from my
animal and nature drawings. Officers or biologists often asked me for wildlife
illustrations and I sold some commissioned artworks as well. When I
started to feel the deleterious health effects of years of erratic hours and
midnight shifts, I decided to change my life and “retired” at age 23.
Most of the people I knew thought it was a huge mistake and I would pay for my
error in judgement. But those who knew me well were encouraging. In
the end I decided I had developed a well-planned and calculated risk which was
worth investing in, and so the next chapter in my life began.
debut book Go West, Young Woman! marks the start of another chapter in
your creative life. How would you describe your writing process? I am fortunate that I can write from my
own recollections and perceptions of our family experiences. Sometimes I
struggle to find the best way to present a story, but usually it flows from my
mind to my keyboard. Whenever possible, I look for the humor in most
experiences, and list a few notes in an outline, which makes my writing style
very fluid. I prefer to write when it is quiet, but I often find myself
challenged to block out the fray around me. Having a cup of tea nearby
6.Which species is your absolute favourite subject from an artistic point
of view amongst the various creatures that you have encountered? I find that a very difficult question to
answer. I love the birds of prey, with their single-mindedness and focus
on the hunt. The colorations in their feathers have always fascinated me
and challenged my ability to capture them realistically in my work. I have
also spent countless hours with some of the larger cats – Bengal Tigers,
Florida Panthers, Western Cougars, and Clouded Leopards. They have so many
dimensions to their personalities, but since I now see cougars here in my own
backyard, I have grown to appreciate them even more. As an artist, I love
to capture that certain look in their eye that portrays their individual
7.What would be your advice to aspiring conservationists? I would suggest that aspiring
conservationists find the area they are most interested in and explore the
possibilities. There are many opportunities in the career field:
education, law enforcement, biology, marine studies, wildlife rehabilitation,
forestry, and of course, art. As an example of the last option, the
proceeds from one of my limited edition art prints was used to provide college
tuition grants for students in New Jersey who studied conservation.
Having a love and respect for nature and wildlife can be a part of your life,
but doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make it a career. I recommend
they explore groups and clubs that focus on conservation and find one that
appeals to their ideals. Volunteer opportunities abound for all ages, but
finding that spark of interest and dedication that reaches you somewhere inside
is the beginning of a true conservationist.
I am a guest on a wonderful blog by Sojourner McConnell. She offers a Friday's Fun and Family-Friendly Guest Post. I wrote a little story about our cougar who is becoming a regular visitor at our homestead. Come west with me!
When we left the urban lifestyle of Washington, D.C., for a more tranquil existence in the rural mountains of Montana, one of our adjustments was learning to live with the new neighbors. Our home was in a different kind of neighborhood. Instead of being surrounded by men, women, and children, we had cougars, wolves, and bears. These predators rarely comprehend the idea of boundaries, or the notion that good fences make good neighbors, so we find them roaming about our property, often very close to the house.
Our most frequent nocturnal visitors are cougars that seem particular interested in our daughters playhouse swing set. Perhaps it is just the curiosity of all felines, but I often wonder what they would do if I left out a ball of string. It’s doubtful they would play with it because it isn’t food. As stunningly gorgeous as they are, we don’t want to encourage their visits. For the safety of my family, dogs, and horses, our goal has always been to discourage predators. As an example, one particular night stands out in my memory.
On the second floor of our home we have a large bedroom window that provides a grand view of the back of our property. While admiring the stars one dark evening the motion detectors suddenly activated the perimeter lights, nearly blinding us. Once our eyes adjusted, we saw standing in the middle of the yard a very large cougar. He paused only long enough to realize the brightness was nothing to fear before walking over to the swing set. This had me wondering how many times he had visited us before, unnoticed. He sat regally in the play area, surveying all about him, like a king overlooking his kingdom. Being a wildlife artist, I was enamored with his beauty and grace, temporarily forgetting what a potential threat he was to our family. It would be dangerous to allow him to believe this was part of his territory.
I was about to comment on this fact to my husband, but when I turned to speak, he was not there, having immediately retreated to the closet. He ransacked it, searching for his rifle and ammunition. As he fumbled to load it, I continued to admire the feline in his pose. My husband opened the window, but was blocked by the mesh screen. As he tugged fruitlessly to remove it, the cat rose from his perch and began to walk toward the woods. On my last look at him, the cougar, who seemed completely unaware of the flurry he had created only a short distance above, slowly and confidently sauntered into the tree line, still secure in the knowledge that this world was his.
We tried to follow his movements through the darkness with a flashlight, but the battery soon died. My increasingly frustrated husband, incensed by the attitude of the beast, rushed downstairs and out onto the patio where he fired a single shot into the air, then shouted, “And stay out!” as a warning for the puma not to return.
I have no wish to harm this mountain lion or capture him, except in spirit on canvas and paper. I have handled many cougars in captivity, but seeing them in the wild is a thrill I will never tire of.