The Common and Ordinary

Ordinary, everyday encounters are easy to dismiss. We take them for granted, or consider them too insignificant to matter.

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(European Starling Juvenile and Breeding Adult)

European Starlings are the peskiest of birds, noisy and gregarious. They’re also referred to as Common Starlings, Sturnus Vulgaris, and have been around for a very long time.

Wikipedia says,

“The common starling was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758 under its current binomial name. Sturnus and vulgaris are derived from the Latin for “starling” and “common” respectively. The Old English staer, later stare, and the Latin sturnus are both derived from an unknown Indo-European root dating back to the second millennium BC. “Starling” was first recorded in the 11th century, when it referred to the juvenile of the species, but by the 16th century it had already largely supplanted “stare” to refer to birds of all ages. The older name is referenced in William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Stare’s Nest by My Window”. The International Ornithological Congress’ preferred English vernacular name is common starling.”

We see them everywhere around the Lower Mainland — great flocks of them sometimes — but strangely, they rarely appear on our property. This morning, however, a half-dozen caught my attention as they swooped in and settled on the back lawn (probably looking for the Crane Fly larva which are munching down on the roots of algae-ridden grass in a couple areas).

I glanced at them, then away. It took a minute before I looked back with the realization that in nineteen years here, I’ve never noticed them before or taken a picture for my bird photo album.

That’s now remedied, but also has me thinking about what else I take for granted, especially when I’m writing.

My critique group members regularly remind me that I neglect to include the ordinary little details of a setting or of my characters and their activities. In my first drafts I habitually skip over what I already know about them, forgetting that readers aren’t privy to what’s left behind in my head!

The common, ordinary details are what enrich a story’s visibility in the reader’s mind. While description can be overdone, of course, a certain amount is essential. I think I need to learn the tipping point between purple prose and none!

How important is description to you in what you read…and in what you write?

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P.S. Have you ever seen a ‘Murmuration’ of starlings?
Check out this brief but fascinating video.

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Just another spring morning…

A bit of blue sky, a glimpse of sunshine…yesterday was the perfect day to paint or play, depending on your priorities. For my hubby, it was his morning to begin applying the white paint I had taken several weeks to choose. Our kitchen mini-reno is almost complete. With all the construction done, it’s now paint and fabric time.

He was carefully applying Benjamin Moore’s ‘Vanilla Milkshake’ to the breakfast nook wall when he discovered two adult bears on the lawn below the window. Both were black bears, Ursus americanus, although one was decidedly brown. (Black bears come in various shades of black, cinnamon, brown, even white. If you’re curious, there’s lots more info here.)

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For these guys, it was time to romp through the garden, tromping on shrubs, overturning that pink pot of sedum, and breaking a branch or two. Then they settled in to graze on grass, just as a different visiting bear had done exactly one year ago to the day. (I shared that morning in photos here.)

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We noted the yellow tag in the black bear’s ear, a sign that he had been relocated by conservation officers. It was likely this was the same bear who visited our back deck on a couple of earlier nighttime bird feeder raids. That one wore a yellow ear tag, too.

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On closer inspection of my photos, it looked like there were actually two tags, each with different numbers. Not a good sign for this bear, who apparently is establishing his reputation as a troublemaker.

DSC05032 - Version 2We’ve duly reported the encounter to the conservation office, but living rurally means we expect to see wildlife here occasionally. Last night it was coyotes, a pair behind the house yipping and howling in competition with the chorus of tree frogs.

I’ll take wildlife any day rather than the smog and congestion of city living. Over the four-or-so decades of my hubby’s studies and pastoral service, we’ve lived in both big and small centres — Vancouver (BC), Toronto (ON), Coleville (SK), Creston (BC), Calgary (AB), Port Alberni (BC), Langley (BC), and Maple Ridge (BC) — almost always having our homes on typical residential streets.

In retrospect, we wish we’d discovered country living a lot sooner. It isn’t a lifestyle that suits everyone but the peacefulness and treed setting is a blissful sanctuary for us.

I realize my love of a quiet rural setting has rubbed off on my fictional characters who are all situated somewhere other than in a major city. They all own dogs, too. I guess it’s true that we write a bit of ourselves into our stories, but why not? In our world-building, we’re in control of every aspect of our characters’ lives, so why wouldn’t we let them live or work in places reminiscent of our personal experiences and preference?

Would you label yourself a city-dweller or a country-lover at heart? Where do you situate your characters? (Tell me I’m not the only one who imposes my choices on them! Come to think of it, I’ve even had a character encounter a bear on his property.) 

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