Selkies, Witches, and Dryads—oh, my! by Janine Donoho

Mountain lion in snow youngBefore this last thaw, a flash of tawny muscle caught my eye as a cougar stretched to full run and flowed down a ravine. This is why natural events and wild critters play such a central role in my stories. Life in these rural areas carries different risks than those experienced by urban dwellers. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARather than business schedules and public transportation timetables, organic and inorganic cycles govern. That flicker in my peripheral vision? Either a thing of beauty or a threat—or both.

My attention stays in the moment. Which means no walking while texting or talking on a Smartphone—and not because we have so little coverage in the outlands. Instead the focus settles upon spangled Fritillary butterflies, a colony of shaggy mane mushrooms, wild tiger lilies, a moose cow and calf. From there it’s not a Moose cow and calfgreat leap to slip into the ancestral viewpoint of those who created our rich mythologies, legends, and other origin stories. Our minds tend to build constructs in order to make sense of the greater world.

Since I don’t live as close to the edge as those ancestors, I dabble with the supernatural. That’s why my body of work grows to include selkies and sea life, coydogs and witches, at risk forests and dryads, cursed dragons and curio shops. And if there’s a basis of fact in those stories? Well, blame it an insatiable curiosity and my study of life.

Besides, nothing I create can possibly exceed the singular combinations found in nature.

How do your environs figure into your story? Or do they?

Baby coyote

When the Cougar Pounces by Janine M. Donoho

Tiny Predator

Tiny predator in the wild.

This isn’t about silly contemporary names attached to women of a certain age. And I suppose it isn’t actually about the wild cats known as mountain lions, panthers, and pumas, even though a hunting cougar provides the inciting incident. No, this blog’s about resilience and how you respond to stress.

One recent evening, I was hiking the national forest near dusk—okay, too close to dusk—with my 13 pound predator, otherwise known as Nina Sophia, Italian Greyhound extraordinaire. After staring intently into a thicket which she was focused on, I continued up the trail. Four strides later, she yelped.

I pivoted. There she was—facing off with a cougar.

He was ticked off, tail twitching, and considering his next move. Thus far, Nina, who unlike me can go from 0 to 25 mph almost instantly, was unscathed. I pulled not my gun, but the bear spray and started toward the mountain lion, about 90 pounds of volatile wildcat.

“Back off now!” I said. When I was half a VW length from him, he turned and disappeared into the forest.

“Come,” I told my little hound.

She aligned herself with me as I traded bear spray for pistol and headed up the trail. I howled, roared, and periodically spun around to catch any prowling cat midstride. That’s how the remaining ¾ mile to the truck passed. My sense of relief once Nina and I were safely inside the cab—well, it worked for me.

How I roll

Not pretty, but how I roll.

Oddly, I wasn’t shaken. Instead, I recognized my arrogance in taking this hike too late in the day, then analyzed my response to the threat. An over-reaction would have ended with a dead animal—too little a pushback with at least two dead animals. This outcome came from years living in the food chain while being both mentally and physically prepared for contingencies.

First I’m a conservation biologist—study of life, baby. Second, I had a plan. Third, I tend toward equal and opposite response. Thus we all lived to celebrate another day. My biggest regret? I failed to get a photo of the standoff between my tiny predator and the feral 90 pounder. Also in retrospect, I should have delivered a 1-2 second shot of bear spray to the cougar. He needed to learn there are consequences to bad behavior.

This entire suite of reactions equates with resilience, not a bad way to approach living in general and adversity in particular. Adapting well when faced with difficulty works. Even in something as ordinary to a writer as rejection. Never mind the occasional crazy maker.

Why I arm myself—yes, a fawn's ear in the cougar scat.

Why I arm myself—yes, a fawn’s ear in the cougar scat.

Resilience depends on behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be developed. We can all:

  • Make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
    In this case, I looked big, acted tough, carried bear spray and a 9 mm (last resort);
  • Keep things in perspective.
    The cougar appeared young and healthy, although inexperienced and there was no wind, thus the bear spray;
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself along with confidence in your strengths and abilities.
    Practice using your tools of choice e.g. bear spray and 9 mm;
  • Build skills in communication and problem solving.
    “Bad cougar, bad!” or equivalent;
  • Maintain a healthy and flexible body.
    Yes, step away from the Ben & Jerry’s and stay active;
  • Shore up the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.
    No animals were harmed in this episode—including yours truly.

With those skills, you can face down an editor who tells you you’re in the wrong business and who asks, “Whatever made you think you could write?”

Really, this happened to a well-published and renowned author and friend.

You can also apply this to team building. I have that option with BookTrope, my 21st century hybrid publisher. You recognize the potentially great book manager, editor, publicist, and cover artist, then aren’t shy about asking them to play with you.

So be prepared, do the work, and build resilience into your daily life. You never know when a mountain lion might pounce—but you’ll be ready.Mountain lion

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

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