Where’s Your Story Going?

As I’ve written before in this blog, a pair of magnificent ospreys took up an unlikely residence on the power pole at a key intersection in my town, built a huge stick nest, and then another when the power people took the first one down.

The ospreys set up housekeeping, one bird keeping a vigil over the nest while the other foraged for food.

Something smoldered atop the pole and when the firemen came to remove the nest, they saw eggs, so they insulated the wires instead, and left the birds in peace.

Motorists began stopping, taking pictures. The local newswoman was there with a big, fat camera lens, pursuing the rumor that the babies were flying. But it wasn’t true.

Day after day, those of us who passed through this area took pleasure in their progress. Look, one is flying. Look, a bit of grass in its mouth. Look, the osprey is fishing in the cove nearby.

There was something cheerful about the birds, something encouraging and affirming. If the ospreys can build in this awkward location, raise a family, and perform all the duties of living, strong wings spread in flight, tufted little head lifted to greet the world—so, too, possibly, could any of us.

And then one day, a breaker blew and a serious fire broke out. The baby, just one as it turned out, fluttered to the ground. The parents circled in frantic distress. Power trucks, fire trucks, and raptor rescue arrived within minutes. A fireman cradled the baby in his big, padded gloves. A new pole, a new home, was erected licketedy-split, no one calling the Dig Safe people and sure enough, they hit a line and took out phone service, but they got the job done. The baby was returned to the new nest with a supply of fish and the parents followed not long after.

And now?

The baby has not yet flown, still too young. The parents, one standing vigil, the other in search of sustenance, continue their routine.

Meanwhile, I came across some lore about these birds from Shakespeare’s time, the idea that the ospreys are such magnificent birds, the fish go belly up in surrender to them. It serves to underscore the point to this story: in the face of something magnificent, something worth preservation—the idea of freedom, let’s call it, the idea of flight, the idea of survival against the odds—everything and everyone must capitulate.

If I know that this is where I’m headed in telling this story, it will determine all that came before: what I choose to tell you and what I leave out.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credit: ospreys by Mr. T. in D.C., roap map by Pigsaw.

When You Get it Wrong

We all get it wrong once in a while. For a storyteller, this can present an opportunity.

1. What I thought:

I thought they were nighthawks. All week long, I saw them building a sizable stick nest (and I don’t mean twig) atop the power pole at the intersection of Ferry and Lake roads.  Though I was behind the wheel of a car, I was amazed to be so close to something this large, swooping, and determined. I searched my guidebooks. Surely, hawks of some kind?

And then, driving by one day, I saw an official standing on the road beside his corporate-looking truck pulled to the side. Must be the power company, I thought, which reflects the full extent of my knowledge about the wires overhead. He was looking up, frowning. The nest had gotten large and quite beautiful in a helter-skelter way. I sped home, worried for the birds.

2. The reality:

I called the game warden, who wondered if they were ospreys. Ospreys nest where they can see water, he said. Can they see the lake from atop the pole? Those wires could be anything, he continued, cable, phone, electric. He asked about the guy, the truck—what color, what lights, what equipment? Green, yellow, no ladders, no buckets. All birds of prey are protected, he said, and so he planned to take a ride out to have a look.

Hours later, he called. Ospreys, all right, young ones, which have chosen this unfortunate spot to nest. The man on the street was a biologist, a specialist sizing up the scene. He concluded that it was unsafe for the birds. If one of the sticks got wedged in just the wrong way in those wires, the birds could fry. The nest had to come down. The power company would erect a pole nearby with a platform to lure the birds to suitable housing.

And sure enough, the next time I drove by, the nest was gone.

3. The storyteller’s choices:

I was wrong about the type of bird, the man on the street, and his motives. The obvious value of being wrong is that I learned: about birds of prey, the habits of scientists, the purview of a game warden, the possibilities inherent in those overhead wires, the laws that cover the situation, and the real shocker, that the power company (albeit, somewhat self-serving) was an ally.

But the less obvious outcome to being wrong is that I might have stumbled upon a story here. If I were inclined to write this incident up, what could I make of the ospreys?

a.)   I could, of course, tell it straight, from start to finish, and while this might be fine for pure reportage, it wouldn’t have much drama. My passions were inflamed at the thought of birds in peril, but my so-called bad guy turned out to be a good guy, a biologist: end of tension.

b.)   I could fictionalize it.  I could bring other characters into the action, heighten tension, define an issue, and use the basics of the osprey incident to set the scene for this enhanced tale. I could even change the bird, make it a rare eagle nesting in the penthouse balcony of a Central Park address, for example, and bring in a wealthy, quirky condo board if it suited me, a bunch of lawyers, and a bird whisperer, as well.

c.)   Or, I could look at the facts as they emerged and ask the hard question: the why question. Why the error to begin with? Why would I assume as a first proposition that the birds were in peril? Answer the why question, and what a writer finds might just eclipse everything else.

So, which option should I choose? If I were writing it up for the local news, version A. If I wanted to try my hand at satire, version B. And if I felt like working that hard, the price we pay to dig deeply into something important, I’d write version C, no question.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: Osprey nest – Frank Itlab.us; Osprey in flight – Allan Baxter