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An Encounter (1 Viewer)

WildPolitics

Senior Member
I thought it was time I showed my colours and posted a short piece for people's comment and critique (I have made some minor amends since first posting). This is a small excerpt of a book I am writing about wildlife conservation work and connection to local communities:

An encounter
Margi Prideaux

Years ago I was in Thailand studying. I was a mature age student so I spent a great deal of time on my own exploring the country. Thailand is a culturally rich, dynamic and complex country, where the weight of heat and humidity hangs on your shoulders like a velvet shawl; the colors, textures and sounds of the country side; the weft and weave. I have always been drawn to the real in the world – wildlife that is wild and communities living as they have for eons. On this one occasion I was on a trek to visit a Karen-Thai hill tribe community in the Chiang Mai province.

Our small group had been dropped off beside a dense rain forest and had dissolved ourselves into the treescape as we began our march up and over a series of hills. The vegetation was thick and lush, with tree trunks surrounded by undergrowth and low hanging branches. Occasionally the density would evaporate and we would find ourselves in small clearings ringed by trees with bare trunks; the canopy above almost manicured. There was a path in and a path out. I was told these were made by the elephants busy at work in the surrounding area. At that time the teak harvest ban in Thailand was still young and illegal activity continued.

Our trek went on and many hours later we crested a long, meandering brilliant green valley. The density of trees gave way to a path bordered by rice and leaf crops and bamboo irrigation systems. The sun was shining and insects buzzed close by; a gentle hum tuned to the beauty of the day. In the distance were a collection of bamboo and rattan huts, with colourful fabrics billowing in the breeze.

I had started to lag behind the group, and so was alone on the path when I heard a gentle ‘swish’ and ‘pad’ approaching from behind me. I turned to face a magnificent giant. Her ears waved softly around her head, her eye creased in a gentle smile and her trunk swayed with the rhythm of her slow, long stride. She was beautiful. I knelt in the path and took a series of photographs that I hoped would capture her beauty, but knew would fall short of her presence. As I stood again I recognised that behind her head sat her mahout, gently patting her neck and whispering soothing sounds behind her ear. I moved off to the side of the path and as she approached her trunk yanked a clump of grass and flowers from near my feet. I was enveloped by the rich, deep smell of her skin and wet vegetation as she delicately placed her spoils in her mouth to chew. My heart slowed to the beat of her footsteps as I watched her ear and then body glide by, only stepping from my reverie in time to see the switch of her tail as she rounded a corner and moved back up the hill.

I stood still for a long moment, absorbing the brief but powerful encounter, only breaking my thoughts when the voice of our guide called my name. I put the lens cap back on my camera, drew in a breath at the wonder of the world, and took off at a trot to catch up to the group and the adventures of meeting the Karen people up ahead.
 
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LeeC

WF Veterans
Nice extract that flows well.

The only slip that caught my attention was, "insects buzzed close by; a gently hum tuned to" where maybe you meant to use "gentle" instead of "gently."

I can picture your setting, having spent some time in Indochina, but maybe pulling the unfamiliar reader's mind's eye into the setting better would capture more attention. Like you did so with the elephant.

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

The only other thing that caught my attention, is that you're with a group yet say, "the voice of my guide called." While correct, "our guide" would have been better phrasing to me. A minute picky point, but something that caught my attention.

I don't know about you, but I've found it difficult to transition from scientific and technical writing to immersive writing.

I hope this helps in some small way, and I'm looking forward to seeing more :)
SaveSave
 
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PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
Margi, you painted the picture so well, I was right there with you. A thoroughly enjoyable read!

The couple of stumbles for me were:

As I stood again I recognised that behind her head sat her mahout, gently patting her neck and whispering soothing sounds behind her ears. I moved off to the side of the path and as she approached her truck yanked a clump of grass and flowers from near my feat. I was enveloped by the rich, deep smell of her skin and wet vegetation as she placed her spoils in her mouth to chew.

I was unsure if: as she approached her truck or trunk

But then in the first para you use

The vegetation was thick and lush, with tree trucks surrounded by undergrowth and low hanging branches.

I checked on the web and there are indeed 'tree trucks' so now I am unsure.
 

WildPolitics

Senior Member

I don't know about you, but I've found it difficult to transition from scientific and technical writing to immersive writing.

I have as well Lee C. It took me a while to get used to it. My background was international law, so was accustomed to precise and accurate, but colorless phrases. Now I am loving the immersion and resent when I have to revert to the other form (to pay the bills!). Although, I still struggle to describe what I actually write. The closest I have come as been creative nonfiction. What term to you use?
 

LeeC

WF Veterans
Yes, I see what you're writing as creative/narrative nonfiction. I thought you did quite well with the elephant, engaging and prodding the reader's mind's eye. Something I didn't see in the setting — "dense forrest," shame on you :) Wasn't it Mark Twain that said something about good writing being as much what's not said as is said.

Parts of Donna Mulvenna's Wild Roots: Coming Alive in the French Amazon do this well. On the other hand, spelling everything out can also be engaging (at least to me), as in William Stolzenburg's Heart of a Lion: A Lone Cat's Walk Across America (journalistic style nonfiction), which I found exceptional, especially in it's balance. Currently I'm reading Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History which I'm thoroughly enjoying, but the fast track crowd may find it a bit drawn out (a best seller regardless). Elizabeth reminds me of Rachel Carson, having all her ducks in a row leaving the naysayers tripping over their tongues.

The point being that there's no "one way" to engage a majority of readers ;-)

After many years of haranguing the ecological choir, and seeing how little effect it had on a wider audience, I took up what might be called literary eco-fiction. I try to weave an interesting character-centric story, and hope the ecocentric/biocentric undercurrent will percolate in the reader's mind.

Whatever works is my motto :) and it lightens this old heart to see more contemporary writers working towards a critical mass of understanding. I don't know how Cran may take my essay for the November newsletter, but it's intended to encourage eco-lit.

If you need any help, beta reading/whatever, with your book I'll try to do what I can. You should take it with a grain of salt though, as you can see I'm an opining old fool, and was nurtured in a different culture.
 
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