I always carry a great hulking bag with me. To the grocery stores, the library, around campuses, I’m always lugging my great big bag. And today I’m reminded again why I bother to take the effort. My bag is large so it can fit Allen, my laptop. And I always want to drag Allen around with me because I’m incessantly working on something, either editing or writing a book. And you never know when you will find yourself with twenty minutes of free time and a secluded corner. Today I ended up at the El Paso Zoo after dropping someone off at the airport, and found my twenty minutes of free time being spent in the zoo’s aviary.
The bench is old, and not very comfortable. In fact the whole enclosure is a little outdated. But the atmosphere… There is a strange bush in flower just in front of me, large enough the birds can roost in it, and the perfume from the red flowers is exquisitely unlike the smells one expects to find in an aviary. The bird song is incessant, and strange. The tunes are different to my ear and not what I normally hear wandering around my hometown. The Scarlet Ibis roosting in the trees add a shock of color, and I do mean a shock.
When you look up and see a large, brilliantly pink bird roosting in a tree, you suddenly don’t feel like you are in the Southwest desert anymore. And when you glance over your shoulder and glimpse an Asian elephant’s back through the leaves, the sense of being transported somewhere strange is definitely heightened. There is a very swift roadrunner darting about the place, the feathers on its head rising and dropping as it finds things of interest around its home.
But I think my favorites are the whiskered old men of birds. There are Inca Terns flying about my head, excited over the colder weather and the deliciously cool breeze blowing through the place. Their deep grey feathers keep combining into a strange mass in my vision as they fly over each other, and then breaking off again into two separate birds, as they circle each other, playing in the wind. One is sitting right across from me on a log. The little black beasty has been watching me for ages, wondering why I am clacking away on my keyboard. I wonder what his conclusions are?
The way he is yawning makes me think I am not very interesting. But I find him fascinating. One of his fellows just dropped a stick nearly on top his head, and his feathers’ ruffled in deep annoyance at it. Such a delightful place to type, and one well calculated to draw my mind to strange places and make me think of scenes I have never actually seen.
I am working on the first Dreaded King again at the moment. For probably the twentieth time since I originally sat down to a blank page and pounded the words out. The book has changed dramatically, but it can still become a monotonous chore when you are reading the same words over and over, trying to think of the best method to convey them to a reader. Which is why it's like a wash of clear air over the brain matter to take Allen with me into places like the El Paso Zoo’s aviary. Suddenly the Terns look like the Renpoll Mail Birds flitting about Ǽselthŵeś, bringing the mail in their happy way, and the words become alive again in my mind. You see things differently when you are in a different place. And when the words are alive you can make them move, shove them around and make them fit better, make them more real, more natural, and hopefully make them able to come alive in a reader’s mind. Next time you pick up a book, think of all the authors out there lugging their big bags around in the hopes of making just one more sentence come alive, and do your part of the bargain. Let the words strike into you and bring the author’s vision into your own home. But be careful, words that are alive have a special ability to stay with you. Only let the good ones in.
 Renpoll – A type of bird, rarely found in the wild, but found in abundance in every city as mail birds. The renpoll mail birds (RMB) pick up whatever mail is dropped into their roost, read the address (yes, read it, and correctly too), and immediately lift off to deliver it, happy for the challenge. If there is a great amount of mail headed to one place, the RMB shove the letters into a special carrier, and as many as ten renpolls lift it together, and use perfect teamwork to get the mail where it is needed. There are human RMB workers, feeding the birds, seeing to their medical care, and what-not. But the birds train each other, and voluntarily do their work and return to their roosts (even somehow working it out among themselves so the birds are properly spaced throughout the kingdom) and are a truly remarkable species. By all accounts, a dedicated RMB can carry a letter from one end of Ǽselthŵeś to directly the opposite end in a single twenty hour day.