25 Mar Nature’s Storytellers – Adult Prose Winners
Our 2019-2020 Nature’s Storytellers Writing Contest was super fun! We’re publishing contest winners here.
Below are the Adult Prose Winners.
1st Prize, Adult Prose
White Dog, Spirit Dog
by Kate Bowditch
White Dog lived next door. He was a bushy, dirty, white haired dog with soulful eyes. His tail curled up over his back. He had black skin.
I lived in a refurbished adobe church with my boyfriend Max, in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Back then, Ranchos, as it was known, was a thin string of houses along the back road to Taos.
The string of houses began at perhaps the most beautiful, and most artistically rendered church in the world, the Ranchos de Taos Church. The line stretched raggedly along what was the back road to Taos proper. The houses were old adobes, old mobile homes, a couple of abandoned churches, clay-walled sheds, a huge old building that later became a museum, trees, tractors, junked cars and a web-work of irrigation canals.
White Dog didn’t know any of that.
He knew cold. He knew hunger and he knew pain. He knew about sleeping under a truck in fifteen degrees-below-zero weather, and he knew about drinking water wherever he could find it in the hot summer.
And he knew our dog, a German Shepherd named Natasha. As only a dog can, White Dog adored Natasha. He was her constant companion. Natasha, though unshakably loyal to her Person Max, had a kinship to White Dog. They were a pair.
Natasha would come into heat, and all the dogs in the county would appear in our yard, vying with each other for the privilege of mating with her. They would fight fiercely and then retire, wounded and unsuccessful, to rest.
Natasha would have none of them. White Dog would cower on the porch during the contests, unnoticed by the other dogs. Later, he would mate happily with Natasha in the emptiness of the other dogs’ retreat.
She would have only White Dog. Natasha and White Dog were always together, whether running the fields or resting in the shade.
White Dog took to sleeping on our porch at night. We hadn’t claimed him and were concerned about how our neighbor would take this new arrangement.
Max spoke to the neighbor, who expressed admiration for the dog. He said, “That dog has been shot nine times and didn’t even die!” He said it was OK that he slept at our house.
Weeks later, in a howling snowstorm and bitter, bitter cold, I opened the door and invited him in. He sat in the snow considering this, looking at me in wonder. Ever so slowly, with snow piling up around my feet, he entered, paw by paw.
White Dog slept in a ball that night against the door, on the polished concrete of the entrance.
From that night, White Dog and Natasha were both our dogs. Each night he slept more and more comfortably, entering with less formality. Finally he asked to be let in one night, and trotted about the house with ease.
Our Natasha rode everywhere with Max, in the truck. The truck was the one place, however, that White Dog would not go. White Dog steadfastly refused to ride in the truck or in my car. He would lower his head and back slowly away at any attempt to get him to enter.
Our home was his world, and Natasha was the center of that world. He lay in a ball on the porch when Natasha was gone, leaping to attention when she returned.
One day a neighbor told Max, “Don’t let your dogs out tomorrow—there’ll be meat in your yard.” We found the meat early, and knew it was poisoned. We also learned that White Dog, in a unique act of territoriality, had killed a little dog who’d come into the field behind the house.
To save White Dog’s life from the little dog’s owner, we knew we had to send him away. By now, I loved White Dog, and was heartsick at the thought of losing him.
I asked my supervisor at work, who lived far north of us, if she wanted to take him.
She came back the next day, though, and said she would take him for a neighbor who was “kind of helpless” and needed a dog. Mostly, her neighbor lived in his truck, and sometimes was victimized by others.
She came to pick him up in her car.
With tears and a heavy heart, I had a talk with White Dog that day. It was one of those talks one has with a pet who must face an uncertain future to avoid facing a far less pleasant certain future.
I told him of the danger he was in and that there was someone else who needed his care. Alice drove into the driveway and opened the back door of her car. White Dog leaped in without a moment’s hesitation. And then he was gone. He drove out of my life, like other dear friends I’ve lost.
Alice told me later that her neighbor loved that dog dearly, and they drove everywhere together. It didn’t help much.
I have seen many other scruffy white dogs over the years.
To my surprise, I have also seen White Dog a few times since that day.
Ten years after I had left Taos, I returned for a visit. I went to the Pueblo there, stopping at an information/gift store first.
White Dog trotted out from behind the store, and sat in the yard looking at me steadily. I looked at him.
Every detail of the dog was the same, and he sat looking at me. He was checking in on me. Satisfied, he stood up and trotted back behind the building.
I followed him, and there was no dog there.
It still happens like that occasionally— White Dog trots out from behind some tourist/gift store when I travel, sits down in the yard there. We look steadily at one another.
I know he is checking up on me. Then he gets up and trots away again, satisfied. I don’t follow, and I don’t try to go pat him…
I rather like that, the way White Dog remembers me. I wonder if our other lost loved ones look in on us occasionally. Would we see them?
I haven’t seen White Dog for a long time now. Maybe I need to travel more.
2nd Prize, Adult Prose
Snowdrops for Autumn
by K.J. Finley
Autumn burst out of the front door of her family’s rustic cabin in the woods, excitement coursing through her at the sight of the snow falling slowly from the sky. Bundled up in a forest green, puffy snowsuit, Autumn leaped off of the porch into the thick white powder below, her ocean blue eyes sparkling with delight. As the wind playfully whipped her earthy brown hair around like crisp leaves falling from a tree, she peered over her shoulder back at her beloved home. A smile curled Autumn’s lips as the cabin door remained tightly closed, her parents inside preparing for the fierce snowstorm that they were expected to have later that night.
As she skipped through the snow surrounding her house, Autumn stuck out her tongue, catching the snowflakes floating down from above with a giggle. She paused in her skipping as she caught sight of their chimney, her eyes drifting towards the wisps of smoke mingling with the flecks of winter falling through the afternoon air.
Autumn lowered her gaze, her eyes lingering on the wooden, rectangular box that was beneath their frost covered window. A frown formed on her face as she approached it, halting only momentarily to pat the arm of the snowman that she and her dad had built last week, the sharp coldness of it sinking into her purple, striped mittens. The window box belonged to her mom and was usually filled to the top with the most colorful of flowers from tulips to daffodils. At the moment, however, the box was covered with snow, not a single petal from a flower in sight.
Autumn’s frown deepened as she stared at the flowerless box and she closed her eyes, remembering all of the times that she had helped her mom plant the bulbs in the soil, dirt spewing over both of their fingers. Autumn enjoyed it almost beyond reason and would gaze at the box for weeks afterwards, watching her hard work slowly bloom from the wonders of nature.
Suddenly, a gust of wind whipped Autumn around so she was now facing the thick cluster of trees further up ahead. The beautiful Douglas firs glistened with snow, their rich earthy scent drifting over to where Autumn stood. As the wind shoved Autumn roughly towards the trees, the snow began to pick up, the flakes clinging to her eyelashes.
A bright smile crossed Autumn’s face as she neared the trees, watching with glee as a snowy owl peered down at her from a branch above, ruffling its feathers. Spreading out her arms, Autumn twirled around in a circle, glancing up at the icicles hanging down from the branches, feeling as though she were in her own winter wonderland.
Another blast of strong wind pushed Autumn deeper into the woods, further and further away from her home while the snow began falling thicker from the sky. Squinting, Autumn held a hand out in front of her face to shield it against the sharp flecks of winter, almost missing the doe trotting peacefully through the nearby trees.
As it began to grow darker, Autumn trudged on and on through the white powder, her breath creating small puffs of fog in the air. She passed by dozens of snow covered bushes, their green, prickly needles completely hidden, and even the frozen pond that she used to swim in with her mom in the summertime.
Autumn giggled as the wind blew playfully through her hair once again and swirled the snow through the air, creating unique pictures against the sky. She shivered in her puffy snowsuit and wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stay warm as the temperature started to drop.
Thinking that she should probably head home for a cup of hot cocoa, Autumn tried to turn around, but let out a sharp gasp as the wind yanked her underneath a tall tree. A second gust of the strong wind blew towards the tree, aimed at a branch that was laden down with snow. The strength of the wind knocked the white powder directly on top of Autumn’s head who let out a shriek and fell to the ground, weighted down by the heavy clump of snow.
Autumn flailed her arms around, trying to escape, finally managing it after several seconds. Brushing the flakes of winter out of her eyes, Autumn watched the snow trickle down from the sky, the beauty of it calming her racing heart.
After making a quick snow angel, Autumn stood up, the color draining from her face as she realized that she was lost, the incident with the wind having turned her around. She peered at the ground, trying to spot her footprints, but they were gone, completely covered by the fresh powder. With her heart thumping wildly, Autumn searched for the correct direction to go, but the snow was falling so hard now that she could barely see a foot in front of her. The promised blizzard had begun.
Trembling from both the cold and her fear, Autumn hurried forward, choosing a direction at random, keeping her head bowed against the wind. Though the howling of the wind echoing in her ears frightened her, she kept on walking, hoping to catch a glimpse of her home, but she just delved deeper and deeper into the forest.
Suddenly, the strength of the wind picked up, blowing Autumn backwards and preventing her from taking another step. Slumping her shoulders in defeat, Autumn’s lower lip quivered and she began to cry, the tears trickling down onto her cheeks. She was never going to see her parents again, or the changing of the seasons, or the beautiful flowers blooming in her beloved window box.
And then all of a sudden, without warning, the wind stopped completely, the sound muted throughout the trees. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Autumn’s spirits lifted as she was finally able to see in front of her once more. But before she could even blink, a powerful gust of wind yanked her to the left and began pushing her forward, causing her to slip a little on a patch of ice. Autumn stumbled along with the wind at her back, basically running through the trees, breathing heavily from the fast pace. She struggled to turn in the opposite direction, but the wind was relentless and continued to push her along.
As Autumn glanced around her, she began to recognize her surroundings and her heart fluttered with joy as she burst from the woods, her house standing directly before her. A fresh wave of tears formed in her eyes at seeing her beloved home. At seeing the snowman and the smoke poofing from the chimney and she smiled with glee, knowing her loving parents were waiting for her inside.
Autumn giggled as the wind gave her a gentle nudge forward towards the steps of her porch. She raced up the stairs and yanked open the front door, immediately hearing the crackling of the fire. As she breathed in the scent of her mom’s warm apple pie, Autumn hurried towards the fireplace, eager to thaw out her frozen body.
Hours later, Autumn perched on the seat inside of her cabin that overlooked the window box, a mug of hot chocolate clutched in her hand. Licking the whipped cream from her upper lip, she peered down at the layer of snow in the box, the vibrant color practically glowing in contrast to the nighttime sky. Suddenly, a gust of wind rattled the window, capturing her attention, and spiraled down towards the box, brushing away all of the snow. Autumn blinked with wonder at the sight that laid before her and a wide smile crossed her face as she gazed at the three snowdrops that were just beginning to bloom, their tiny petals even brighter than the snow.