Tips for WritersBuried beneath brambles, weeds and brush, the Colburn Cemetery eludes me. The general description is that about 30 stones, mostly toppled,  crest a knoll overlooking Highway 95 at mile marker 483. That’s exactly seven miles south of my home at Elmira Pond. It used to be the milling town of Colburn, but like Elmira it no longer exists unless you look for remnants.

Twice now, I’ve tromped through underbrush only to find two abandoned orchards. Out west, cemeteries are often called “bone orchards,” but instead of marble markers, I’ve only found gnarled apple trees. Fruit keeps turning up and I even bemoaned that I’m becoming a reluctant orchardist.

I’d rather dig into history than graft trees. I don’t even own pruners. Am I supposed to water the trees? I have no idea. But alas, I’m surrounded by fruit that calls to me like orphaned children seeking a mother.

Orchardists, hay merchants, turkey farmers, loggers and buckaroos linger like a cocktail in my DNA. I’ve preferred to sip from the buckaroo line, relishing the horse-culture best, but maybe fruit is attracted to something in me that I’ve denied.

My great-grandfather Marcus grew up in the shade of apricot trees in California. His father, a Danish immigrant, planted the orchard before an early death when Marcus was only 8-years-old. Born in 1884, Marcus lived long enough to tell me stories as a young girl about working the orchards. What made a huge impression upon me was the fact that he drove horse-drawn wagons. Fruit didn’t matter; wagons did. Old things fire the flames of my imagination.

Yet, a recent book I’ve picked up is a debut novel by Amanda Coplin. It’s titled, “The Orchardist.” It fits my historical interests, set in this Pacific Northwest region at the turn of the 20th century. The writing is clear and crisp as I hope the apples will be, yet varied and lyrical as the mysterious quince that appeared by my pond. Here is a taste of her writing:

“And so she began to tend her own orchard, and think of many things she had not thought of before, such as if she had a choice, which kinds of trees would she plant, and what would thrive there, and how far apart she should plant the trees, and where she would get the trees. Talmadge observed her struggles, answered her questions when she asked him. He bought her a small notebook like his own to fit into her front overall pocket while she worked. She began to be interested in the tools at the hardware store, the prices of different seed. She had a rough understanding, despite her age, of what was expensive, what was overpriced, what was a bargain. She and Talmadge discussed these things on the long wagon rides to and from town.

Mostly she learned from watching him. She watched him in everything he did; she was his shadow in the trees.”

And this gets me thinking about Sarah Shull and Bill Hickok. Did she watch him? Did she observe that he was a different man from Cob McCandless? More history books have arrived from Amazon via the big brown UPS truck that the dogs bark at with relish, sending me downstairs in an excited flurry to tear through the cardboard wrapping to get to my latest book. Some women go on shoe buying sprees; I’m buying books and photos of Hickok.

So far, historians disagree on many points regarding the entire shoot-out that led to Cob’s death. It annoys me when an historian calls Sarah Shull, “Kate Shell.” Somehow, the latter name became the dimestore character. I’ve researched enough primary documents–and many historians agree with my findings–that Sarah Shull left North Carolina with Cob McCandless. The 1860 Federal Census even lists her as part of Cob’s household (as a servant) along with his wife and children.

Most historians agree that Cob was a bully. He was a man who demanded he get his own way; held others up to strict standards despite his own flaws; and used his powerful physique to dish out punishment upon those he felt deserving of his fists. Hickok was also a fighter, tall and athletic, but not massive like McCandless. He was recuperating from serious injuries which was why he was at Rock Creek to feed horses. According to letters Hickok wrote to family, he saw the violence and lawlessness of the Kansas-Nebraska Territory and worried for women and children.

This makes me think that Hickok was sympathetic to Sarah. Cob did not pay society’s price for his affair with her; plucking from the tree of forbidden fruit as a married man. But Sarah was shunned and that might be why she left North Carolina in the first place. Some say it was Hickok that tasted of the forbidden fruit, but maybe his feelings toward her were more of empathy than attraction.

Fruit is the oldest story we have. It features in many creation myths and was the downfall of Adam and Eve. Fruit tempts us, taunts us–“Do I dare eat a peach,” worries J. Alfred Prufrock. It is sweet, ripe and the result of our labors. It’s brutal, as in the southern trees that once bore the “strange fruit” of men hung for nothing more than the color of skin. Lust is regarded as forbidden fruit. Yet it is good. Fruit is abundance and fertility.

July 23, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fruit.  It can be mythological, metaphorical or realistic. Think of fruit as a way to create tension, add a twist or something unexpected to your story. Use it to define a character or make it her obsession. Is it abundant, absent or desired? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 29 to be included in the compilation.

My unexpected fruit–quince by the pond.

Dry Fruit (10)

The Honey Locust by Charli Mills

“The fruit of honey locust is sweet,” Hickok said, breaking open a pod to show Sarah dark peas inside. He grinned as she nibbled, then nodded. “Makes great beer.”

“You could make liquor from water, Mr. Hickok.” Before he could reply, he noticed distant riders on the prairie. One appeared naked on a galloping horse. The other was Cob.

“We’d better go.” He led Sarah through cottonwoods to their hobbled horses. He knew Cob was dragging another poor soul to the honey locust. The four-inch thorns twining the tree were agony to bare skin.

Torture was Cob’s favorite fruit.


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.



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