Back in the first cold snap of December, 2016, I spied a roadkilled hawk as I drove by at 55 (Yeah, I’m one of those irritating guys who sets their cruise at the speed limit). This hawk didn’t look to me to be a run-of-the-mill ordinary red tail or kestrel. I know I’m not supposed to pick up birds of prey or parts thereof without permission, so I pondered what it might be as I drove on. At an earlier Missouri Master Naturalist meeting, I heard how sometimes conservation agents pick up roadkilled specimens for their taxidermists to work into educational displays, so I asked if they’d like a call if I ran across an interesting kill while out on my delivery route. Our agent said ‘yes’ and gave me his card so I’d have it handy.
There lay the crumpled raptor. It was obviously larger than a sparrow hawk but I thought it looked quite a bit smaller than a red tail. Mostly white belly poked toward the road while a wing tip underside peeked from behind. The back looked to be mostly light brown. Nothing really distinct to me --what is it? So I popped into the next library on my route and hit the field guides. They only had a National Geographic guide, and Brad Jacobs’ “Birds in Missouri”. I didn’t spot a good match, but merlin and female northern harrier were suspects, but I wasn’t convinced. I drove by Tuesday and figured it was a Missouri Department of Conservation-worthy specimen. I called my friendly neighborhood conservation agent and described what I’d seen and he asked if I could pick it up and keep it frozen.
I picked the bird up Wednesday morning (yes, it’d stayed frozen, so it didn’t stink up my van). Still puzzled. The color didn’t point to anything with which I thought I was familiar. The size was still a puzzler. The wing shape looked almost falcon-like. At least harrier was ruled out. When I got home, I pulled the bird from the bag and spread it out as much as I thought I could without breaking anything. I took several photos. I looked through my books I had at home, before posting the photos on Facebook for advice. I looked in Audubon, National Geographic, Peterson, Usborne, and Golden field guides, and in bigger Reader’s Digest, Brad Jacobs, Doubleday Birds of America, Michael Vanner’s Encyclopedia, D&K Smithsonian books, some specialty guides and more. And yes, I do have a library at home. I still didn’t find a match to convince me of an ID. A Missouri Master Naturalist (MMN) friend recommended Facebook’s Hawk ID group. I asked two other bird-expert friends. One gave an e-mail for one of MO’s most active professional birders and I sent her the photos, too.
To shorten the tale, I was relying too much on a couple features on which to base my ID. Most of the more experienced folks and experts told me I had a small pale juvenile red tailed hawk. Only 2 respondents said they weren’t sure. I’m pretty certain, now, its a red tail –but still, maybe an out of the ordinary specimen. I don’t know if I’ll ever see it all thawed out so I can give it a ‘proper’ measuring and spreading of the wings. The point of all of the above is the whole ordeal really got me thinking about ID.
Then a prop for my wild edibles programs popped into my head –something that’s not what it’s ID’d to be. And that first thing to pop into my head was a Scotsman who obviously wasn’t. Then the story came on how she got ID’s based on a couple flimsy bits of evidence… So, the Scotsman who couldn’t be, named after the critter which started my ID dilemma, was born. Come to think of it, “THE” red tail roadkill might’ve been born around May, ’16, too.
I didn’t misidentify my hawk, because I didn’t settle on an ID. I did, however, resist making the ID based on a couple features which I thought precluded its being what it actually was. Nature’s cool. Not everything fits into one species-specific mold.
So why the female main character?
First off, she’s the first thing that popped into my head when I thought about a misidentified program prop. I don’t know why. It’s just how it was. It was suggested I should use a male character, to eliminate any innuendo or dirty-old-man thoughts from readers’ minds. I could have done that, until I pondered how I might react to strange people or anyone I didn’t really know on my property. I’ll admit, it’s probably a sexist thing in my character choice. I picked a girl, because I know boys. I was a teen boy. I was a male in his 20s and 30s… I trust having young female renters more than young male renters. We even allowed some female college student house-sitters while we took a trip to England. I used to be a young male renter –I did stupid stuff. I could usually get the hatchet to stick in the wall (I did do my own repairs and repainting), but I managed to keep a trail through the beer cans kicked clean to the fridge. I’ve recently experienced male college students and female college students renting the house across the road from where I work. It’s done nothing to show me I should trust young guys living on my property. The guys just seem to trash a place worse than girls.
If I was to discover a campsite on my place, I’d want and need to know who it was and why they were there. If I didn’t like the reasons, it’d have to go. It’s probably a guy-thing, but if I was in George’s position and discovered a boy camped out on my place without permission, I’d probably be more apt to have a defensive, get-outta-here, move-along sort of attitude than a protective attitude. I think it’s still a good choice, and there ain’t gonna be any hanky-panky. I never described the characters’ physical appearance. (OK, I guess George did tell the clerk at Walmart that Redtail wasn’t skinny or fat) I’ve not mentioned whether they were black, white, tan, or even green. You’ve only got one exact age, and that was only guessed by the characters. I chose a college student because during breaks, they could disappear for weeks or even months without contact or missing persons reports.
I Googled stress-induced memory loss and it’s a real thing. I’ve also consulted some law enforcement on what they’d do in the case of Redtail, and they said they really couldn’t do anything, since she has permission to camp on George’s place. Even the library card issued without ID wasn’t without consult.
Redtail’s appearance, in my head, is based on a figure I ran across while trying to find the “right” Barbie to act as a physical Scotsman prop. George’s appearance, and even his being a survival trainer, is based on a friend I ran across on Facebook, and subsequently met and did some wild edibles programs for. The town librarian is loosely based on two of Corder, MO’s librarians at least in name –a blend of retiring and new librarian. Jeanna, Corder’s present (early 2017) librarian, said one day as I walked in with my delivery, “That was our mayor…” about a patron who was just leaving. He was a cheerful fun-acting guy, so I asked his name. “Doug Lorenz,” Jeanna said. I smiled and told her, “I got the name for Wilder’s mayor –Lawrence Douglas.”
Many of the story settings are based on actual places: The Pipes were from my childhood –a place in Golden Valley, MN, where we kids would sometimes take a break while we were off on our suburban hunting excursions. The culverts where Redtail got her crayfish are at Knob Noster State Park. The Laundry Room is based partly on some deeper curves in the creek behind my house. Redtail’s campsite is based on rock formations at Roaring River State Park. George’s home is based on several farmsteads from my childhood. The conservation area behind George’s place is based on Baltimore Bend and Ralph and Martha Perry Conservation areas. George’s dog is based on the blue heeler/border collie, “Arnold” who lives at the parsonage at my church. Thistle Dew, MO, is based, quite loosely on Dover and Corder, MO and the map of Thistle Dew is based fairly closely on Fayetteville, MO.
-Redtail, I explained above.
-George Peterson comes from an old friend I stumbled across about the same day I got the portal idea. The old friend’s name was George Peter M…last name.
-Sarah, Frank and Lena were fairly arbitrary names.
-Darrell Cord, the police chief, is named from another police chief with a fairly similar name. The original chief is a one-l Darrel, and you’d spot the similarity in the last name, if you knew the guy.
-Big Al and Gus were just big-sounding names. I thought they oughtta be burly sorts.
-Linda-Jean named for retiring Corder librarian, Linda, and new branch manager, Jeanna.
-Mae-Mae, George’s deceased wife, just popped into my head and I used it.
-Rick, the current Relics student leader, was an arbitrary name-choice.
-Lydia, an outspoken confident young student of about 6 or 7, came to mind when looking at a card signed by a homeschool group which came out to my place for a wild edibles walk.
-Rita is an arbitrary name, too, but I did know a waitress named Rita which could have subconsciously connected that name with catering.
-Little Al isn’t really ‘little’ but to distinguish him from the bigger Big Al, the town decided to call him that. Al is a stereotypical mechanic’s name, too. I picture those blue patches embroidered with Al, Bob, Tom and other short names.
-Dave, Little Al’s son, was an arbitrary name-choice, too.
-Tom is an acronym Redtail came up with to name The Old Man who originally called her Redtail.
-Chrissy Ellmaker is the creator of the first portal, and is based on a real librarian at Knob Noster. The real librarian, made a paper doorway for a program from which the story-portals are inspired. I wouldn’t doubt her name’s been mispronounced like I spelled it for the story.
-Kate Dickson, the English librarian who’s got a portal, is loosely named after the mom of an ‘adopted’ university student we had a few years back.
-Bart Fera –the “Bart” part is arbitrary, but the Fera fits in with Thistle Dew (This’ll do) Fera (for a) Manufacturing Company.
-Elder Bart for Bart’s grandfather just sounded like more fun than calling grandson Bart, “Bart the Second”.
-Pastor Herman Ulysses Tix is a wonderful name for a pastor. I looked up “Tix” to make sure it was a real surname, and was fairly surprised to find it. Herman U. Tix –hermeneutics is the word meaning ‘how we study the Bible’.
-Big River Mall is Amazon.com, of course.
-Wilder comes from the overarching background of wild edibles. I’ve also got a website (in the works) called wilderedibles.com. Thistle Dew is explained in the text of the RTMac Story.
-Donowutt Community College Home of the Voles
-Higginsburg Home of the Fightin’ Isopods
-Chuck, an arbitrary name that popped into mind for Sarah’s deceased husband.
I’ll add more as they come to mind.
Thistle Dew town square is mostly fairly well maintained buildings going back to the 1800s, boardwalks, hitching posts, hidden HVAC/and other modern utilities. This historic small town is based on a painting I saw upstairs in Lexington’s library. I thought I recognized the town, and then I spotted the remains of the stairs and walkway of the 1800s buildings. I’d sure like to find that painting again and at least take some photos of it. The old foundations of the buildings are still visible in Dover, MO. Sarah’s place was owned by Sarah and her husband. Wilder Museum is also owned by Sarah, but she’s letting the local homeschool co-op run it. Wilder Bait and Tackle is one of the two bigger employers in town. Gus’s family owned Wilder Bait and Tackle since the 1870s, making high quality wooden plugs. Rita’s Catering is the other big employer. They each have around a dozen employees.
Sources of supply for illustration purposes are T.D.Fera Manufacturing and Big River Mall. Most of the visible illustrated characters come from Big River, though some are from local small towns and many are from China.