Saving Lives

My friend Ben recently co-opted one of my favorite writing exercises – cutting or editing – for his sixth grade class. In his honor, I’ve re-drafted tonight’s journal entry from its original 764-word length down to 600 words, and provided both entries for your consideration, to see why editing is so important. Of course, this may not be the lesson you take away from this exercise, but so be it.

Both first and second drafts are behind the cut.

Second Draft

Second Draft

goals: 1) cut 164 words (764-164=600; 2) consistent tense; 3) active voice; 4) NTSSWTSW; 5) add in words more than 80 cut.

Clio and I wound up saving each other’s lives today. I pulled something out of her jaws, and she kept me from being in someone else’s jaws.

When coming inside earlier today, I saw that she was breathing heavily. At first, I thought she had something sharp jammed into one of her paws, given how she scratched the ground. But no, she kept working her jaw open and shut. I grasped her lower jaw with one hand, and swept inside her mouth with the other. Nothing. I let go.

She kept making these same motions, pawing the ground, sweeping first one side of her head and then the other, and then scraping the carpet again. all the time she worked her jaws up and down. I grabbed her again, and reached in. This time I both looked and felt inside her mouth. She almost nipped me in her panic. Yet I found a small stick, jammed inside her mouth, almost in her throat. I was able to pull it out without injuring her at all; she responded with a sniff at me before wandering away..

Tonight, I was late feeding her. Usually she eats dinner about 8pm, because that’s when I can take her outside afterward. Dogs need schedules. After she ate, I walked her down through the school campus, on my way to the farthest building — the buildings & grounds shop. There’s a dark section on this walk between the main campus and the shop. Broad fields stretch out on all sides. There is no cover, but beautiful moonlit views in every direction, before the woods close in again at the shop.

As we approached the woods, Clio began tugging on her leash. After exercising the previous day, my shoulders were sore. Her extra pressure hurt more, so I stopped walking. The night was cold, about 10°F, maybe 0° or less because of the breeze. I wasn’t really dressed for the weather, and I had reason to end our walk early. Usually when she’s pulls on her leash, she wants to play, or go off-leash. This was something else. I asked her if she wanted to turn around and head home. Then she started moving in that direction.

Some ten or twenty steps up the hill, I started hearing screaming sounds from the edge of the woods maybe a hundred yards downhill from me, across the field. It was a sound I knew. Then, it was early morning, on a beautiful summer’s day, with the sun up and close to houses and buildings. One sleek, tan beast made this sound at me then. Now, there were clearly five or six screaming voices, and they sounded exactly like that coyote.

I broke into a run. Clio followed me closely. We didn’t run far, only enough to put greater distance between us and the woods. Now we stood within a pool of light from the first house on campus. Human help was now close by. I imagined I could hear the coyotes’ fury at escaped prey.

An easy walk brought Clio and I home, nearly always under street lamps or porch light glow. Passing circle to circle, we walked together up through campus. She was businesslike and not at all puppy-ish; I felt alert in a way I’ve not been in a long time. Soon we were home with door shut, lights on. I gave Clio a doggie biscuit. Could coyotes really have attacked us in where the woods conceal the shop? I’ll need to be more cautious when I go walking my dog in the dark.

First Draft

Clio and I wound up saving each other’s lives today. Only, I’m conscious that I did it for her, and she’s not so conscious that I did so. But she may be conscious that she saved me.

Earlier today, as we were coming in from outside, it became clear that she was breathing heavily and hard. At first, I thought she had something sharp jammed into one of her paws, given the way she was pawing the ground. But no, she kept working her jaw open and shut. I wound up grabbing her lower jaw with one hand, and sweeping the inside of her mouth with the other. Nothing. I let go. But she kept making these same motions again and again. Each time, she’d paw the ground, sweep first one side of her head and then the other, and then paw the ground, all the time working her mouth open and shut, hard. I grabbed her again, and reached in, this time looking and feeling both her upper and lower mouth. She almost nipped me in her panic. Then I found the source of her distress. A piece of stick had lodged itself in the palate, jammed from left to right, deep down in her mouth and almost in her throat. I was able to pull it out without injuring her at all, and she responded by getting all cranky at me. Of course.

Tonight, I was late in getting her dinner. Usually she eats about 8pm, because that’s what time I can reliably count on taking her outside to pee and poop afterwards. It’s important for dogs to have a schedule, as those of you who have dogs know. Then, I walked down through campus, on my way to the farthest building — the buildings & grounds shop. There’s a long dark section on this walk, after one has left the main campus, but before one reaches the shop, where there are broad fields on all sides, no cover, and beautiful moon views in every direction.

At this point, Clio began tugging on the leash. I’d been drumming on New Year’s Eve, and my shoulders were sore, and what she was doing hurt. I stopped walking. Now, it was cold,about 13°F, but with the breeze, accuweather.com tells me it’s about -7°F. So I have a pretty good reason to turn around already, because it’s unpleasantly frigid, rather like the coven convener in her copper corselet. But she’s tugging at the leash, I realize, not to be playful, and not angrily, and not because she wants to wander off, but something else. I asked her if she wanted to turn around and head home, and she starts moving in that direction.

Some ten or twenty steps of the way up the hill, I start hearing screaming sounds from the edge of the woods, quite close by as these things go, maybe a hundred yards downhill from me, across an open field. Now, I have heard this sound before. Then, it was 5 in the morning, on a beautiful summer’s day, with the sun up and close to houses and buildings. And there was one of them. Now, there are clearly five or six screaming voices, and they sound exactly like the coyote I heard a few summers back.

At this point, I broke into a run, and Clio followed me closely. We didn’t run far — a few dozen yards maybe — enough to put a much greater distance, and all of it uphill, between us and the woods. And now we were within the circle of light of the first house on campus. Ten feet would carry us to the front steps, thirty seconds for the door to be answered and us to be safe within. But of course, Clio and I didn’t need to do that. From there back home was an easy walk, never more than ten or fifteen feet outside a circle of light. That’s what we did. Passing circle to circle, we walked together up through campus, her business-like and serious, and not at all puppy-ish, me alert in a way I’ve not been in a long time. A short walk later, we were in my apartment, with the door shut, a doggie biscuit in her mouth, and me pondering whether or not coyotes really could have attacked me in the darkness where the woods curl close about the shop.

I think I need to be far more cautious and aware when I go walking my dog at night or early in the morning.

I hope you have found this edifying and interesting.

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One comment

  1. Where we live, it is not uncommon, especially in the Fall and Spring, to have coyotes come very close to people’s houses. Often we can hear packs of them howling in the early night. Years ago, Milo took his anti-coyote patrol quite seriously but nowadays he seems to just lift his head up, say to himself “they’re not coming inside the fence” and go back to sleep.

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