The theme of “Distant Thunder” refers in part to my ongoing book plans (Thunder Basin). It also, in part, represents something that is about to happen, somewhere out there on a side of a mountain or at the edge of a forest. It conjures up expectation and curiosity, as in the mind of a child or an adult thinking like a child. Distant Thunder reawakens us to sit up and allow the feeling of what we share with the world of Nature to engulf us.
Thunder Basin below the “chin” of Mount Mansfield.
Starting in 2009, I hiked around the west flank of Mount Mansfield in Vermont. Most of those hikes took me into the heart of what is called “Thunder Basin,” in to clear streams and waterfalls, hillsides, a feeling that others had been there since long ago. Fairies seemed to dance over the confluence of fast-running streams. There, I relived the impressions of a boy who grew up in the woods in northern Pennsylvania.
I kept notes and did sketches from both these hikes and from visits to other forests in Vermont and Pennsylvania. I shared the experience with friends, including a woman who suggested that I develop this into a story that centers on a girl exploring the forests. These hikes (and the story) were set aside for two trips to Nepal as part of my work in writing and illustrating Did Tiger Take the Rain? But “Tiger” helped me to focus on the strategy of coordinating the snippets into something of a story. All I needed was a catalyst that would pull it all together. That catalyst is the “trickster.”
View of Thunder Basin from the “chin”
The result has been the development of a story in graphic novel format about an 11-year old girl. We can call her S. S lives in a city. Like many kids nowadays, she spends a lot of time on her smartphone. Her parents have found a cabin to rent up in Vermont, on the west flank of Mount Mansfield. S is not happy to hear this, but, learning there is phone reception there, she goes along with the plan. When she gets to the cabin she will just stay inside stuck to the screen on her phone.
Here is a sample sketch of a page that shows S and her father, S in her room getting back on the cell phone. S as she senses movement outside her bedroom window — a coyote crosses the back yard.
The story of S is about a child whose identity is virtually contained in the little screen on her phone. My intention is that she will not be “the last child in the woods” (see Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, 2005) She will re-find herself through a new freedom of movement, meeting challenges, and a new awareness of things of both beauty and discomfort.
When I asked about the role a trickster like Coyote could play in a story, a Native Canadian friend of mine suggested that I imagine a child sitting outside. Up comes a coyote and sits beside her. The coyote, the eminent “trickster,” says: “This is your world. Let me show you another.”
In both of my books to date, the jackal or the coyote supplies the initial magical vehicle that will transfer the children into a world that may forever change their relationship with themselves and with the world. In the graphic novel, drawn in by the coyote of Thunder Basin, S will begin to feel the joy of immersion in Nature.
Winter brings its own sounds, sudden ones like a limb snapping under the weight of snow. S can only hear the sound and wonders what it was. Was there someone there? an animal? No, only the wind.
Snowflakes were everywhere. A gazillion of them falling one by one to the ground.
And the Distant Thunder I hear calling me beyond Thunder Basin? There is a plan for a follow-up on “Tiger,” about a tiger in the moonlight. Like the thunder, it will reconnect people with their own spirituality and with the Earth. But let’s wait and see…