Friday, December 23, 2011

"The Plume Hunter"

Renée Thompson writes about wildlife, her love of birds, and the people who inhabit the American West. Her first novel, The Bridge at Valentine, received high praise from Pulitzer Prize-winner Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove. Thompson lives in Northern California with her husband, Steve, and is at work on a collection of short stories.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her novel, The Plume Hunter, and reported the following:
In 1885, more than five million birds were killed in the United States alone for the millinery industry. This figure astounded me, and prompted my desire to write a novel showcasing the plume-hunting trade in the American West. The result is The Plume Hunter, a story about men who shoot birds at the turn of the nineteenth century to sell feathers for women’s hats. In crafting my tale, I created two men – best friends – who love both birds and the land: the first is a plume hunter, the other a man stalwartly opposed to pluming. I knew that their differing philosophies would not only provide conflict, but help propel the plot. My protagonist, Fin McFaddin, is the plume hunter – the story’s dark hero – while Aiden Elliott is the bird’s savior and a prominent figure in the formation of the Audubon Society.

On page 69, the reader sees the shift Aiden has made from his boyhood days, when he shot birds and collected eggs with Fin; we realize he’s positioning himself as a career photographer, and also understand this is the preliminary step to his role as a politician and proponent of the Audubon Society. Here’s the page in its entirety:
…Chapman also encouraged Aiden to take part in the proceedings of scientific societies, serve on committees and directorial boards, and delve deeper into politics. “You do that, and your contributions to the Movement will be handsomely rewarded.”

Aiden embraced it all. He believed it was possible to further enlighten the public by exposing them to photographs of birds they’d not seen before, at least from the perspective of a telephoto lens. He’d had a lot of practice, hauling his camera up Douglas firs, and photographing tanagers and flickers and various birds’ nests. One sunny weekend in March 1898, he placed his camera and lenses in a hard leather case, which he’d stuffed into a satchel containing a dozen glass plates. Slinging the pack across his back, he strapped his tripod to his bicycle and boarded a train for San Francisco. High above the city, on Mission Ridge, he planned to photograph a pair of golden eagles nesting in a sycamore.

Hopping from the train, he jumped onto his bicycle and steered toward the hills, pedaling until the shops and houses gave way to rustic wooden fences. Cows blinked as he rode past. He tipped his hat, eliciting stares from their liquid brown eyes while they stood and worked their cuds.

After another mile or so, he veered onto a rutted path that cut through a pasture. Bumping along, teeth rattling, he worried for a time about the glass plates in his pack. When he reached the end of the road, he propped his bicycle against a barn, checked the contents of his knapsack and found the plates intact. Adjusting his satchel, he set out the rest of the way on foot, since it was now too steep to cycle.

Photography was a hobby he’d come to adore, as it allowed him to traipse the countryside, just as he’d done as a boy. A stand of eucalyptus trees swayed in the distance, filling the air with menthol, and scores of insects buzzed. A mud hen called from a puddle.
Thanks for reading. I hope you like it!
Learn more about the book and author at Renée Thompson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue