Michael Perry's Voice Mail
Michael Perry's Voice Mail
Baby Wrens

Baby Wrens

NOTE FROM MIKE: We plan to release “Voice Mail” once per week to subscribers. The first few are free, and even after we go to a subscription model we’ll release some freebie extras now and then. We’ll also release some spur-of-the-moment posts (like this one) to subscribers. We’re new at this, so we welcome your comments.

I was awake and worrying before dawn today so I headed to the little room above the garage to work on a novel due out this fall. It’s a dark novel, and one I’m not sure will be well-received. But it’s from the heart and it won’t let me go. So I’m gonna push through until it’s done. I’ve included an excerpt from the rough draft below (including ALL CAPS notes to myself).

The photo above was taken right outside my writing room door this morning before sunup. The audio link was recorded yesterday. That’s the second hatch of the summer.



He picked the snowshoe from the wreckage, dug around and found the second. He strapped them on and set off along the ridge.

THIS PARA MAYBE WHEN HE FIRST GOES OUT...The snow was pure and soft and clean and sugar-sifty. It had fallen throughout the night, ceasing when the sun rose and the temperature plummeted, freeze-drying the air and turning the moisture to rime. Every tree branch, every blackberry cane, every stick and stem was a hoarfrost lollipop. The sky was clear, the air was still, and sunlight splinters ricocheted every which way.

The sound of his steps were like a feather drawn through sand. His breath rolled out before him in a gossamer purl. For the first time since the day she died his subconscious fed him a stream of happy associations: him as a child, waxing his sled runners with a block of candle wax; the feel of his belly pressed against the wooden slats of the sled deck as he beamed red-cheeked and runny-nosed into the downhill wind; later, cider with a cinnamon stick; his mother, tucking the blanket about him on the couch, boiling water, bringing him crackers and Cup-A-Soup.

He knelt down to inspect a goldenrod gall. It stood frosted on its stalk like an encrusted scepter. He found the hole where a chickadee had bored in for the larva. The ones the birds missed would survive to spring because their cells were laced with natural antifreeze. A marvel. And how did the novice chickadee know to peck its first gall? Nature was a mind-bender. He was still on his knees and for reasons he could not explain raised his face and stared at the sun. When he looked away the image hung on his retinas like a radioactive plum. He turned his eyes left, then right, the scorch following at a lag.

He clomped clear out to the back forty, back to the barbed wire where he cursed and wept the day he sold the beefers. It seemed another lifetime ago, a chronologic cliché if ever there was one. He breathed deeply and held it, focused on the stillness. The stillness, and the bright silence. The air nothing but oxygen and clarity. He wondered if souls were real, and if so if she was hereabout. If she saw him down here, a poisonous dot in the infinite white.


Six snowmobiles shot over the hill and buzz-sawed his reverie all to hell. Transfixed as he was, he had missed their muffled whine. Now here they came, ripping full throttle up the valley. The garish color of the suits and the helmets and the weasel-skull engine cowlings tore at his eyes as the sound tore at his ears. They shot past like warplanes on a strafing run, just downhill from where he stood. Of course they had no idea he was there. They cut across a corner of his property and in seconds were gone, the trailing snow cloud settling, their uncouth tracks striping the snow like whipstrokes.

He raised both hands to the spot where they disappeared and shot a double bird. As he was wearing heavy leather chopper mitts the effect was less than he hoped. He leaned over, tightened his snowshoes, and hiked homeward into the recovered silence. He was halfway back to the house when the wind rose. All around him the air sparkled, an ocean of hoarfrost dislodged in a crystalline spill.

*Most common question I get: “What’s the title?” That almost always comes last. Except for this book. I knew what I wanted to call it before I wrote a single line. 2023 UPDATE: HERE’S THE TITLE

** TK” is a printing and journalism reference, meaning additional material will be added at a time yet “to come.” Why not “TC?” Likely because TK is an uncommon letter combination.

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Michael Perry's Voice Mail
Michael Perry's Voice Mail
The audio version of Michael Perry's weekly "Roughneck Grace" newsletter. In addition to informal news and notes, Mike reaches into the SneezingCow.com archives and reads one of his "Roughneck Grace" columns aloud.