The Acoustic Burro is all ears–unless she has something to bray about.

Take a walk with her this afternoon and your ears might prick up too.

Somewhere in the sky, a winnowing.

Winnow: from the late 14th century, Old English windwian “to fan, winnow,” from wind “air in motion, paring down.” Cognate with Old Norse vinza, Old High German winton “to fan, winnow,” Gothic diswinþjan “to throw (grain) apart.” Small wonder, if it relates to grain, that the burro is interested.

At the moment, however, the sound comes from a small bird, throwing (probably) himself (sometimes herself) into the air. A small marsh bird, alternatively described as pudgy, stocky or round-bodied, with relatively short legs for a wading creature. Not all of us can be svelte and stilty. But not everyone can sing with her tailfeathers either, which is the magic of this winnowing.

You can impress your fellow walkers with this intriguing fact, and its appropriate if odd verb form: Wilson’s snipe creates its most distinctive sound as it swoops in shallow dives, high in the pale sky overhead. The tail fans out, the wind catches the edges of specially-designed feathers, and voila! The snipe winnows.

Like listening for the muses, you have to be paying attention. Your own jaws are preferably, closed–and not chewing loudly either. Neither the snipe nor our creativity are electronically modified. In these posts, we will wander on our Acoustic Burro exploring how the world’s stories are generated, transmitted or received. The snipe’s story is just the beginning. Enjoy the ride–


“Story places” show up on my home page because characters all gotta be somewhere. My stories all start with place and the other characters derive from that, so the buzz around the idea that setting might be a character always baffles me. Who characters are in a story is where they are–and how they are in relationship to that place.

Stories for me, and setting to me, are also about more than people, and more than a scenic backdrop. Other-than-human characters express their agency, and demonstrate their connectedness. Despite assertions that fiction is about people, i’ve never felt limited to human people. So in my front page ‘”Story Places” section, you’ll see pikas and great blue herons as well as frozen Minnesota lakes and sculptured New Mexico badlands and even petroglyph characters.

Food for thought, i suppose. Pull up a chair–i’d love to hear your side of the discussion.