“If you find a really nice roadkill on the highway, grab it and I’ll tell you how to stuff it,” my brother-in-law (one of many) said to me a few decades ago. I was interested in any form of art at the time, although roadkill wasn’t high on my list. Shortly thereafter I did come upon an owl who had been nicked—you wonder how—and I pulled over and jumped between cars to retrieve him. He was in perfect condition. He might have dropped from a heart attack.
I took him home and put him in my mother’s freezer, where he stayed for seven years. Before she started calling him Rachel (we sometimes called him her), I borrowed the necessary materials, mainly borax powder, from my brother-in-law who told me to go to a taxidermy shop and ask for eyes for an eagle. “Don’t mention an owl,” he said. “They’re protected.” I took him to my grandmother’s, where I intended to spend the weekend in my act of preservation. It was Thanksgiving and everyone was asking me what I was going to do.
“Stuff an owl,” I said.
“Stuff an owl!” There was real shock. Eventually I realized they were seeing him go into the oven full of herbs and mushrooms and bread crumbs.
He lasted a long time and then one day he fluttered a feather down on me and I looked in his eyes a long time, wondering about the nature of mercy.
“David was magic.” That was the comment from one of the women in my Carriage House book group when he recently read and discussed his short stories, The Legend’s Daughter. To hear him, especially in a private setting, is an absorbing experience. He’s a big man–in many ways, and he can command a room in a voice barely audible, everyone learning to hear what he’s saying. When he shifts into boisterous, everyone does a little jump. In discussion or rendition, he is careful, thoughtful, committed, and vulnerable–an unexpected gift. You see the real pulls and conflicts and struggles of a full-time writer.
Don’t miss these new stories. There are a lot of rivers, Idaho rivers, and a lot of fishing. David says that when he’s walking waters (how glad I am I’ve walked them with him) he’s “not as shy, as retiring, as speechless . . . there’s a huge freeing of what I didn’t understand.” The stories in The Legend’s Daughter lead you into worlds you don’t understand–he writes of people “unsure of themselves, unsure of protocols.” And he raises questions: “What if someone unsure travels with someone too daring, too free.” You’ll get every kind of intersection, of searching, and of discovering.
When I think about David, it is always with gratitude. My life as a writer would have been vastly different without him. A Thousand Voices: a Memoir and plenty else might still be a collection of notes in a bottom drawer if he hadn’t said, “You write. Bring me what you’re working on.” Ron Carlson, Jeff Metcalf, Pam Houston–there is a big basket of us he took under his wing. That he cares about the success of others enough to leave his own endeavors for our sake is perhaps the most elegant thing about him. He has discovered along the road of writing seven or eight novels, three or four collections of short stories and over a hundred plays that what we do for others is likely to outlast all the rest.
David Kranes. How lucky we are that he drifted west and made it his own.