The Singing Bone Collector
There’s an old wild woman who lives in a place everyone knows about, but few have ever seen. She’s hairy and fat and makes more animal sounds than human. She crows and cackles and wails over would-be storytellers, begging them to come to her hiding place and sing along with her, for storytellers are the only ones she allows into her cave.
Folks say she lives in the Texas Hill Country among the limestone slopes of the Llano Uplift. But others believe she’s buried near an abandoned well outside Tucson, Arizona. A man said once he’d seen her traveling south in a burnt out car with the back window shot out. Then a woman said, no, she’d seen her standing alongside the highway just outside El Paso waiting to ride shotgun in the big trucks crossing the desert headed to California. Another woman claimed she’d seen her taking notes while walking the dark streets of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
She’s a wild woman all right, but I call her the Singing Bone Collector.
She wanders from here to there, collecting the bones of unfinished or never-told stories in danger of being lost to the world. She fills her cave with these bones she’s collected, bones of delightful, yet unidentified characters, both good and bad, of half-done settings, and unfinished plots.
She creeps and crawls and sifts through the dry riverbeds, across mesas, through forests, and mountaintops, and across fields of wildflowers looking for such bones.
When she has assembled an entire skeleton, when she has the last bone in place and the beautiful skeleton is laid out before her, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing.
After she decides, she stands over the skeleton, raises both arms over her head and sings. And while she sings, the bones begin to move, to come together. The rib and leg bones begin to flesh out and soon fur covers the creature.
The bonecollector sings some more—and the creature’s tail curls upward, shaggy and strong, and then it begins to breathe.
Still the wild woman sings. She sings until the hills shake. And as she sings, this creature before her opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs down through the valley. Whether by the speed of it’s running or by splashing its way into the Ouachita River, or by a ray of sunlight, or moonlight hitting it just right, the creature is suddenly transformed into a laughing man or woman who runs toward the horizon, a published book in their hand.
So it is said that if you wander the streets of Hot Springs near sundown, and you are perhaps a little lost, and certainly tired, that you are lucky, for this wild woman—this bone collector, may take a liking to you and show you something—something of the soul.
Our stories start as a bundle of bones collected from the wilds. It is our work to recover the parts.
It is a painstaking process best done when the shadows are just right, for it takes much looking.
The singing bone collector shows us what to look for—that indestructible life force—the bones—the foundation of our tales. She promises if we sing the songs and call up that life force within us, our stories will take shape. This singing bone collector who lives inside the desert of each of us crisscrosses all nations, and has done so down through the centuries.
Her whiskers sense the future and know the past as well as the present. She has the far-seeing eye of the old crone. She lives backward and forward in time simultaneously, correcting for one side by dancing with the other.
The old wild woman within each of us collects bones. The soul-bones, as it were, for story.
Bones with the potential to be fleshed out, bones to change us, and then change our world. The writer must have freedom to move, to speak, to be angry, and to create. To do so, we must sing over all those bones we collect. We must descend into that wild part of ourselves—that part of great feeling, deep emotion—to capture and create that song.
The old wild woman within each of us leaves us the moral obligation—and the delight—to live and write what we perceive, and to share what we’ve learned with others coming along behind. Our work is to show she has breathed upon us, and to show it in our stories.
Today, that singing wild woman inside of you collects bones. She is the soul self, the builder of story.
What story is she building in you?
Climb up into the cave. Crawl through the doorway or window of a dream. Sift through the sand and see what you find.
Go gather bones.