Madeline Island Wildflowers by Tiffany Jolowicz

With intention came observation, with observation came precise word choices. And because of the more sophisticated word choices, all that was unwritten also shone through.

Last summer we had our ‘oldest’ friends over for dinner. We have known each other since our babies were born; 10 in all! Now our babies are having babies! I finished in the kitchen, set the table and went outside to pick some wildflowers. Our garden was alive with color; I picked lupins, Black-eyed Susans, wild columbines, daisies, swamp millweed and some St Johnswort. I arranged them in jars and placed them on the table. I stood back to admire them. Something was wrong; the table was suddenly overdecorated. Our friendship is simple, not über-colorful, but natural and honest. I removed the colors, kept the wild daises, and added some ferns and horsetail grasses.   

Later that week, sitting at the dining-room table, I was editing a chapter in my novel. I leant back in my chair and re-read my work. Something was wrong; my scene felt overdecorated. I was describing a fire. I had “scarlet flames, poisons of revenge, torrefied grass,” believe it or not I even had a “howling bolt.” Don’t ask!  I looked up and saw the daisies. It was as if the wildflowers had winked at me! I realised that the scene was overwhelming. The flowers got me to thinking about simplicity and how the pen best wields its power – simple, precise words and phrases. Take Louise Erdrich’s introduction of her protagonist in Love Medicine. Jean is a “long-legged Chippewa woman, aged hard.” Simple vocabulary but sophisticated choices, leaning on Erdrich’s crystal clear understanding of the exact impressions she wants to give her readers. Or Linda LeGarde Grover’s portrait of a father in Gichigami Hearts, “methodically popping beers open with a church key.” There are millions of examples but what these have in common is that the author knew exactly the impression she wanted to give. So behind simple lies precision. Behind precision lies observation. Behind observation lies understanding of intention. In the same book, Erdrich wraps five hundred years of complicated Ojibwe and American history into one neat exchange between Nector Kashpaw and his mother. Kashpaw is reading Moby Dick. His mother asks him what he is reading, Nector responds, “the story of the great white whale.” His mother replies, “What do they got to wail about those whites?” – Intention, observation, precision.  

I brewed a fresh pot of coffee and rewrote the scene with intention. I wrote from the perspective of a young woman as she watched her home burn. With intention came observation, with observation came precise word choices. And because of the more sophisticated word choices, all that was unwritten also shone through. It wasn’t the scarlet flames or the torrified grass, (it was hard to let go of that word!) which the reader cared about, it was this woman’s loss. This emerged, uncluttered as I let her thoughts loose on the page. Nothing as brilliant as Erdrich or LeGarde Grover but away from complicated, clichéd dribble. All it took was a jar of wild daisies to remind me of the need for sophisticated simplification, precise observation and clear intention.  

Tiffany Jolowicz has self-published: Ironwomen an insight how and why women take on the long-distance triathlon challenge and How to enjoy your first baby as if it were your fifth, inspired by the difference in the mothering experience from her first to fifth child.  She recently graduated from Oxford University with a Diploma in Creative Writing and is writing her first historical fiction novel. An amateur photographer, she never leaves home without her camera, especially at dawn and dusk. Her photos have been published in Summer 2022 and 2023 The Courtship of Winds. She lives in Switzerland but visits Madeline Island in the summers.