That’s me in the pic above, smelling cow manure.
And below, comparing the stink to pig manure.
Now, before you judge, you need to hear the whole story.
Sometimes, writers get an assignment that takes them to unexpected places. In this case, I was writing a piece and needed to describe the smell of cow manure. I hadn’t been near the stuff in quite some time. So, I called a farmer friend from church and asked if I could stop by and sniff around. He was more than happy to help and even gave me a tour of the pig and chicken pens for additional comparison.
What did I learn? Not all pooh smells the same.
TIME TO CELEBRATE
This year is my 25th anniversary as a freelance writer. Along the way, I’ve churned out remarkable – and remarkably strange – stories. To celebrate a quarter of a century and millions of words, I’d like to share a few unforgettable assignments.
MAKING THE CUT
Of my top five favorite types of assignments, case studies definitely make the list. A case study requires me to examine a problem—usually a topic I know zilch about—and uncover how someone solved the problem in a brilliant way. I’ve written case studies related to high-end car companies, meal delivery services, and candy, hardware, and grocery stores.
My all-time favorite case study involved knives. Lots of knives. And swords. And axes. When I toured the knife distribution center, I had no idea how many people collect anything with a blade. In fact, the center processed more than 800 orders A DAY!
If you’re wondering, the problem the company solved was finding a way to organize its growing inventory using the latest technology. The case study assignment gave me new appreciation for why my family members spend so much time (and money) making, trading, and buying blades to support their hunting hobbies. For example:
The above is a pic of my Dad’s favorite Buck® knife. He’s used it since the ’70s and keeps it shiny and sharp. I asked him how many deer he had cleaned with this knife over the years, and he said, “A wall full.” (Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.)
Yep, I’ve had my fair share. I once had to lean out a helicopter to videotape cattle trying to swim through flood waters. I don’t know what was more frightening: the idea of me falling or the panicked creatures who didn’t have my helicopter view, showing no dry land for miles.
My what-was-I-thinking assignment took place when I was asked to cover the annual rattlesnake roundup in Oklahoma (yes, it’s a thing). I actually climbed into a pen of rattlesnakes with a handler, who showed me how to pick one up without getting, well, dead. I did it. And somewhere in the video archives, I have the proof, but I’ll never try that again. I did, however, enjoy the fried rattlesnake on a stick. It tasted like chicken.
Thankfully, I don’t have rattlesnakes in my New Jersey gardens, but I have plenty of these critters. Harmless fellas, so please don’t reach for your blade if you see one.
By far, the best assignments that land in my inbox are those that represent people who step up, look out for others, and overcome daunting challenges.
I’ll never forget my interview with a woman who had been living on the streets with her dogs for years. A nonprofit organization provided free veterinary care for her pets—the fur babies that protected her and offered unconditional companionship. The nonprofit also connected her with human health resources. Today, she has a home, a job, a new life, and healthy dogs, all because some strangers cared.
And there was the time I got to spend a weekend interviewing and videotaping the oldest person living with HIV in Canada…or the time I interviewed a young man hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness of suicide prevention…or the time I wrote a video script to raise awareness of sex trafficking, or the time, well, I could go on.
I’ll stop reminiscing here and address the question that may be lingering in your mind from the beginning of my blog.
BACK TO THE DUNG
What did that cow dung smell like, anyway? The descriptor for the story went something like this: “a stinging stench of ammonia laced with stale corn.” Yum.
Yeah. Writing for a living is pretty great. Here’s to the next 25 years!