Yesterday at lunch, I took advantage of the gorgeous weather currently gracing the Pacific Northwest–sorry, nearly everyone else in the country–and wandered the woods near the university where I work. (The photos that appear in this post were snapped on my phone as I strolled.) For Western Washington standards, it was cold: 35 degrees and windy. But as a transplanted Midwesterner and lapsed Northeasterner, I found the chill air nicely brisk. Anyway, you warm up quickly if you can only walk fast enough!
Walking the woods has been an important practice in my life ever since I was ten and my family moved to a house bordered by several miles of forest. As a junior high student who knew she was different somehow from other kids, I took solace in meandering among the nonjudgmental trees with my best friend, Bandit, a loyal, sweet, ball-crazed Collie-Lab mix. I’m not sure if it was then that I developed a sense of trees as living, breathing creatures, or if that perception is only one part of the wild-places-friendly ethos my parents raised my sister and me with during our regular camping trips in Michigan and beyond. Either way, I’m thankful I was raised to appreciate and enjoy nature.
In the novel I’m working on currently, a story of love and death and Scotland, three of my favorite subjects, trees factor importantly for my first viewpoint character. In one of my favorite sections–which means it should be edited closely by someone else, since my objectivity is nonexistent–my Seattle-based woodworker, Reese, ruminates on the beingness of trees as she and her dog hike through Discovery Park on a sultry August afternoon. (Yes, we do occasionally see sultry in the temperate Northwest.) As I wrote that passage, I tapped into my lifelong sense of wonder at forests, as well as my adult dismay that as a culture, contrary to the cliche, we often lose sight of individual trees for the forest.
An aspect of fiction-writing that fascinates me is how it allows the writer to capture a moment or period of time from her own life and give it meaning and context through the thoughts, beliefs, experiences of her character(s). Everything I see and do really is fodder, and I never know where or when a given experience might appear in my writing. One of the first times I remember consciously noticing the writer’s voice in my head was a spring day in junior high, when I was walking the block to school along a residential street lined with lovely old elm and oak trees. I looked up at the rose-colored sky, morning light angling through pale green buds, and I knew I would never find the words to express the sublime beauty of that moment, the wonder of sunrise in spring.
I’m still trying to find the words, though, and still pacing beneath trees and along fern-lined forest trails every chance I get. Looking forward, too, to passing on my family’s joy in the natural world to the next generation. In a few months, I hope to be hiking local trails with my daughter, introducing her to flowers and ferns and tree bark and delighting in her wide-eyed wonder the same way my parents must have done with my sister and me decades ago, leading us along forest trails in Michigan and teaching us about the sentient creatures all around.