What Works

I took this picture while out on a run this morning (I love running with my iphone), and had most of this thought/poem written by the time I puffed my way home ....

What Works

I've spent my life learning by listening and thinking and practicing,
not often enough by simply doing.

Countless hours reading about cooking and writing and training my dogs,
time that's gone, like stones thrown in a deep lake.

Running away from a heart-attack this morning, I watched the world wheel around me,
precise and perfect, a dancing millions of parts with no missed steps.

The fawn crossing in front of me has learned not by sitting in a series of classrooms,
but through a thousand generations of fawns that didn't live to reproduce,
too slow in front of a truck, abandoned fear of the bear or coyote or rifle-bearing hunter.

Roadside blueberries didn't plant themselves along County Route 50 for us to pick,
small beasts ate tiny berries containing minuscule seeds which emerged later,
ready to sprout, but most don't germinate ... only the right ones do.

Each leaf and needle holds just the correct amount of water from this morning's drizzle,
no plans, just surface-tension and gravity,
and the drop's angle of repose relative to the leaf or needle.
{I know this term doesn't fit exactly, but it works for my brain ... so deal with it}

Nature has no plans, holds no 'truths', knows no secrets,
she improves infinitesimally, day by day,
through messy and disastrous and bloody failures,
endless and varied.

I need more of this in my life,
not disasters and bloody messes
but more doing and less thinking ....

To leap and dare to fall,
in the kitchen,
in my writing,
with my dogs (and family and friends and strangers).

I think I need to fail more,
and grow comfortable with the failures as a part, and process, of learning,
or bettering,
or just exploring failure.

Nature's best never came from plan or classroom or book,
and nor will mine.


My New Writing Retreat

A writing retreat can mean something different to every writer. To me it means a space to get away from work and family and some of the distracting elements in my life for some period of time (be it hours or days).

Sometimes it means a distant and isolated house in the middle of nowhere ... like this one in Iceland (no, I haven't been there, but I'd like to visit). I've found that while that's a nice idea, I don't need that level of isolation and quiet and peace. Last winter, I was able to do some good writing in the middle of a crowded ski-lodge with the help of good headphones and a favorite playlist of music to help me focus on writing and ignore the milling masses.

I'm a big fan of doing my writing in the presence of other writing, so a space like the one pictured above would feel wonderful, I imagine ... the words and thoughts and time and care washing over me while I scribble. That being said, I normally write with my Kindle (loaded with a few hundred of my favorite books) handy, along with a wifi connection for research and reference, and seem to do just fine.

When writing, I like to have a connection with the natural world ... the feel of a breeze, smell of balsam sap, sound of rain, the movement of leaves/needles/beasts at the edge of my peripheral vision. It helps me maintain the feeling of nature as a character in my writing. A nice view is often enough, although the sensation of real air playing across my fingers and face is also nice.

The reason I'm writing about this this morning is that I'm on a short-term writing retreat. I headed out to Origin Coffee Co. in nearby Saranac Lake this morning a bit before 6:30am, and have been working on my next novel for a few wonderful hours at a small table way in the back.

It was very quiet (not shocking for an early Sunday morning) when I first arrived, but even as the morning wore on, I've been pleasantly surprised at the peaceful vibe it has maintained. I've been listening to some Mozart and the soundtrack to "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", but been able to keep it low enough that I can still hear the rain pattering on the roof outside the open window off to my right.

They have wifi, and I've been able to look up some items and maps and such (as well as write/post this blog), and add a few needed articles and books to my Kindle. The view is lovely and with an open window, I'm constantly reminded of the nearness of wilderness by the feel of cold, clean air, and the sound of rain and wind.

I've been paying rent by way of buying something to eat or drink every hour, which also gives me a reason to stand and stretch and walk about a bit; this is working for me better than I had any right to hope/expect.

I look forward to doing this on a regular basis, and hope that everyone reading this can find a similarly easy and friendly and pleasant writing retreat for themselves ... you're welcome to use this one, but don't expect me to chat much (although I promise to wave as I wander by to pay my rent.




A Lighter Shade of Green ....

Anthropologist Franz Boas famously said of Inuit languages that there were dozens of words for snow ... walking Puck and Miles in the woods near our house at this time of year I enjoy at least that many 'flavors' of green.

Strong dark greens, in moss and leaf and needle,
speak of life ... islands of vitality connected by networks of twigs and roots.

Waxy, reflective greens, to marshal or shed water,
wink and blink at us as we wander the woods, sharing light I'd have sworn wasn't there.

The gentle greens though, delicate and light and tentative newcomers in my woods,
those are the ones I love best... balsam above the rest.

Frost said that her first green is gold,
new dreams birthed from last year's tips,
reaching out for sun and space,
to tickle us on newly narrowed paths.

Softly yielding to my touch,
unlike last year's needles,
pale and fragile, bursting with life.

The future of each tree, of the world, is in this new growth,
part promise, part hope, part risk taken without choice.

We should all reach out with new growth each spring,
stretching and hoping and putting forth new dreams.

Last year's growth is fine, it feeds us,
but our best magic is in what's new, what's next, what's now.

I pinch off a tender twig of newly minted needles and pop it in my mouth,
soft and nascent needles, a woodland treat served al dente, not quite crunching between my teeth,
a bitter flash, sharp and resinous,
bringing first grimace, then grin.

The dogs are too polite to say anything at any foolishness of mine in the woods,
but the looks they exchange speak volumes ...
we finish our walk,
them thinking of breakfast,
me pondering new growth I could add this year.

JS - 6/10/2015