Tag Archives: writing

There doesn’t have to be a point

Out of the blue, I remembered this blog. It’s been over a year since I posted, and even then it was the tiniest of essays–a micro-essay, I suppose.

I’ve fallen out of the habit of creative writing.

Partly it’s because I don’t have a lot to say these days–so many words out there floating around already, who needs more? Partly it’s because my little writing community drifted apart–I’m not the only one to have essentially retired from writing. And partly because I’ve become more enamored with taking literal snapshots of life via my camera than with weaving imagined snapshots into words.

Though all this is true, I’ve stopped short of closing down this site.

I am finished with writing.” I thought as I skimmed through the archives. “What’s the point of keeping the blog?”

But even as I felt a momentary decision to close it down,  I knew there doesn’t have to be point to keeping this blog. The truth is that the words will return one of these days–and they’ll need someplace to rest.

 

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The Sounds of Silence*

My first snowshoe experience was on Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington State. It was a tame excursion, but I had never been so immersed in a deep winter environment. Afterward, my husband and I tried to hold in fits of laughter while watching a narrated film about winter in the park. “Winter melts into spring,” the narrator intoned as footage flashed on the screen. Every other word, it seemed, was a play on “silence.” It actually would have been better as a silent film.

We made up our own lines all day: The silent snow falls silently upon the silent trees silently waiting out the long, silent winter.

My favorite places take some effort to reach and, during the winter, special equipment. I like to stop in the middle of a steep run or on a Nordic trail lined by trees or next to an icy stream off a snowshoe trail. The effort is worth it. Once you arrive in places like these, what you see and hear pulls you right out of your comfortable little niche in the world.

I don’t listen to music on the trails like many people do because without it I can hear the “silence” of the world around me: My skis managing different kinds of snow – scraping across icy hardpack in the morning shade, muffled swipes through the softening snow in the afternoon sun. I can listen to what’s going on in the forest. The squirrel scolding me from the side of the trail as I pass. Rockfall echoing across a valley. Boulders crashing to the valley floor. Creaking branches of an evergreen swaying in the breeze, creating a moment of doubt. Is it going to fall?

It’s as if my sight sharpens, too, in these quiet moments, and I notice what I’d otherwise miss. The play of light on the mountainsides. The sparkling rainbows of snowflakes floating in the brightening morning. Different layers of snow colored by the angle of the sun. Blue ice peeking through a scraped-off mogul. The lone raven seeming to hang motionless, yet moving on its silent way from one side of the ski area to another.

Years ago, on an early morning Nordic ski in the Methow Valley, a gurgling creek kept me company as I skied toward the middle of the long, wide valley. The schussing of my skis hypnotized me a little, but I was called to attention by the unmistakable call of a bald eagle overhead. The eagle was making its lazy way in the same direction I was going. We paced each other for several kilometers before I turned back toward town and the eagle continued on its way.

It was a long time ago, but I remember the experience so clearly, as if it were a momentous event instead of a quick ski before packing the car to return to Seattle.

I still chuckle when I remember the melodramatic narration of the film, but I’m humbled by the silence it clumsily referenced, too. There’s a fine line between purple prose and the desire to share your astonishment at what you see around you. Maybe we should all just remain silent and watch and listen and keep it to ourselves.

Or maybe not.

*This essay was originally posted on the OutdoorsNW website in Winter 2013. http://outdoorsnw.com/2013/tales-from-the-lift-lines-ix-the-sounds-of-silence/

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Writing About Snow

I spend most winter weekends in the mountains skiing with my family. It’s so easy to jump into the car and drive the 90 or so minutes from sea level, with its mist and gray skies, to high elevations where we often emerge above the clouds into sunlight and blue skies. It is such a dramatic experience riding up a chairlife through the fog and then up and out into sudden clarity. I don’t think I’ll ever fail to be amazed by it.

I never thought I would do a lot of writing about snow or skiing until last year when a local magazine called OutdoorsNW asked me to blog about the “skiing lifestyle”. Not about extreme skiing or 20-something ski bums, but about doing what I do with my family: packing up, skiing all day, unpacking, over and over again all winter long. Of course, I jumped at the chance. And what came out of it was a series of short essays about skiing; essays that I hope readers can enjoy whether or not they ever put on a pair of ski boots.

I’ve been invited to blog about skiiing again this year and as a run up to my first new post in January, OutdoorsNW is pulling some of my essays from last year from the archives and posting them again. I thought I’d give a quick summary/link to them here every so often, too.

I hope you enjoy them!

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The first essay is called The Beginning.

“….I learned to ski at the ripe old age of 17 in the relatively flat state of Ohio. My best friend, Dave, who had cut his teeth in Michigan and Colorado, was determined that I would learn to ski under his expert tutelage. He schemed and planned, and then called out of the blue to announce he was coming over to my house to pick me up. Dave had something to show me; he’d found me some skis at a garage sale.”

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Flat Rate Archives*

The boxes are sitting on my Seattle steps, bright white against the dark, mildew-stained stairs. I heft them up; they’re surprisingly heavy.  I elbow my way inside the front door and drop them on the table with a thump.  The red and blue lettering reveals nothing about what’s inside, though I have my suspicions. I find scissors and slide one blade through the clear packing tape.

Flat rate boxes are a marvel:  we can fit anything we want into them, no matter how heavy, and ship them across the country for one low price.  My dusty storage boxes in Ohio, so long forgotten, are being downsized.  My mother is emboldened by the low cost. She is shipping the detritus of my youth to me one medium-sized, flat-rate box at a time.

But what to do with them?

This is my dilemma.  My drawers are already filled with scraps, bits, pieces.  Newspaper articles, half-finished poems, notes for haikus, drawings from the kids, kudos given long ago for acts unremembered.  Post cards, lists, film negatives.  My mind drifts backwards, always has.

These thin, nondescript cardboard boxes contain the elusive, fragmentary stuff of memory.  Their arrival has hurled me headlong into a hurricane rush of imagery, words, and emotion.  Long ago memories are again fresh as the rain that soaked the cardboard edges of the boxes as they sat on the front steps waiting for me.

I pull out stacks of letters, their envelopes still crisp after so many years in the dark. There are dozens of them, all mixed together. The letters smell of paper dust and old libraries. I think back to my days working in the rare books collection of the library during college. Long afternoons spent in the climate-controlled vault, shelving rare editions, books that only researchers with special permissions had access to. Hours spent reading and organizing the personal correspondence of journalism magnate E.W. Scripps—the thin onionskin paper, letters typed in duplicate by an anonymous, probably overworked, secretary. I was trained to treat envelopes, postage, paper with the utmost respect and care. Most of them are digitized now, but the hardcopies are still hoarded in the archives as treasures of a bygone age.

This flat-rate archive spans my own bygone age.  It is evidence of a particularly transition-ridden time: moving to a new town, the change from high school to college, the shift from undergraduate to graduate school. I see the handwriting and, even before I focus enough to read the names, I know which of my long ago friends sent each one.

The letters inside these envelopes echo back to me the shared experience we all had of leaving home for the first time and making our way in the world. But even if I didn’t have the letters themselves, the envelopes are artifacts enough for anyone to follow our journey into adulthood. The dates stamped on the outside show a flurry of letter writing at the start of these years, a tapering off in the middle, and then, eventually, the letters come to an end as we gain confidence in where we’re headed. The addresses show our moves from one place to another, from cheap apartment to cheap apartment, with brief layovers at our parents’ houses.  The later letters are typed out on computers, their dot-matrix ink now fading.

When I rifle through these boxes, trying to decide how to handle this rush of memory, I see the handwriting of my two grandmothers. I catch a glimpse of the precisely written addresses, the classically formed letters–themselves icons of a lost era. These letters bring my grandmothers vividly to mind in a way photographs of them do not. Photos show their images, but from a formal distance. Photographs show my grandparents on “occasions,” but the letters are based everyday life.

I hear their voices, again, through words on the page. The “God bless you!” at the end of each letter from Grandma Lynch.  Grandma Flynn’s funny expressions, “We have green grass again—and we also have scads of something else—Box Elder bugs. They are driving me up the wall.”

On visits to Wisconsin when I was a child, I lingered in their kitchens, listening while they worked and talked “grown up” talk with my mother. I didn’t know who they were talking about and didn’t really care. I just wanted to be in their domains, to listen to their voices, to absorb their presence. The letters they later wrote to me were my admission as an equal into that grown up world. My grandmothers summarized for me in their letters what they always told my mother in the kitchen: who was at the dinner party, which relatives were coming to town, what was happening at church, the description of a new recipe, a little bit of gossip.

These pieces of paper are an inheritance from my grandmothers. Their letters are a physical manifestation of love.  Each of my grandmothers selected the stationery, took time from her day to write and tell me what had happened in her life, carefully folded and creased the paper, sealed it, and sent it out from Wisconsin to wherever I happened to be.

Each of the letters from friends, scrawled in the wee hours of the morning, is a gift, too. A gift of time and friendship that cannot be replicated with a text message or social media update. Each moment described, each question pondered, each “I just wanted to say hi” required a conscious effort. A handwritten letter is a time-oriented task, a true investment in friendship and connection.

It’s been years since I received—or sent–a wonderfully thick, handwritten letter full of news and observations. With the rush of technology changing every aspect of how we communicate, I often hear and, to be honest, worry a little about the death of this or that: the death of the book, the death of traditional newspapers, the death of handwriting. I comfort myself knowing that technological advances often signal a sort of evolution rather than annihilation, but I know this is not true of the letter. I knew long before the advent of the laptop and the internet that the art of letter writing was on its deathbed, and that is one of the reasons I kept this jumbled archive in the corner of my parents’ dark basement.

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This essay first appeared in the October 2011 issue of Hippocampus Magazine. Because of a kind comment he made on my first published essay, I met a very talented blogger, Mr. London Street, whose entertaining and thoughtful observations of life inspired me to start this blog. He introduced me to most of the other bloggers on my Favorites List. Sadly, Mr. London Street is retiring from the blogging business, but his blog is still available, so I do hope you’ll check it out.

 

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