writing about nature

[I’m at an all-day workshop for the writing class I’m taking, and I figure I might as well post my freewrites, as long as they don’t get too weird.]

We did in fact walk in silence for long stretches, and it was nourishing. I don’t often get to be silent around other people, or to be around people who are silent. But it was never entirely quiet. The trail was fairly crowded, especially close to the trailhead, because it is August, and dry, and everyone in the world is on vacation, or at least everyone in the northern hemisphere. In the lodge restaurant, after the hike, I heard two different tables speaking in French (I think). It must be nice to have a long mandated vacation, and enough money to travel to an entirely different continent. So there were fragments of other people’s conversations, because most people don’t walk in silence. But sometimes it was just the three of us, walking in the woods, with no one in earshot, and even then it certainly wasn’t silent. Closer to the river — well, a river is its own source of noise — and farther from the river the air was full of bugs. (Good grief, so many bugs. I was grateful to have brought my bug spray, and to be able to share it with others.) So there was a constant hum.

I do think quite a bit about pieces I’m writing while I’m out and about, and I’m trying to get my head back in to the D&D story, so I found myself capturing little details to try to remember to use later. Perhaps a scene when they’re going through the winter — ah, never mind, that’s in winter. But fantasy bugs can be even huger and more terrifying than real-world ones, so the idea of stirges in the forest? Makes my skin crawl. Would make a pretty decent scene to have the ranger fighting them, and how would Bessamere behave.

“I can’t tell if that’s an actual animal, or someone making fun of one.” (weird goat-like sound while we’re writing)

I’ve been in a lot of forests, it occurs to me, having lived in Washington for more than 20 years. Mount Elinor, when I’d only been here a few weeks (the first time I lost my big toenail!); various spots around Rainier, around St Helens. Lots and lots of trips to Bagby, walking the mile and a half up to the hot springs. Even to the Hoh once before, literally 20 years ago. Plus all the close-by places: Point Defiance, Swan Creek, out on the bike trail, the woods here. There’s plenty of similarities and differences. This felt “easy”, like walking in Point Defiance, or much like the Bagby trail, especially compared to when Chad, Justin, & I went up to Rainier, which was so recent. That was such a challenging experience, physically: the walk up to Lake George, THAT is the level of difficulty of going over the mountains (or was it down the mtns?) that I’ve imagined for that scene or set of scenes. I honestly was not sure I was going to make it, and I felt so small and weak having to stop all the time. But it was so beautiful, both the up-close-ness of the plants right near us, and then rounding a bend or pausing on a log and THE MOUNTAIN right there. And at the same time, I didn’t want to be weak in front of them. I am NOT READY to be someone who can’t.

Which makes me feel strange about what happened yesterday. We didn’t make it to the place that we’d planned on, and while some of that was because of a long detour, and some of it was from knowing there was a long drive ahead of us, it was still an uneasy feeling, stopping, unsure of whether the destination was around Just One More Bend or whether it was a mile or more away, and turning around. Not just keeping going.

Even walking in silence, one is aware of the others who are there being silent. One is aware of the others who have been on this path, and how well-traveled it is: the shiny spots on the roots where so many others have walked, the deep footprints from when the trail was muddy, the dust coating the plants closest to the trail.

Maybe I was also disappointed because it was so dry. It’s almost the middle of August, nearing the exact driest point, and even though it rained Friday night, it was obvious it hadn’t rained much in a long time. I noticed this morning biking to the Organic Farm that the trails here are actually more damp than those were yesterday. Even the spots where the moss was still bright green, it was stiff and crisp to the touch; the ferns had that same contrast between looking lush and feeling stiff or sharp.

The last time we went to Bagby, I think it was still June, and on the way down from the tubs, we decided to jump in the river. He scrambled to the top of the little waterfall and just jumped, the way that he does, while I hesitated at the foot, thinking about how to slip in cautiously. The rocks were slippery, and really my sandals don’t have all that much traction. (Though at least they’re better than flip-flops.) As I edged towards the pool near the bottom of the waterfall, my feet slid out from under me, and with a whoomph I was in the water. Like the Hoh, it comes off the top of the mountain, out of ice and snow, and in the early summer (late spring?) it’s so cold it could kill. I was jolted, terrified, totally awake; I couldn’t get back to the spot where I’d fallen in, and reached frantically for some other spot on the slippery rocks. He was out by then, and helped me get up out of the water. Freezing wet, and frightened, and yet exhilarated. I’m glad I did it, almost even wish I’d just DONE the thing and not tried to half-ass it. (obvious metaphor alert!)

I couldn’t get in the river yesterday, only just got to dip my hand in it. And it was cold, but not that much colder than the Deschutes was a month ago.

We stopped at “Beach 1” on the way home, and that actually felt like something new and different for me. (Am I jaded now? Heaven forfend. But there is a certain rubric in my head about wanting to spend more time enjoying a thing than I have to spend getting there, and the trip to the Hoh ran afoul of that rule.) Salmonberry hedges (brambles?) taller than my head. A sort of labrynth down to the beach. The weird tumors on the spruce trees. And the ocean itself, which time has made unfamiliar, and the Northwest beach which has always felt strange and improbable. Wanting to touch the ocean, and so playing tag with it, getting my shoes wet instead of my fingertips.

(There might be a poem or an essay in here about familiar/unfamiliar settings? Or the layering of other people and places, and what that does to experience? Not sure. Sadly, not as much that I can use for the thing I actually want to be working on.)

Postscript: while discussing this, remembered the camping trip Labor Day weekend 1996 — raining all weekend, first time I’d been camping in years. Being with Greyson & his boss from the little theater. Coming back to the news of Becca’s accident.