Barren

Two winters ago, I started snowshoeing after work in the small park across the street from my house or winter walking before I sat down to write. It gave me time to pre-write, plan out what I wanted to do, say, approach before I sat down in front of my laptop or notebook. The same thing happened when I swam my 2-miles before I left for work. I discussed this with a person from my writing group, and she said it was a common practice for some writers to pre-write in their heads before they sat down. She also told me I fell into the Thoreau/Emmerson school as opposed to the Hemmingway school. Some writers can only create when they are fit and healthy, for example, walking a great deal and sleeping regularly. Others need to put themselves in a place of sickness before that can write, drinking heavily, drug use, and not sleeping at all. Yup, she’s right, I’m a Thoreau. But the arid month of June left my brain too dry and dusty to pre-write even on delicious walks.

Since the pandemic began, walking in the woods has been my sanity, not only for writing but for life in general. Each place I venture has a unique perfume, symphony of calls, and an ever-changing kaleidoscope of flowers and leaves. Even the wooded trail along the Chuctanunda Creek that runs near my house offers a bounty of change every time I pass through. Being in nature fills my cup of joy. There’s something about water and the life that grows around it that feels like home.

My job runs on a school year, so since school let out, I’ve expanded my weekend hikes to every morning. I’m exploring new trails, lakes, mountains, and marshes early before the heat or thunderstorms kick up. I scour the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy website and the Alltrails app for ideas on how long I want to drive that day, how far I want to walk, and what do I want to see.

We had hardly any rain in June. All the streams and brooks I had to puzzle my way around to keep my feet dry were gone. Even the Mohawk River that floods regularly here had dried to a trickle. The landscape looked as dehydrated and brown as the end of August. With no festivities planned this year, people have been setting off fireworks in the park across the street from my house, and I’ve been so worried about a stray spark catching on the shriveled yellow grass.

But for the last week or so, we’ve had daily thunderstorms and pouring rain every afternoon and evening. After the first shower, ferns sprung up overnight in understory’s that had been barren just days earlier. Leftover water dripped from the leaves onto my hat and shoulders. The dense, lush humidity of the forest filled my lungs with life.

My brain matched those parched torrid days of June following the turmoil and upset that has been 2020. I felt starved for words and thoughts beyond the songs that played on repeat in my head. The rains have helped to wash away the dust and restart new growth like fungi covering fallen logs. Songs still get caught, like Here Comes The Rain Again, that I sang to the over 60 salamanders and newts I counted on the Highland trail in Plotter Kill. The rains have awoken the seeds tucked away in my brain, and I feel as if I can think again for the first time in a long while.

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