Pulling Boulders Up the Side of a Mountain

A few weeks ago, my piece titled A Winter Walk (AWW) was published in the Under the Gum Tree in their 10th Anniversary edition. It’s a gorgeous publication, and I can’t stop looking at it. The art is breathtaking. The layout is so well done. I’m shocked to see my name and photo on the pages. I also have to keep looking at it because I can’t get over how much work went into that one essay.

AWW was my first attempt at a braided essay. Several people have asked me that is, so here you go. According to Purdue Online Writing Lab, “In a braided essay, the writer has multiple “threads” or “through-lines” of material, each on a different subject. The essay is broken into sections using medial white space, lines of white space on a page where there are no words (much like stanzas in poetry), and each time there is a section break, the writer moves from one “thread” to another. Braided essays take their name from this alternating of storylines, as well as from the threads the story contains; there are usually three, though to have four or two is also possible.”

So basically, AWW is two essays I braided into one.

After seeing a call three or four years ago for Annie Dillard-inspired work, I first wrote three short personal essays about walking in the snow. They never really got off the ground. In 2019 a friend read them and suggested I make two of the three pieces into one. Of course, they were right. At first, I tried to make it a traditional essay, but it felt wrong. Then I learned about the braided style in a workshop with Random Noble Billings in 2019. I worked away at AWW off and on through 2020. It was a challenge to use a strict structure, but it was a good challenge.

Working on AWW was like pulling boulders up the side of a mountain. I printed so many copies because I kept cutting it up, rearranging the sections, and taping it together. So much cutting, taping, scrapping, and cutting, taping, scrapping. I left paragraphs and ideas I loved in the recycling bin because they no longer served the larger project. Each little section of the essay (one paragraph from each) has a theme tying them together until they eventually weave together.

Several sets of eyes looked over this piece as I worked on it. Layers were added and taken away with each round. I finally started submitting it last winter. I was thrilled that Under the Gum Tree accepted it. After all the years of work, I look at it now and am blown away that it’s simply words on a page. But every word on those pages was well worth the effort. I know this piece, with its themes and braided layout, is not for everyone. But what is?

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