In the last month or so, I’ve taken a break to focus on some traveling with the family.
The first stop for hubby and me was Wilmington, N.C., where we lounged on the beach, went shopping in the historic downtown area (if you ever go, check out the Cotton Exchange for some excellent local shopping), and enjoyed some excellent food. We don’t have much in the way of variety when it comes to cuisine in the town where we live, so it was nice to enjoy everything from Vietnamese food to fondue. I grew up in a family in which food is really important, so when I travel, some of my fondest memories are of the great food I get to sample. In Germany, for example, they have Eis Cafes—entire restaurants devoted to ice cream. Seriously. It rocks. And while the food at that little teahouse in Santé Fe, New Mexico, certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, the dining—ahem—experience certainly was. So I’m now on a fondue kick and spend my spare moments fantasizing about hosting a fondue party. Local peeps, break out the fondue forks!
Because I am a sunshine-lover, now that it’s sundress-and-sandal weather, I have a hard time keeping my ass glued to a seat indoors any longer than it takes to pound out another scene. My crop of lettuce, herbs, radishes, and arugula is already sprouting up a bountiful harvest, which, coupled with the leafy greens and radishes my dad gave me from his Pennsylvania garden, means my husband and I have a continual supply of salad fixings.
Last weekend, I went back to the “home country” of western Pennsylvania for a wedding. I’m always struck by how beautiful the landscape is there. It’s been marred by years of misuse—acid mine drainage from the coal industry has tinged the waters a sulfuric yellow-orange, and boney piles (hill-sized mounds of coal waste) pock the landscape. But there’s this soft beauty in the trees that reminds me of who I am and why I became a tree-hugging, Yaris-driving, nature girl in the first place. Knowing the beauty of the land but witnessing the frailty of that beauty and how hard it is to rebuild brought out in me a longing to protect it. And I do find hope in the number of wind turbines now visible there—in the heart of coal country, where my ancestors, were, in fact, coal-miners, renewable energy is now taking root.
I found my first inspiration in the forests of home. That’s where I wrote my earliest stories, where I became an artist. Long before I ever used a computer to record my stories, I sat in the woods of ferns and maples and wrote in spiral-bound notebooks. I wrapped myself in a quilt and watched the sunset from the front porch swing, surrounded by the pink blaze of rhododendrons. I dreamt of the places I’d go and the person I would become. Sometimes, before anyone else woke up, I’d creep downstairs and stare out the kitchen window, watching the mist as it draped and curled along the ground. I found more stories from the land than I ever could staring at a screen. I’ve gotten to see the beauty of landscapes and cityscapes in so many places, and each time, I take a little bit of it with me, tucked away in the back of my mind, to fuel another story. But it’s nice, every once in a while, to go back to where I first realized I wanted to be a storyteller. More than anything, what I learned from my roots was the importance of connection, of unity. I came to believe that everything in this vast universe is connected. One thing impacts the other. They say each man is an island—that may be so, but he’s still touched by the sea; the light of the stars still reaches down toward him.
Summer sunshine makes it hard to stay indoors, when so many stories are buzzing among the leaves. I have a manuscript to finish this summer, and come August, when teaching resumes, there will be a finished draft sitting on my desk.
Who knows how many of those pages will be written sitting on my balcony, where I’m moved by the poetry of the trees?