Though it is the middle of a warm August afternoon, I have dragged Lady B. out for a constitutional…
Photo by Roz Sheffield
She is not altogether sure what’s going on, and frankly it’s a wonder that she trusts me after my last date as Ballroom hostess – Villains Day, you might recall.But she is well recovered from all that and since she has several hours before she must welcome the evening’s guests, she is intrigued by the ritual of a writer’s walk. I’ve agreed to take her along.
Lady B: So this is what you romantic, artsy types get up to in the middle of the afternoon, then, is it?
It is, say I.
We look the part. Regency ladies out for a stroll. Wide-brimmed straw bonnets. Printed muslin downs in pastel colors. (How did Regency people stay cool, anyway? Painted fans, linen underclothes, and drinks like Barley Water…read on for the recipe.)
All I know is that I am determined to enjoy every last drop of summer while it lasts. The slower pace of life. The tranquility of an afternoon in the shady green woods. It’s refreshing to the spirit, rejuvenating to the soul. It also happens to be wonderful for the creative faculties of the mind.
Lady B: How fortunate that writers can legitimately count relaxation among their daily duties. It’s almost as good as being the daughter of a duke.
It does help make up for all the years of rejection, I admit. *g*
But it’s true. This idle walking…or some other languid practice that my colleagues find useful (jogging, crafting, shopping?) is as important to the art as the historical research, the plotting, the revision.
Writers do have a grand tradition of taking walks, from the Bronte sisters striding across the windy moors, to Thoreau (or was it Emerson?) making his in-depth study of ant colonies at war.
There is a secret in it, I wager, though I’ll be dashed if I know what it is.
Photo By Brenda Starr
Perhaps it’s simply the sheer, decadent luxury of thinking of nothing at all—such bliss for the modern mind, especially the overactive imagination, the questing, ever-puzzling, insomniac, writer’s mind. Maybe no one knows exactly how it works, but watching the sky, smelling the scent of rich turf and the spring water, hearing the babbling brook and the birds—being wholly in the present moment—seems to be the best refreshment for that place inside of a writer that the story comes from.
For me, this is my renewal. I savor the restfulness, the stillness.
The gravel of the easy path crunches under my feet, as I escape the beating sun in the coolness and languor of thick woods. A hundred shades of green fill my eyes, countless textures. Birds twitter, unseen amid the branches.
A hawk soars against the clouds shapes glimpsed amid in the trees. I note the shelf moss growing off the sides of their weathered trunks here and there and half expect see a fairy standing atop one of these little horizontal outposts, midway down a towering poplar or an elm.
At my feet, meanwhile, a beetle trundles across the path ahead, steady and direct, carrying its shiny black shell. On both sides, the way is starred with tiny purple tiny flowers on tall stalks. Yellow bursts of tiny trumpets.
Photo credit Nancy Frost
A bee inspects a ragged white daisy with a yellow center. I go in search of some comfortable, unexpected garden seat, a mossy boulder near the babbling brook, or the crook of a big old tree-trunk where I could wedge myself and find a place to write, or read, or journal, or dream.
It’s more than picturesque. The peacefulness of this setting seeps into me, becomes me, and I do my best to pass it onto you. The lulling drone of crickets rises and falls on the heavy, humid air.
Butterflies in resplendent colors go crashing past, impossible creatures weaving feckless paths. The dragonfly zooms by much more purposefully and hovers, gone again in the blink of an eye, a whirring flash of blue. Here and there, a pale moth waits for evening.
Crunch, crunch, go my steps. I focus on the steady sound as my thoughts fade.
Then I notice the curious, smooth, brown dome of a beehive hung up high in the branches of a crabapple tree. Almost like parchment paper, wrapped and wrapped, desiccated. The ground at the feet of the tree is littered with hard, green fruit too sour for anyone but squirrels. Down the path fifty yards ahead, a deer glides by silently on long-legged steps, delicate as a whisper, it’s tapered ears twitching off flies. Its dappled hide helps it melt into the shadows and it’s gone.
There’s a rabbit that doesn’t bother running from me as it busily chews a blade of grass. Oddly, I take that as a compliment: I’m no threat.
I idle my way over a footbridge, the stream below strewn with gray rocks cloaked in luxurious green moss. Pussy willows cluster at the banks; water bugs skate across the surface. The gurgling stream is too inviting. I walk down to trail my fingers in the current, then all the more enchanted, step out of my flip-flops and kick up a small splash with my toes.
Photo by Fontplaydotcom
I take a deep, slow breath, reveling in the sense of well being. Wholeness. Then suddenly a snippet of dialogue unfurls across my mind like a banner. Plain as day it’s written. What my hero really feels, the thing he needs to say. It fills the hole in my tapestry where I didn’t even know something was still missing.
Where did that come from? Not from me. I was too busy over-thinking it. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get out of your own way. It’s times like these when you need to take a walk. Then these little puzzles have a way of simply solving themselves.
Thanks for coming along on our walk. But I don’t imagine these kinds of experiences belong only to writers. Where do you go, what do you do when you need to clear your head? What helps? We’re taking suggestions to expand our own repertoire. Thanks for joining us today. Here, have a glass of chilled Barley Water, and here’s the recipe while we’re at it!
Barley Water, the Regency answer to lemonade, from REGENCY RECIPES by Marie-Pierre Moine and Antonia Williams, Arundel Press, 1995.
MAKE 2 PINTS
Juice and grated zest of two juicy unwaxed lemons
4 oz. pearl barley
2 oz. sugar
Bring to the boil two pints of water with the grated zest of lemons. Add the barley, sugar, and lemon juice and return to the boil. Reduce the heat a little and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Take off the heat, leave until cold, then strain through a muslin-lined sieve. Chill until needed and drink very cold.
(Note: Cheesecloth or even a sturdy coffee filter might suffice if you don’t have a muslin sieve.) I’m going to try this! Let me know if you do, too, and what you think of it!