Setting the Tone

It’s a new layout at The Writing Life blog and turning over a new leaf. This blog was founded on the principles of living a present life and recording anecdotes from that life in draft form on these pages. The early drafts posted in 2005 developed into essays that got me into grad school. Ironically, it was during grad school that these pages shifted dramatically away from anecdotes in favor of news and happenings, albeit with a writer’s twist.

With the recent news that I will be leaving one ecosystem—the southern Appalachian Mountains—and moving to another—the far north upper peninsula of Michigan, I am geared up to get back to the old, faithful style of writing I first engaged in at this blog’s inception. My nonfiction has always been tied to the land and in order to fully comprehend what leaving these mountains will mean, I intend to engage more deeply with the land in these final months. Likewise, when I arrive at Interlochen for my Writer-in-Residence position, the ground will be covered in several feet of snow that won’t let up for four months. The only way I know how to fully live such enriching experiences is to write my way through them, so here goes…

Some days, these mountains intend to break my heart right open. Red, waving maples and yellow-flagged tulip poplars lit Fork Mountain on fire in the afternoon sunlight, beckoning me to play hooky from the writer’s desk.

[View of Roan High Bluff in the clouds, my road trailing up the distance, and the broad face of Fork Mountain in the foreground]

I spend 20 hours a week nannying a now-14-month old beautiful baby girl. Our mornings are spent primarily outdoors, sometimes in the stroller and more and more often one toddling step at a time. On this morning’s walk, a great gust of wind teased the trees and leaves fell into C’s lap to her delight. She picked up an oak leaf and held it out to me, then made her sweet sound that means “How did that happen?”

Good question. How did that happen? Such a gift, this bright-colored leaf, and of all the places to fall it lands in her lap. We could have kept on, our walk only halfway over, but instead we stopped and examined the leaf. She fingered its tough stem and then spotted some acorn tops that had also fallen with the wind. Her deft hands clasped as many as they could, and we toddled further down the trail, C’s special tokens held tightly to her chest.

Later, she would abandon the leaf and acorn tops for a mica-flecked rock the size of her fist. Holding it up to me, her rock-filled fist punching into the sunlight, she made her sweet sound again: “How did that happen?”

What a wonderful way to discover the world, taking time for the most basic explorations. A simple rock—sure. But rocks are the very foundation we walk upon. A simple leaf—sure. But leaves are the stuff of life, composting beneath our toddling toes until they’re returned to the Earth once again.

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