Trail Crew of the Mind

Sometimes, creative play takes the form of mixing up your routines. While I tend to spend Mondays volunteering with Carolina Mountain Club, this week, I framed my time with trail crew differently. I’ve been dedicating mornings to the novel, but didn’t want to miss out on trail crew, so I woke early and began immediate work on revisions, then headed out to meet my CMC buddies. Summiting nearby Pinnacle peak, our task was relatively simple: blaze the trail with new markers, clear downed trees, and lop overgrowth. One of my favorite perks of volunteer trail crew work is a chance to wander–and wonder–in the woods at a slower pace than normal hiking or backpacking. With a hazel ho or saw in my hands, it’s my job to work efficiently but thoroughly, and that takes time as I step and view the forest with different eyes.

Today, I steered my mind a bit away from the functional and toward the imaginative.
As we lopped through dense rhododendron thickets, I imagined hobbit tunnels. As a small flock of wrens fluttered from one rock outcropping to another, dancing across a viewscape of mountains, I wondered what it would feel like to ride on their backs. Later, at lower elevations, I considered hiding places and natural rock shelters that seemed poised for an overnighter. I noticed thick patches of moss, which appeared like quilts across the land. Cutting a few errant hemlock boughs, I imagined a bed of needles and the scent of evergreens sending me to sleep.

It’s the little things–it always has been–but remembering this is such a gift. One thing that makes the best short stories the best, is the fact that they reveal truth through the immediate details of our lives. How we see what we see influences what we glean from the world, and what we glean entices us to act. If the gathering clouds and icy wind make me think of hibernating, and if creative play entices me to push that metaphor to an extreme, what can I learn about myself? My choices? Fictionally, what could the idea of hibernation do in the novel I’m working on right now? How my might my protagonist feel if given the chance to hunker down with the bears, skip out on hunting season (which is in full swing here in the Blacks right now), and wake up rested but with a ferocious appetite?

Back at the desk with a few more miles of trail under my belt, I feel as though I’ve traveled a lot further than my local National Park today. There’s been an exhale. A space has been created. Where there’s space, surely the imagination will find a way to fill it. I’m already excited to get back to the novel tomorrow morning…Creative Mission Accomplished!

View from Pinnacle looking north at Black Mountains

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