For those of you who read this blog, you know I’ve moved from plains to hills. I traded in my urban hat before picking up one more suited for rural regions, but not without considerable trepidation.
Each early morning in the city, I had little more than the distance between my bed and the back door to traverse in order to herd my dog out the door. I could then reverse my route and fall back into bed or greet the day with a cup of robust, bitter coffee while admiring the spunky roses that bloom at least nine months each year. I watched birds follow the geometry of rooflines to perch and call each other awake. In the distance, behind the birds, I often heard a train whistle sound the alarm as it passed through busy intersections. Somewhere a siren cried, motorcycles whined, and car tires on pavement grew closer, louder before fading farther and farther as their drivers rushed to jobs, schools, and gyms.
Inside, NPR informed me all day long, sometimes speaking to no one in particular because I could be found at the far end of the house, watching some recorded program or tuning in to Chris Hayes, Melissa Harris-Perry, or Rachel Maddow. Like a sponge, I soaked up information, made connections, thought, and bathed in the noise.
Now my days are quiet. What brings me from my bed is the sound of my old dog rising and shaking her body into life. Her tags rattle against her collar, making a kind of metallica music. I know that song and hurry to dress in order to walk her one-half mile, round-trip, to her favorite place. The only sounds are her toenails upon asphalt and my footfalls; these are not loud enough to mask a rush of wind through pine needles, a sound so like a car motor in the distance that I turn to look, to be sure we don’t need to step off onto uneven ground, into what’s left of a bluff pushed back to make way for man to claim his spot along the shore.
This morning, as we approached the oak leaves, chat, and red cedar beds that the dog finds easy on her paws, I heard a soft rustle, then silence. I thought of something small, hoping a rabbit and not a skunk might appear from behind a row of thick bushes. Instead, from just beyond a rocky outcropping walked three large white-tailed deer. They moved like ballerinas, with grace, en pointe. Their weight on the rocks barely disturbed the morning’s hush. An owl let them know they had nothing to fear.
From my high vantage point, I could see a mist against the land. It stood like Hadrian’s wall between warmer ground and chilly waters. Stephen King might have imagined something sinister in that mist; instead I saw a downy blanket and felt the cold burrowing between the fibers of my gloves, sneaking between my collar and my skin, settling along my shoulders.
A large fish broke the surface far below. The soft sounds of splashing water followed after concentric circles had spread upon the surface. A duck broke from its nest and squawked upon the water; some other bird, a gull perhaps, rudely intruded upon the peaceful day. High in the hills, the clever crows awoke. Smoke twisted and rose from a distant chimney. I turned homeward to brew bitter coffee and feed the old dog.
Read Annie Dillard. Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek won the Pulitzer for its masterful observations about nature and life.
Wherever you dwell, take an early morning walk, concentrating on at least three senses: sight, sound, and texture. Then write about your walk. Revise and edit to recreate the sense.
GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Farther and Further
I’ve explained the difference between farther and further once before in this blog so you’d think I’d be confident, but I still jump over to Google and check my usage before posting. I haven’t written the wrong word in . . . well, I can’t remember choosing the wrong word, but I worry and doubt myself so I check.
Suffice it to say that I hope to walk farther each day with my old dog so that I may further my writing life. Walking farther is walking an actual physical distance beyond the distance I walked yesterday, but walking to further my writing life is abstract, figurative. Just how far I may extend my writing life by walking isn’t measurable so further is the right word.