Friday, August 24, 2012

The Great Outdoors

This summer I saw things like this...

Since I’m on a break from writing now, due to the necessity of preparing seven classes to teach next year, I thought I’d take a look back over my summer in this blog post.  The thing that leaps out at me from all my experiences is how much time I spent out of doors. 

When I was pre-school age, my family lived in Virginia and I spent every possible waking minute in our large, wonderful yard.  Looking at pictures from that time, I’m always astonished by how nearly blond my hair had been bleached by the sun.  I was tanned all over, too.  Considering I have dark hair and pale skin, this was quite the achievement.  It also shows how much I loved being outside. 

Then we moved to Washington (state).  We also had a large, wondeful yard there, and I continued to play in it as much as possible, but the Seattle area is not exactly known for its glorious weather.  I started to stay indoors more.  I also began my metamorphosis into a bookworm. 

My family’s final move was to North Idaho.  The weather here is quite nice – not humid and not terribly extreme in either winter or summer – and once again we had a large, wonderful yard (notice a trend here?).  However, I transferred into a private girls’ school with an intense curriculum, and so my new identity, bookworm extraordinaire, became set in stone.  I still spent a reasonable amount of time playing outside during the summer, but I definitely settled more and more into a sedentary life, curled up in a chair, or bent over a desk.

College in Texas didn’t really change anything, because it’s so hot in TX that escape indoors to air conditioning is the best option.  However, I did make a small breakthrough.  Fort Worth’s Botanical Gardens are magnificent: grand and sprawling, with little groves and corners and hideouts everywhere.  On free weekends, I’d go with Vasnefy or Mrs. L to find one of those little groves, settle in for a few hours with a thermos of coffee or tea, and write.  It was a therapeutic and inspiring routine.  I began to remember how restorative, how delightful it is to spend time outdoors.

...and like this...
However, after graduating, I worked for several summers and taught all winter.  I walked every day for twenty minutes at lunch, but that was mostly to decompress, not really to take delight in nature. 

This summer has been the first one in a long time when I’ve been free enough to enjoy the outdoors.  I decided to take up some biking, and despite an occasional set-back (bike theft, anyone?), I managed to keep it up for a solid two months.  Besides that, I planted herbs, which meant that I had to get outside to water them.  I helped my parents tend and harvest their garden.  I went for walks with friends. 

It was lovely!  I’ve felt alive and energetic and healthy all summer.  Usually winter is my favorite season, but I’m actually regretting the slow descent of summer into fall this year.  Besides, I’ve seen so many things!  My eyes are open to a millions new details, thanks to simply being outside. 

For example, ever since I was little I’ve loved animals.  This is mostly due to inheriting probably 50 Ranger Rick magazines from my older brother, and then having the subscription continued by my lovely aunt so that I collected another 100 or so.  I read them all over and over and became equipped with an amazing arsenal of random, mostly useless facts about animals.  Did you know that if you ate as much as a tiger does at one meal, you’d sit down to 200 hamburgers for dinner? (See, I told you – random and useless…but fascinating)  

Anyway, this summer I’ve seen cedar waxwings, toads, goldfinches, quail, pheasants, ladybugs, tiger swallowtails, moths, daddy longlegs, magpies, goats, bumblebees, rabbits, a million hummingbirds of at least four different species, and I’m probably forgetting a half-dozen other creatures.  The nerdy biology-enthusiast in me has been delighted by all these glimpses of the life around town.

...and like this!  The toad kindly posed for the photoshoot!
Why do I tell you this?  Because animals are just one of the many things which I encountered in my adventures this summer.  Animals, plants, beautiful landscapes, fair skies, other people—all these things are available if you get out of the house and look around.  Then once you’ve seen them, you can tuck them away in your memory, or perhaps take a photo to study later in leisure.  These beautiful sights and experiences from the world around us become a foundation on which to build stories.  Even if you don’t directly write about the menagerie I mentioned above, if you need to describe a hummingbird because you’ve invented a bird-watching character, then you only have to dig into your memory for the images to surface and be written down. 

So my concluding advice, then, is to put down your computer (now, if you can!), head outside and just enjoy whatever happens out there.  While it may not inspire your writing instantly, in a few days or weeks or months I wager you’ll be able to use what you see in some literary or artistic endeavor.  


  1. Yes Ma'am.... While I think my tomato plants have had it...the green pepper plants still needs looking after. And once the dew dries I've got the lawn to mow again. The only thing about bodies aging and changing is that now I have to be wary of biting insects. Where is that non-smelly bug repellent? It isn't fun being outside when things bite you and you react to them by getting all welty. Yes 'welty' isn't a word - maybe it should be. Nasty itchy red blotches make one think second thoughts about treading the great outdoors.

    By the way good luck on your new school year.

    1. Thanks for the comment and wishes for good luck!

      Sounds like your garden has been successful. I hope that the bugs don't attack you too much though. 'Welty' should be a word, I agree. It's the only way to describe the reaction to certain kinds of bug bites - yuck!

  2. Too true. If we don't live life, how are we supposed to write about it? Something we all should remember.

    I'm starting a new school year soon too. I'd be lying if I said I was totally excited...

    1. I really share your lack of total excitement. I know I'll enjoy it when it starts, but really no one anticipates the school year before it starts...

      Thank you for your comment, by the way. Three cheers for living life. It makes it so much better to be a writer if we do!