Learning to see
Description does not come easily to me. I can write pages and pages of dialogue, but ask me to describe a room and I start to twitch. I recognized some time ago that this might be a barrier to a career as an author and so I settled upon a way to force myself to observe. Every day I take a walk in the woods. With my dogs. Every day I observe the same thing, except it’s not the same thing, because it changes from day to day. There are the seasonal changes, of course, which are very evident now. Acorns are falling, leaves are drifting, chipmunks are chirping. That was a surprise to me. A chipmunk sounds like a bird. There are also changes after storms. I love to walk in the woods after a bad storm and look at all the drama. Some of the trees are uprooted, and they fall sideways, and their skirts make me think of ladies in crinolines. Sometimes one tree crashes on top of another, and then they look like monsters fighting. Sometimes a storm will force all the leaves off a tree, so what was bright and gold yesterday will be bare today. But then there are all sorts of quiet changes. Mushrooms erupt. Shifting light makes an innocuous looking stump look ominous. Streams dry up, or they overflow. There is one particular rock that is driving me crazy. It is way too big to move, and yet it does. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the path, and sometimes to the side. I can’t figure it out. I feel like someone is following me and moving it around, though that seems unlikely. However, when my oldest son was young I did one day go in the woods, did my circuit, and when I got done I discovered that a troop of Boy Scouts had following me. Evidently I am so focused on observing that I’m not paying attention to anything else. (Not surprisingly, there’s a scene in Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency when she’s being followed in the woods, though not by Boy Scouts.) One of my favorite trees in the woods is an ash. The leaves stay green, then turn a beautiful pale silvery color and curl up and they’re there all through the winter. They always make me think of sea shells. Then spring comes and they all fall to the ground and new green ones grow. I’m always excited to see that tree because I’m never quite sure what it’s going to do next.