Wayfinding

We are slowly returning to the world, internet connectivity, cell phone reception, and all. The past summer, in all its surprising and unplanned glory, has felt both like a blip and like an epic. We’ve only been gone from Asheville for a bit more than three months, and it’s a little funny to have returned to the same city, but not the same life. Inertia has power, but we’re determined to defy it.

About the trail. I don’t feel that we failed at anything. In fact, I’m grateful for how everything did play out, because the experience clarified a few things in a way that abstract examination couldn’t have.

Living in the woods soothes me. Trail life has an attractive simplicity, a quietude that is a balm to me, in spite of its not-insignificant challenges (perhaps because of them). But I also miss my stuff and my home life. I miss writing at my desk, cooking in a full kitchen, riding my bike somewhere, pulling out an old book whenever the mood strikes me.

Living in and working on an unfinished house in the country sang to me. Stars moon-bright by virtue of their sheer numbers, hearing a hawk’s cry more often than a car’s passing, hiking and mountain biking right from the front door. Doing something with my hands everyday. This is how I lived until I was sixteen, and it’s in my blood and marrow. And yet. Even with more than three decades’ practice, I can’t quite figure out my relationship to other people. Life without them is great… until I get the urge to pedal up to the bar, chat with a favorite bartender, eavesdrop, people-watch.

I love the rural address, living off pavement and off most people’s radar, hearing gunfire and not worrying that a crime was just committed (it’s likely just target practice, varmint elimination, or hunting season, for those of you not acquainted with the phenomenon). But I also love the neighborhood, both mine specifically and the concept in general. I’m a strange country/city mouse hybrid, not spliced in a lab but grown in real life. And that brings with it some tough decisions.

Leaving Virginia again was hard. My mom has moved to an area that was never even in my scope of consideration–actually, my entire immediate family has, strangely, ended up in the same county. It’s beautiful and rich in many ways. Her home is well on its way to being magnificent, and it’s the sort of place I dream about settling in, when I’m in country mouse mode: market garden, workshop, and writing room, oh my.

But, as scripture and pop song remind us, there is a time and place for everything, and our time and place right now is here, back in the old ‘hood. As we finish resurrecting our belongings from storage and equip our own work space, we’re working on something that will make that settling possible, a business that could be able, once it grows up and starts to long for the country too, to pick up and move to a place covered over in clear, countless stars. (More on that soon.)

What we’re doing is best done (or at least started) here. But questions remain, even when the where has been worked out.

Willa Cather, then a professional journalist but not the respected novelist she is to us today, received some advice from fellow writer Sarah Orne Jewett. In a letter, Jewett advised, “If you don’t keep and guard and mature your force, and above all, have time and quiet to perfect your work, you will be writing things not much better than you did five years ago. Your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet center of life, and write from that to the world.”

Thomas Merton and the poetry of Wendell Berry share my nightstand right now. Read together, they seem bound and determined to break my heart, or to forge from it something better.

We’re here, in a town and a city we love, laying a three-part foundation for a sustaining, creative, and independent life. (This has gone through many, many iterations, and I’m a little weary of how many times I declared it done, but I think we’ve finally found a good fit this time.) One portion is the aforementioned business. One involves building into our life more of the sort of adventure we embarked on back in June–travel, bike touring, and trail time aren’t luxuries, though they do take some serious work to make happen. And one is about making (taking, really) space for regular creative work in my life, which opens up questions about where to do that, and where to get the time.

Cather and Jewett and Merton and Berry seem to be telling me, both with their words and with the simple fact of their works, something about strengthening and distilling and developing my own writing. It does indeed need the now-proverbial room of its own, in more ways than one. Quite literally, I have that room–my writing desk sits in it now, though my books and files and favorite pens are still in boxes. It also requires a figurative buffer. Like tender seedlings must have shelter before they’re ready for sun and wind and changing temperatures, my work (if it is to become more than hobby) will need its own hothouse. (Interesting that my new office is a sunroom.)

Though it flies in the face of my impetuous nature, which demands NOW and ALL AT ONCE and knows not the wise practice of patience, I’ll be writing words that won’t be seen right away. To you, here, this will feel like silence, and maybe even like neglect. But it’s necessary, it’s overdue, and it’s good.

We took an amusingly circuitous, complex route to move just a mile from our old place, but it still feels like a transformation, a remaking of a life that, on the surface, will continue to look a lot like the old one. I love our new house, its street opening onto the streets my bicycle knows so well. My writing desk is flanked by a bank of windows, the room infused with warm fall light. Our nascent business has, I think, more than a fighting chance, even in this economy. Another trail, the trail, lies before us, and our legs and hearts are strong.

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