Monday, January 3, 2011

Sunlight and mist

Somewhat unexpectedly, I’m starting the year with some breathing room.

Usually, the kids’ return to school after a vacation – be it Christmas vacation, summer vacation, either of the two that fall in between, or even a long holiday weekend – finds me almost frantic to get back to work, with a pileup of deadlines to meet, stories to pitch, facts to check, and corrections to submit: a range of work-related items I simply couldn’t find the mental focus to take care of while they were home.

But last week wasn’t like that. It’s not really that my client list or writing load has diminished any – which is a good thing – but just that a lot of work was due just before Christmas, leaving almost none due after. It’s time to replenish the pipeline as the new work week begins.

But in the meantime, as I wait for responses on pitches I’ve just sent off and edits on work I submitted before Christmas, I’m in a little bit of a lull, which is a rare situation for me. So I’m thinking about ways I can improve my writing, and particularly my blog, in 2011.

For one thing, I’m hoping to learn more about nature writing, particularly by becoming better acquainted with the work of Henry David Thoreau. I’ve already collected several books toward this goal; the trick now is to read them, in hopes that they will educate me about how to describe the scenery around me, which of course is nearly identical in topography to – and just six miles away from – the Walden Pond landscapes about which Thoreau often wrote.

A man's interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town,” he said, and I need to keep this in mind: the goal is not simply to have the natural world be more often the focus of my writing, but to make my observations worthwhile and meaningful.

Late yesterday afternoon, just before sunset, I looked south over the pasture where the cows graze when it is not covered with snow, as it is now. A very foggy day was ending; the air was so whitened with misty vapor as to look almost as if snow were falling, but the air was warm, nearly fifty degrees. Most of the day – including the 7:30 a.m. hour when I went for a three-mile run – had featured heavily overcast skies, but the clouds were parting as dusk drew near. Although the air was still suffused with mist, a thin yellow film of sunlight beamed down from the sky, so that if you looked straight ahead over the pasture you saw the thick white mist but if you looked upward you saw the parted clouds with sun shining through.

What a perfect metaphor for the New Year, I thought to myself. A thick haze if you look straight into it, but a beam of sunlight and clearing skies if you look just a little bit higher. I resolved to keep that image in mind as I took my first steps into 2011. A lot is hazy about what lies ahead right now, including but also beyond my near-term workload. Above it, though, is light shining through, just as light always eventually does. I’ll remember as this new year begins to try to look beyond the thick haze, remembering that illumination is within sight if you just remember in which direction to cast your gaze.

Thoreau could say it much better, I’m certain, but it’s a start.

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