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Trail 7

April 6, 2015
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The guys were at a baseball game yesterday afternoon. It was sunny, in the mid-60s, and a perfect day for a game of ball. It was also a perfect day for a walk in the woods, and that’s what my friend and I set out to do.

IMG_1315 (2)We chose to walk McCormick’s Creek State Park Trail 7. The trail begins with a low, root-tangled, rocky slope from the trailhead to the creek, which it then follows until the path meanders uphill to a point from which you can see the White River. It’s a reasonably easy walk if you are wearing sturdy shoes, and perfect for finding woodland flowers.

Our purpose yesterday was to look for the earliest wildflowers, and we found them in abundance on the sunny slopes beside the trail. White IMG_1313trillium, bloodwort, dutchman’s breeches, and yellow dogtooth violets peeped out from the leaf litter. These are all tiny plants which do not announce themselves to the casual hiker – you have to look for them.

The woods in early spring are full of small delights and the occasional small peril. Drooping ferns from last year’s abundance mark the spot where new fiddleheads will soon peep out. Beech trees rustle their ghostly leaves in the breeze. The creek rushes over rocky shoals with a roar that will turn to a quiet ripple in late summer. I looked for evidence of spring with every step I took.


What I didn’t look for was evidence that a dog had recently walked the trail before me. As I walked, I was scouting everything but the trail itself. Just as my walking companion shouted “look out for …” I stepped in it. I spent the rest of the hike scuffling along in the loose gravel and damp leaf litter trying to clean the bottom of my shoe. It didn’t work.

We saw more flowers, heard and found a tiny woodpecker, and marveled at all the downed trees at an old campsite. It might take all summer to clean out the debris from the tree falls, we mused. And all the while, I scuffed and scraped my way down the trail. I began to think it might take me as long to clean my shoe as it would to clean the campsite.

Before we got into the car for the trip home, I was encouraged (well, urged) by my companion toIMG_1322 pull a plastic grocery bag over the foot wearing the offending shoe. Today, I will figure out a way to make the shoe clean again. Meanwhile, I have a few photos to enjoy as I think back on our walk in the woods..

All in all, it was a good day on Trail 7.


April Surprises

April 2, 2015

IMG_1303 (2)It’s been dreary and raining off and on all day. The forecast was for thunderstorms this afternoon, but the storms didn’t materialize. Instead, the sun broke through the clouds and steam began to rise from the streets and sidewalks. Warmth returned to the day, and I ventured outside to see what the sunshine had brought. I didn’t expect to see much more than mud, but our morning shower and afternoon sun have brought a sudden eruption of yellow surprises. Jonquils and daffodils are blooming amid a scatter of tiny blue flowers in the leaf litter of my little woodland garden. Welcome, Spring.

After Boot Camp

March 30, 2015

I participated in a ten-week writing bootcamp recently, and came away with the habit of writing at least 300 words a day. Or so I’d hoped. The truth is that, without those daily prompts in my inbox every morning, I quickly fell out of the habit. Clearly, I needed a good kick in the pants to make me keep going. Enter WordPress and their Daily Post’s Ebook with its year’s worth of prompts. I like the little book so much that I thought I’d share it with my fellow writers. Some days we all need a little boost to get us writing in the morning.

Ebook: 365 Writing Prompts.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect. Good.

March 21, 2015

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Bhaktopur, Nepal. All about quantity. Bhaktopur, Nepal. All about quantity.

As writers, we edit our work. More than anyone else except, perhaps, oil painters, we labor over the fixed form until it’s “perfect.” Or as close as we can get it. Tweaking sentences and swapping out words. Junking the whole thing and starting again, treading the same path, but better. Until it wins approval, checks, awards, validation.

Stop it.

In their 2001 book Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland tell the parable of the pottery teacher:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh…

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Writing Workshop Is Not Group Therapy

February 24, 2015

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

breakfast_clubA guest post from Jennifer McGuiggan:

It’s easy to read a memoir or essay and feel as though we know the author, even though all we really know is what the writer shared with us on the page. This false sense of familiarity is one thing when we read published work by authors we may never meet. But in a creative nonfiction workshop, this faux intimacy becomes a slippery slope.

We all know that writing workshop can be an emotionally charged environment to begin with. Add in stories of personal trauma, and you’ve got a veritable Slip‘N Slide of intense moments and awkward interactions just waiting for you to lose your footing.

How can you keep your balance and avoid any more uncomfortable moments than necessary?

Make this your mantra:

Writing workshop is not group therapy.

(Say it with me.)

(And if it helps, you can sing it to the…

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Night Lights

November 15, 2014

nightlightLately, I’ve been in the mood to read at night. The sun sets early now, and lounging on the back porch sipping gin and tonics or mai tai cocktails has lost its appeal. It’s hot toddy season – perfect for curling up in a comfy chair, dressed in flannel pj’s, reading a cozy mystery.

Two problems have arisen, however, and I must solve them before I can sink into a toddy-induced fantasy of nighttime reading: first, I need a book with a good story, and, second,  I need a lamp with good lighting. Finding the book should not be too difficult, but a good reading lamp is proving hard to come by.

Said lamp must be tall enough to cast light over the book in my lap. It must cast a soothing, warm glow without shadow or heat. I dislike roasting while reading. It must blend in with the decor – that is, my husband must not notice its addition to the furnishings (he is picky about lamps, which means he usually sits in the dark). Finding a lamp that blends in with the decor and avoids spousal detection is more difficult than it sounds. Lamps fashioned in the Arts and Crafts style of our living room furniture tend to feature stained-glass or hammered copper shades – they are decorative, but cast only small pools of light on tabletop or floor. They are much too weak to  brighten a room, let alone illumine something as small as a book. In short, an Arts and Crafts lamp is not much use for reading, unless one is a bat.

If a proper reading lamp cannot be found soon, I may have to resort to using a miner’s lamp. Surely I am not the only reader who has yielded to the peculiar-looking but serviceable hardhat with lantern fastened to its front. Its only drawback is that my husband just might notice it.


October 16, 2010


It’s been a problem for some time, this collecting of books. Bookshelves line the walls in nearly every room of my house, and each shelf is full to bursting. Stacks of books surround my desk and totter near the shelves in my study, and boxes from Amazon arrive on my doorstep with disturbing regularity. When my husband asks, “where did you spend all that money?” I just shrug, and tilt my head toward the bookshelves.

From my library

None of the books I own are particularly special. There are just a lot of them. Most are paperbacks. Many are marked up, dog-eared, and crumbling. None is worth the price I paid for it, which is saying a lot — the lowest priced book on my shelf is labeled fifty cents.

I know there are collectors who lust after first editions, rare manuscripts, and incunabula. Some collect miniatures – I’ve seen one Bible printed in a book no bigger than my thumbnail. Such books are valuable beyond imagining, but price isn’t everything. To me, what happens to the collections is what matters.

I think, for example, of Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631). Did he worry about money when he acquired the Beowulf manuscript? Did he fuss over the prices he paid for his ancient and medieval manuscripts? Did he worry about the cost of housing his massive collection? Surely not. Bibliophiles scoff at price tags, however high. But to my mind, the true value of a bibliophile’s collection lies not in what lines the bookshelves, but in what he or she leaves behind. For example, Cotton’s library – what is left of it (there was a fire, alas) – is now in the hands and on the shelves of the British Museum. As rare as its contents are, one can still visit bits of even its rarest manuscripts. Visit, but not touch.

My collection, on the other hand, is entirely touchable. Every book has been touched, and more than a few have touched me. Some, I like to read over and over again. B.J. Chute’s Greenwillow is one such book, one I save for late winter, when the light is cold, and kindness seems in short supply. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (like Beowulf, a one-of-a-kind rarity from Cotton’s library) is another — I revel in its eeriness in the dark days between Christmas and the New Year.

The value of my books lies mainly in my memory of having read them. I like to let my eyes wander over the titles as I remember where and when the books and I first met. I remember classrooms, park benches, childhood nights beneath the covers with a flashlight and a Nancy Drew. I remember reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land when I was in love with Billy Holbrook. I remember Kazantzakis from an ill-advised affair with a Greek fellow who was all looks and no character.

Now, I think, it is time to let go. It’s time to give someone else the joy of discovering my books. And so, I empty my shelves and carry my books — box by box and bag by bag — up the sweeping steps and through the doors of our community college library. It’s time to settle my books on a new set of shelves to enter the memories of someone new. It may not be Cotton’s donation to the British Museum, but it’s all the richer for that.

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