Last month, my wife and I attended a literary event, compliments of a friend whose philanthropic organization sponsored the gathering. The panel consisted of three noted regional authors, one of whom, Crystal Wilkinson, has written Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street. These linked short story collections have influenced my own work in progress, Matheson Station. It was another panel member, Rebecca Howell, who caught me square between the eyes and opened my heart to an aha! moment.
The topic had to do with writing about the land and its influence on that writing. Ms. Howell grew up in Perry County, Kentucky, and--as part of her payback to the land--has worked against mountaintop removal. She likened the work of a writer to that of a gardener, and I was instantly moved.
You see, I love to garden, especially with vegetables. I like the solitariness, the soft breeze and warm sun on me, the closeness to the land on my life-long home here at the farm. I enjoy some semblance of control as I run the tiller or hoe the soil. There is a fascimile of order to life when I lay out the rows and plan what to sow or plant. Then, mystic, anxious waiting ensues. Will rain and sun and nutrients be sufficient for actual germination and growth? Will this plot of dirt transform into green, blooming, tasseled beauty? Can I keep the birds and rodents out of the garden or at least from taking more than a share of the produce? Finally, come the majestic moments of budding, of full fruition! And to dig potatoes. No fabled pirate ever thrilled more over uncovering buried treasures.
We writers plant the seeds of words and imagination. In fact, we plow our unconscious mind, unearthing many of the inspiring ideas we use. We place these elements in some kind of order and nurture them through vision and re-vision. Finally, in the most fertile of soils and by diligent sweat behind furrowed brow, we bring forth our harvest--the poem, the essay, the story or memoir. Like the good gardener, we share these fruits of our labor with many others for their enjoyment and growth.
The garden figures in my writing another way. The first and most storied garden is Eden, the earthly paradise where beauty and balance rule and nakedness is not to be feared or ridiculed. Utopian literature inspires me. I write to eventually create utopian fiction. Fiction yes, and not everyone's idea of a perfect place. But a writer's reality is rooted in the stuff of dreams.
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