By K D Grace
I’m just back from two weeks in Oregon with my sister. I always come back a bit more clearheaded and focused and with more than a few ideas for new story possibilities. Oh it’s not so much that I’m with my sister. In a lot of ways, we’d drive each other crazy under different circumstances. She’s an extrovert who can’t get enough people and activity in her life. I, on the other hand, like my doses of people small and far between and am very keen on solitary activities. But for two weeks, we balance each other out, and we totally revel in each other’s company. We take long walks, we talk and laugh into the wee hours, we have our annual Pride and Prejudice marathon while veging out on her TV room floor with popcorn and chocolate and any other decadent food or drink we can manage during that indulgent six hours. We bounce ideas off each other and just generally pick up where we left off.
I think I come back to England more clearheaded, more inspired because I’ve had a break from the routine, because for a little while I’m living completely outside my own context. Personally, I think it’s easy for writers to get so tunnel-visioned, so focused on our writing and promoting routines that we forget that walking outside our little world is the best foreplay for the writing orgasm. To be disconnected completely from the things we cling most tightly to, not only forces us to view things differently, but also opens us to inspiration in the viewing. With that in mind, here are a few things that inspired me during those two weeks, things that may very well end up in stories and novels yet to come, some of which have already have ended up on my blog.
Walks in a dry canyon
My sister lives in the high desert of Oregon, and there’s a dry canyon cut by ancient volcanoes that literally
divides the town she lives in right down the middle. A long time ago it was used as the town dump. Now it’s been cleaned up and serves as a walking path, which includes a couple of playgrounds for the kids, along with a doggie playground, and a series of nature trails that spread out over the wider stretches of the canyon floor. The place is well used and well cared for by the town’s population of 26,000 who live along either side of the 3 ½ mile rim. For convenience, the canyon was recently spanned by a bridge that was built to blend in beautifully with the colour and the geology of the canyon, the design so well thought out that even the noise of the traffic is negligible from the canyon floor.
Nature alive and dead
I’ve seen deer in the canyon, along with rock chucks, ground squirrels, birds of all kinds. This year I saw nesting scrub jays, even a nest of crows in the cliffs exercising their wings as they prepared to fledge. My sister says that on occasion there have been mountain lion sightings in the canyon and there’ll be warning signs posted when that happens. Though I didn’t get lucky enough to see one, there were the odd occasions when I felt as though I was being followed, when my skin prickled, and I turned slowly to find nothing there, but a quiver of the sagebrush behind me … no doubt caused by the breeze. That being the case, it’s not surprising that I should return to my sister’s house with visions of mountain lion shape shifters showing themselves in the desert moonlight beneath the bridge. Nor is it surprising that the idea should find its way into my blog.
And then there are the dead things one encounters in the canyon. I’m not sure why they matter to me, but they
do. On one of our walks, my sister, knowing the strange twists and turns of my mind, pointed out the well-desiccated carcass of a dead skunk off to one side of the trail. Her mind has it’s own strange twists and turns. It stunk to high heaven last fall, she told me.
It didn’t smell so bad by the time I stood over the dusty heap of flattened skin and bones taking pictures. I would have missed it completely if she hadn’t pointed it out.
She watched as I photographed the delicate skull and teeth, visible above the sun bleached remains of the pelt. You don’t get to look at wild things up close and personal when they’re alive, so dead things deserved to be honoured and observed, at least I think they do. In truth there’s something beautiful, something magical in the way nature takes back her own. The teeth and the delicate bones of the skull caught the desert sun, and the shape and structure held its own fascination, though I was relieved it no longer smelled. I don’t know why it mattered. I don’t know why a dead skunk can somehow inspire, and yet it does. Even now, after I’m home and back into my routine, it still matters for some strange reason. And anyway, inspiration sometimes is a delayed reaction, isn’t it?
Detritus of Past Lives
The canyon used to be the city dump back when the hearty settlers moved in from the more ‘hospitable’ parts of the west to practice dry land farming and cattle ranching. It was a hard life, though you wouldn’t know that now as
you drive through the modern town of Redmond, with it’s slight touristy, slightly Western feel, or walk along the canyon and see the runners and mothers pushing prams and people walking dogs. But there are still a few places along the cliffs where mangled, rusted remains of cars and farming equipment and tangles of baling wire are scattered in decaying heaps, now blending in so well with the shades of kaki and burnt umber of the canyon that they’re hardly noticeable except to someone who only ever gets there once a year, someone who wonders what stories are hidden in the twisted metal heaps aging in the glare of the desert sunshine.
Detritus of Present Lives
The cliff tops above the canyon are lined with prosperous housing developments, trailer parks and building sites. My sister and I walked a path behind a trailer park and then out through a new, well-landscaped housing development to get down into the canyon. The stretch behind the trailer park will, no doubt, someday be built upon as well, but for now it fascinated me in that it contains what was left behind of the houses, or perhaps trailers that were there before. I know that children from the trailer park play in the mounds of dirt along the irrigation ditch that runs through the wasteland behind. I noticed one high mound with a shovel standing upright in the earth, and I wondered, in the way storytellers do, who was buried beneath that mound of dirt and what tale were buried there with them?
Where my sister and I crossed back into the trailer park to head on to her house, there was a deserted pickup truck filled with what looked like the contents of an apartment quickly evacuated. My sister told me the truck has been sitting there abandoned for months. The police ticketed it, but the ticket blew away, and still the truck sits there. She told me this while I rapidly snapped photos of said truck and my mind raced back to the mound of dirt and the shovel. We both noticed the badly battered rodeo dummy buried beneath a weathered cane rocking chair and a broken computer desk. She says there were actually lacy women’s panties hastily dropped behind the vehicle early on, and we speculated as to whether that was a part of the story of the truck or possibly just teenagers trying to find a bit
of privacy for a feel-up behind. Either way, it got tucked away into my mental file cabinet for further perusing as necessary.
After that dusty walk, we decided to reward ourselves with an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen, and while we partook, I shared with her the story I could see forming in my imagination – sexy shape shifters, writer turned investigators, foul play, sexy encounters in a dry canyon. She listened and nodded and occasionally threw in an idea of her own between licks to her ice cream cone.
Now, back home in my own space, walking the places that are familiar to me, the places inspire me, preparing a post that I hope will inspire others, I find myself thinking of what I’ve brought back from those two weeks and how those experiences allow me to slip back into my own life and my own routine with a view slightly altered, with a sense of purpose a bit more focused and hopefully with my senses and my imagination a little sharper from the experience.