“Forever is composed of nows.”
Happy New Year. It’s resolution time. Time to get thinner, stronger, smarter, richer. Time to heal our broken relationships. Time to find a new job. Time to quit procrastinating on that novel that needs to be written. But I’m tired. Are you tired, too? Too tired for big changes and improvements and overhauls?
This year, especially this year, maybe we deserve to cut ourselves some slack in the resolution department. If you have the energy for any or all of the above, good for you, but if you don’t and you’re a writer, a stressed-out writer who wants to pen a terrific novel or come up with a score of brilliant stories or poems, but is struggling to simply think straight, I have a suggestion. It’s something I’ve been doing. It’s easy. And it makes me happy.
I jot notes. That’s it. Just a handful of observations. I look around, then note what I noticed.
Making observations is a gentle kind of writing, like committing to the lowest-impact aerobics. Walking, for instance. Strolling, even. If it qualifies as an exercise, it doesn’t feel like it. But I think it’s beneficial in special ways:
1. Since I’m putting words down, it encourages me to practice good writing. Which words work best? Is the syntax promoting the point I want to make? How can I tighten and sharpen my observation? Is there an unnecessary word I can cut?
2. Eventually, one of my observations might serve a future poem, story, essay, or novel, by either inspiring or enlivening some such piece. Or it won’t. It doesn’t matter. No pressure.
3. It encourages mindfulness. When I’m paying close attention to what’s happening around me, I somehow feel both anchored to the present and unmoored, free to wander, wonder, dream, remember.
The simple act of writing tiny observations feels healthy. It quiets my mind and allows me to win a sense of accomplishment with very little effort.
Yesterday, I set out before the sun was up and took a long walk. Afterward, I jotted down some of the things I noticed and thought about while I was outside. I’m sharing those observations below. The practice of taking note and making notes has helped me. Maybe it will help you, too.
Woods line most of both sides of my quiet country road. POSTED signs hang on some of the trees. Each sign is, indeed, posted. I wonder why it doesn’t just declare, PRIVATE PROPERTY. Actually, this phrase does appear under the word posted, along with a list of forbidden activities—hunting, fishing, trapping, plus trespassing: for any reason. Some of the signs are faded and bedraggled. Most of the houses tucked away on these properties are faded and bedraggled, too.
Over a decade ago, when I was pregnant, I would walk to the end of my street, two miles from my house, and think, Oh, no. Then I’d slip into somebody’s woods—Who knows whose woods?—and duck behind a big posted tree. I didn’t want to trespass, but there was no help for it. I had to pee.
So many trees, miles and miles of trees, and practically none of them firs. The soil here is unctuous with clay, thick with rocks. Pines must not like it.
A fine snow falls. If I listen hard, I can hear the sound it makes as it lands in the woods, on the street, on me. Flat and tinny. Not like the splatter, patter, ping of rain.
I used to take my babies for long walks. The first one I carried in the BabyBjörn, belly to belly, her downy head on my chest. The snug weight felt safe and familiar, as if we were reenacting the pregnancy. When my second baby arrived, he took his turn in the BabyBjörn, while the older one sat in the stroller. Eventually, they sat side by side in a double stroller. We’d walk down our country road, far from home, and when the kids grew restless or weepy, I’d sing, usually many, many versions of Old McDonald. This wasn’t as easy as one might think. Several animals, perhaps most animals, aren’t known for a unique sound.
The branches of the trees are mostly bare, but crinkled copper hangs here and there, swaths of steadfast oak leaves. Some shrubs also keep a little foliage. The leaves on the honeysuckle skirting the woods are small and golden. They look like yellow butterflies.
I see a flash of red ahead. It climbs out of the ditch and flits across the road. A fox.
One summer, regularly, around midmorning, a fox visited our front yard. It didn’t hide in the meadow or the woods but would slip to the little clearing at the foot of our hill, curl up, and take a nap. I think it must have liked sleeping in the warm pool of sunshine.
My spaniel Mocha reminds me of a fox. Her coat is spotted, red and white, and the red hue is similar to a fox’s color. Her size is foxlike, too. She’s back home, asleep, probably still curled up against my husband. I’ll take her for a walk later this morning.
My presence startles some deer. They leap across the street, one, two, three, four, all in a row, all with their tails up, except for the fourth deer. I wonder about that last one, why it doesn’t show the shout of white under its tail. I wonder why it isn’t scared, or if it is, why it doesn’t show it.
One time, in the small meadow by our woods, a young doe encountered a wild turkey. The two interacted for a spell. I watched them from my living room window. It looked as if they were playing.
The woods break the wind, hold it back like a sieve. I reach the end of my road and finally put the woods behind me. Farmland sprawls to the west, and the gust hits me, whipping my hair to the side and striking my cheek. The wind plays an anxious note over the field.
I’m alone. I think I am. It’s a Saturday, and my neighbors, I’m guessing, are still asleep at this early hour. But there are birds, scuttling rodents, deer and foxes and who knows what else. Cayote? Lynx? Bear? So I’m not alone. But for now, I’m one of a kind. And I am present in a different capacity.