Terrain

terrain_nBack country hiking is my husband’s passion.  So to celebrate our anniversary six years ago, he took me into the wilds of the Shenandoah, to hike a series of circular trails near and crossing over the Appalachian Trail.  It was the trip of a lifetime.  Unused as I was to carrying a fully loaded backpack and my new hiking boots, I struggled on the rocky inclines, especially the ankle busting terrain on Brown Mountain.

But what made that trip memorable was our repeated encounters with black bears.  Seventeen sightings in four days–although some of those might have been the same bears making their rounds in the wild blueberry bushes.

Now, most people would love that experience, as did my husband.  What a rare gift to be that close to unpredictable, furry, breathing, grunting nature.  And that each bear didn’t seem to mind us while they grazed on berries and turned over logs for bugs should have set my racing heart to rest.  After all, berries are tastier than sweaty me.

In my overactive imagination, I envisioned charging that ended in mauling.  Gore.  Paws the size of dinner plates with razor claws.  Teeth that ripped flesh, leaving hamburger like bodies.

It probably didn’t help that I failed to educate myself about black bears before going hiking.  I didn’t understand that black bears are not like Grizzlies, nor like the violent creatures of mythical fame.  With each encounter, my adrenaline surged and panic rose.  I begged to leave on the fourth day, asking my husband to please call a ranger to escort us out.  That was the day I went to use the little out house and a mother bear showed up with her cub.

But even being several yards next to a mother bear wasn’t enough to defeat my Richard.  He was very disappointed that I didn’t see our trip as an adventure to remember, but a trauma to overcome.

Since then, I’ve taken the time to educate myself about the nature of black bears.  I’ve taken short hikes to expose myself to the feeling of being vulnerable.  With each trip that ended in success, my confidence grew.

It took six years for me to be able to hike in bear country without jangling nerves.  I even saw this:

flowerthebear_n

Her name is Flower, and she lives on Grandfather Mountain.  She is in captivity.  But what I noticed was the difference in the size of her paws compared to the size of a bear paw in my imagination.

What was I so afraid of?

The truth is that wilderness back country hikes are challenging not because of bears.  I learned that my fear has everything to do with my vivid imagination that supplies me with a stream of dramatic, worst case scenarios.  It’s not that I fear the bears, but the idea of what it would mean to be seriously injured or die a violent death on the trail.  It’s so unlikely for this to happen, but it is an idea that persists.

So, I was celebrating in my heart with the freedom that comes with hiking unperturbed by fear.  I had a handle on my bear-scare and all seemed well.  There were waterfalls to enjoy, cool breezes, quiet peace.

Then one day on a particularly steep hike down to the river, Elliot, ever curious and full of adventure, decided to turn over a large rock. Richard saw that as a “teachable” moment, and described in detail what would happen if he turned over another rock and was bitten by a rattle snake.  How he would have to carry him up this terrain so rocky and full of roots.  And how that was a potentially deadly situation, especially since he was not carrying our first aid kit.

And I know this was an important lesson.  But all of that drama played out in my head, giving me surges of anxiety. With the idea that I could lose my beautiful boy in a random encounter with a snake, I was no longer having any fun at all.  I was reminded that anything can happen on the trail.  I remembered the story of one man who went hiking by himself in the mountains, slipped on a river crossing and broke both of his ankles.  Four days later, some college students found him hobbling with the aid of two crutches he had fashioned from long sticks.

What if it was a simple fall that turned a summer day in the mountains to a near death experience?  Some of these hikes are treacherous.  People fall from cliffs every year.  In other cases, hikers are lost and have to be rescued by search parties.  It’s not the kind of place to vacation if you don’t enjoy a challenge.

Which I do, at least physically.

It’s the terrain of the mind that is the hardest to hike.

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Creating in the Midst Interview

Last week, I received a special honor.  I was asked to participate in a brand new interview series called Creating In the Midst, concieved by my long time friend and fellow writer, Corinne Noel Cunningham.  Corinne and I have been friends from the early beginning of my retired blog Knees and Paws.  Her writing is filled with insight and beauty.  It’s lyrical and filled with imagery, sensitivity and truth.  I learned more from Corinne about how to be authentic in writing than any other person.

So I was delighted and enthusiastic when she asked me to participate.

Here is the link to that article.

http://www.corinnenoelcunningham.com/2015/04/creating-in-midst-jennifer-hoppins.html

Thank you Corinne, for writing the kinds of questions that opened up this flow of thought.  I appreciate you more than you know.

Writing Naturally Workshops

It has come into my awareness that over-analyzing a relationship kills the love.  And since that is true for me, I also suspect that over-analyzing the craft of writing kills the stories.  I set out to begin this blog with the craft of writing as the focus, a place to share my work and discuss the back stories of my process.  I’m very curious about how writers write what they do, and what methods or ideas inspire their stories.  However, since my body of work is quite thin, I recognize that I really need to get out of my head in order to write.

And get into my senses.

And come back to life.100_3638

This is why Writing Naturally Workshops was the most beneficial experience I’ve had in manifesting my desire to write stories with clarity and feeling.  During the month of October, I joined an online workshop hosted by the beautiful writer Corinne Cunningham, who shared her wisdom and practical tools to dispel the dreaded blocks we all face.  Here is a sample of my work near the end of the course:

Day Five: Hearing
This morning, our family day. No work for Richard and no sales or orders for me. We
shower and go down to the kitchen to make bacon, eggs, toast and coffee. A plan forms: “let’s
take the kayak out on Lake Brandt!” Richard does the dishes and I gather our gear. In twenty
minutes we are gliding on a breezy fall morning, paddling against the windswept waves toward
a small island. We make up a paddling song to the tune of “Take Me Out To the Ball Game.”
Elliot and Richard try out lines to fit the tune. By the time we reach the island, all I can
hear is the sound of our voices singing together and it feels like a vacation from my childhood,
singing in the back of the car on our way up north to go camping.
“Take me out to the water, take me out to the lake! Rent me a paddle and fanny-pack,
I don’t care if I ever get back,
‘cause it’s stroke, stroke, stroke
in a sunbeam,
if we don’t swim it’s a shame!
For it’s one, two three ducks afloat
in the old, green boat!”
I smile at the memory of Elliot’s voice singing away as we float under those sunbeams.
We hear other sounds, the grumpy “CRAWK!” of a Great Blue Heron who is disrupted from his
fishing spot when we get close. Ducks in flight, beating wings. The spashing sploosh of a fish
jumping. Water smashing and exploding on the front of our craft as we break the waves.
We hear questions from Elliot (because this is a school day, after all!) Questions like, what leaf
is this tree from? And this one, and this one? The trees on the shoreline drop papery
sailors on the calm surface, spinning adrift in a floating parade.
Back at home, the silence of the empty house calls for a nap. We have a large sectional in the
living room, but my favorite place to nap is on a fifty dollar plush loveseat, broken in. At five two,
I can stretch out on it with just my feet dangling. I lay down and Richard comes over, shoving
me to the back side. Soon, he’s snoring away and I’m cramped and my feet are falling asleep
under the weight of his arms, my arms falling asleep under the weight of his legs. Funny how a head can’t sleep at the same time the limbs do.
I must have dozed off because I awoke, numb in the extremities to the sight of Elliot
perched above me on the back of the loveseat, laying like a cat on a tree branch.

****

I enjoyed the Writing Naturally workshop for many reasons.  First, it helped me to be comfortable with my impulses to write.  I am a hopeless self-editor.  For every sentence that falls out, I immediately want to scratch it away with my pencil.  As if the thoughts on the inside are not good enough for the open air.  Corinne helped me to be okay with those first impulses, and to work with the good that came through.  To learn more about Writing Naturally, and to experience Corinne’s gorgeous writing, you can visit her at http://www.corinnenoelcunningham.com/