I recently pushed away from my desk in favour of a walk in the forest with Whitman. The deadline to finish my novel looms, but a part of me called out the restorative time in nature. The October air was cool against my cheek that day and the earthy smell of fallen leaves ever present. The sumacs had turned blood red and the poplar leaves became shimmering coins against the sky.
A character in my novel The Last Hoffman, has drawn me to Leaves of Grass, a collection of poetry by Walt Whitman. Much of Whitman’s work centres on nature and so he was a fitting companion for my forest walk.
“Here by myself away from the clank of the world,
Tallying and talk’d to here by tongues aromatic,
No longer abash’d, (for in this secluded spot I can respond as I would
not dare elsewhere)”
Walt Whitman, excerpt from Paths Untrodden from Leaves of Grass
For me, walking is a meditative exercise and when done in nature, the effect is doubly so. My breath slows and deepens. The stress knotted in my chest and shoulders relaxes. I’m in the moment and this is when thoughts flow freely, problems resolve themselves, and my creative mind is refreshed.
“O earth that hast no voice, confide to me a voice,
O harvest of my lands—O boundless summer growths,
O lavish brown parturient earth—O infinite teeming womb,
A song to narrate thee.”
Walt Whitman, excerpt from The Return of Heroes from Leaves of Grass
The forest reminded me that life pulses according to cycles. Vegetation dies and breaks apart into new forms that nourish the earth so new life can rise in the spring. I remind myself that creative energy also has its own ebbs and surges. Some thoughts grow into prose and verse. Some compost when enough time has passed and new offshoots of thought surface.
“Winds of autumn, as I walk’d the woods at dusk I heard your longstretch’d
sighs up above so mournful,”
Walt Whitman, excerpt from I Heard You Solemn-Sweet Pipes of the Organ
A few hours passed and I returned to the warmth of home. Awash with inspiration and wrapped in a shawl, I drew my chair close to the desk and, once again, inhabited the lives of my characters.
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2020 update! The novel referred to in the article is now available
at Amazon in print & ebook format.
Sacrifice, betrayal, family secrets! A widower and young mother struggle to overcome their tragic pasts in a dying mill town. The Last Hoffman explores environmental issues, mental health & social isolation.