Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Writer's Workshop Plus

            A few Saturdays ago I attended a writer's workshop sponsored by my local writing group. They called it "Writers in the Woods". An author in the group, whom I'll call Sophie because her pure white hair makes her look so sophisticated, allowed us, 40 of us, to pile into her historical country home to learn a little more about writing. We got a bonus.

            Sophie, a widow, owns 110 acres a few miles southwest of where I live. Early in the morning I traveled the interstate to the exit for her country road and drove around twenty miles on a nice atmospheric two-lane highway bordered by thousands of blooming pink phlox. Then my directions indicated a turn onto a limestone road that wound and wound for a couple more miles. I saw cattle, tilled fields, and huge standing pines. At last I arrived at Sophie’s and was directed by another writer I recognized to park with others in a field behind a stacked stone border. Flowers, shrubs, and trees blossomed and quaint blue bottle stepping-stones dotted the grass of the wooden-fenced front yard. On the inviting open front porch, crowded with rockers and hanging impatiens, two other writing acquaintances checked me in. Inside the old-fashioned kitchen, donut holes and hot coffee and tea sat waiting. Folding chairs filled two large rooms which sported high ceilings, paddle fans, and airy screened windows. They were known as the North Room and the Dining Room on our programs, which listed poetry, publishing, blogs, photography, and freelance writing as topics of interest to be presented.

            Sophie welcomed us and told us a little of her home’s history. It was built around 1903 and had once sat on Noble Avenue in a nearby town. Her family purchased it to save it from demolition, and they had it moved to its present spot in the 1990s. Much work, effort, and many dollars went into its renovation in the ensuing years.

            The day was split into two sessions, morning and afternoon, with a catered-lunch served around 12 o’clock. We could eat outside at picnic tables or inside, wherever we liked. After devouring heaping platters of rolls, pork barbecue, coleslaw, beans, and chocolate chip cookies, everyone was invited back inside to listen to some original tunes by a couple of our own writers. Needing very little encouragement, the audience sang along to a parody of Crazy, that old song by Patsy Cline, reworded to be about writers, of course.

            When all the presentations were finished, our hostess offered to guide anyone interested on a tour of some of her land. We walked about an hour, part way on an old railroad berm. For those who don't know what that is, it's the built-up area for the tracks. The tracks were no longer in place, but the flat area made a perfect walking path. The day was clear and sunny, about seventy degrees.

            As we trailed after our leader, around fifteen of us breathed in the resinous scent of the towering pines, heard a few birdsongs, and carefully stepped over obstructions. Small rocks (lime rock) and fallen twigs littered the path just waiting for an ankle to twist. Sometimes I noticed tire tracks and then I walked in their ruts, thankful I’d worn tennis shoes.

            We dallied at the edges of several lime rock pits on the property, used for that purpose years ago. The ground around them declined steeply, dotted with some scraggly new-growth trees and even a few pieces of old rusty equipment. At the bottom lay twinkling ponds. Sophie had named one particular pond Lucy after that Beatles’ tune, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. It glimmered and glittered in the afternoon sunlight. Overhanging rocky faces greeted us on the far sides of the man-made lakes, rising perhaps a hundred feet in height.

            We noticed a large object sticking up out of the water of one pond, far out near the middle. Sophie, winking, said someone had gifted her a mattress when the water level was low, then she went on to tell us how some of these pits went right down into the aquifer, that place where we get our drinking water. The water never leaves the ponds, but the level rises and falls with the rain. Our facial expressions began to change and the chatter became more serious. We started to see problems, water contamination, dangers to children, unsightly trash. Sophie told us of a child who had drowned a few years back. What at first seemed aesthetically appealing now had other meanings.

            Borrow pits as they are sometimes called seemed an appropriate moniker. The material from these pits is borrowed for use somewhere else. But the digging opens a clear chute into our drinking water system, all connected underground. The property around Sophie’s is cattle and farm country. Runoff trickles directly into these pits and our aquifer. Think fertilizer, weed, and pest spray.

            Yes, this day we learned a little more than we had bargained for. Somehow it makes a difference when you see the dangers in your own backyard even if it is someone else’s. As homeowners our efforts seem like a drop in the bucket and of not much consequence. For years Jim and I used Roundup for weed control thinking it safe, but now we know one of its ingredients is a probable carcinogen. As one person I probably can’t do very much, but I think someone said change starts with one. I can only do my best to stay informed and be that one, thanks to one far-reaching little walk in the woods.