One of my favorite aspects about the Oregon coast is the sound of it. The gulls shrieking overhead, the restless waves crashing in or thundering in during a storm, the wind, the movement of tides. But before I lived near the Pacific, the earth’s largest ocean, I lived in the upper Midwest. The ancient shores of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, and Lake Michigan the eastern border of Wisconsin, were also wide and cold and storm-tossed. I visited these lakes often and when I was traveling to Lake Superior it was in search of old forests and stillness.
You see the Upper Midwest was mostly clear cut by Weyerhaeuser by 1900 so there were few tracts of native trees left. The forests were cleared to make way for crops, were cleared to supply timber to a growing country, and generally because of thoughtless and wanton foresting practices. A mind-boggling amount of trees were removed. During the 19th century, these vast forests yielded more money and created more millionaires than did all the gold mined during California’s Gold Rush. Most of these forest were not replanted although in the 1930s the CCC replanted thousands of acres of forests. I’ve hiked in these young forests and I’ve also I’ve hiked in tree farms owned by timber companies where the ecosystem has been destroyed. There are no native plants, birds and few animals. A spooky, weird silence often pervades.
So what does this have to do with writing? All writers need a place of solace and renewal. A place or way for words to take their form. For me it’s the Pacific and old forests. For me it’s being among the majestic and feeling the interconnectedness of nature.
On the fourth of July we hiked in a wilderness region where there was cathedral silence, except for the trickle of brooks and burble of small waterfalls. I could feel the mystery and ancientness of the place as we walked (and huffed) in hushed reverence along rugged terrain. The air smelled like loam and ferns and moss. All around were a hundred shades of emerald, wild flowers—lupine, asters, columbines, Indian paint brush, rhododendrons, and bear grass like Dr. Seuss plants. As we climbed higher there were vast, steep valleys and mountainsides of trees. The world was endless and yet I felt like I belonged.
Being in nature brings with it a heightened sense of awareness. It’s immersive like writing. Natural spaces stimulate your imagination and creativity, and spending time outdoors enhances cognitive flexibility, boosts serotonin, improves attention span and problem-solving abilities. Studies have shown that even 20 minutes spent outdoors increases energy levels. It also helps prevent the eye problems that occur from hours of sitting at a computer. It helps fill the big empty of the writing life.
Of course everyone has their own solace. I’m a jittery type and easily feel pressure and angst. I need to unplug, forget deadlines and worries. After I’ve been in a forest something in me was stilled, but at the same time I feel more alive.
And when I return to my desk the writing is my resting place, my solace.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart