Nothing is moving. If there’s a breeze, the trees aren’t telling, except for the occasional flutter of an about-to-fall, scrawny branch of dried brown leaves dangling from the weeping cherry tree. So the view this morning from the sunroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows is a still-life panorama. I see multiple greens—from yellow-green amsonia shrubs, to blue-green spruce branches, to brown-green patches of grass; I see countless shapes of shrubbery—from puffy balls of clipped candlestick pines, to rambling juniper bushes, to giant oaks and evergreens; I see fading remnants of once-colorful blooms—from yellow, pink, orange and bronze zinnias hanging onto withering stems, to diminishing pale red geranium petals, to faint purple angelonia bordered in their beds by white-tipped dusty miller.
There are no shadows, for there is no sun. Grayness pervades the view; a gray-white sky oversees it all. A few hours ago, at just about daybreak, the quiet drizzle eased, but birds are still out-of-sight and out-of-sound. Even squirrels and chipmunks and the resident red fox, who believe they own this landscape, are sleeping in this morning. It is a view I’ve lived with for 27 years, in all its seasons and appearances. Every day is different. This is just one mid-October day’s aura and attire.
I sit alone in the sunroom, alone in the house, with the Sunday New York Times at my side and my laptop on my lap. But I find myself staring at the scene outdoors, which is sending me a message: “Do not disturb. I am resting. Observe my earned repose.”
Its trees and flowers have bloomed since spring. Its lawn has hosted baseball games, whiffle-ball golf, John Deere tractor tracks, family picnics, and cocktail and dinner parties. Every inch of this scene has been watered, weeded, seeded, planted, cut back, trimmed, and mulched. Today is time-out, a day off. Staring at its total stillness, I mirror its mood—serene, contemplative, inspiring. And the longer my head appreciates the message, the more my fingers want to capture it. What pent-up thoughts can this quiet calm stir me to produce?
Ironically, this moment totally counteracts the article I read just before I felt compelled to observe this scene. The piece—by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, “Want to Get Into an Artists’ Retreat?” (New York Times, 10/12/14)— is about writers’ retreats, places of escape for creating, for freeing your mind to write your essay, poem or novel. “An old cattle ranch in California,” the author recommends, where “a vast expanse of mountain tops, …a slender strip of blue, the Pacific Ocean, …and uninterrupted isolation” provide perfect inspiration to start words flowing onto the page. Another retreat she endorses is a 15th-century hilltop castle in Umbria, Italy. In other words, find a place away from the familiar. A writers’ retreat might do that, but one writers’ colony, she warns, in Lake Forest, Illinois, doesn’t guarantee isolation; it allows wandering tourists and hosts public events—not very conducive to peaceful inspiration. And writers escaping to Key West, in search of the ghosts of past resident writers—Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop – may find what this article’s author found: “tourists peering into my cottage, as if watching a zoo animal….” The bottom line of the piece is: to find inspiration, you must seek a private place away from the familiar.
Well, maybe. So many writers have claimed the need to be away from a setting or subject to reflect on its essence and write objectively. (James Joyce wrote about Ireland while he lived in Europe.) But others are inspired to capture character and conversation of the people right around them. (Studs Terkel wrote dialogue and oral histories gleaned from people he worked and lived with.) Clearly, there’s not one right place to discover inspiration, whether you want to write a world-renowned tome or a minor mini-memoir.
Sometimes inspiration requires just turning your head. Sometimes a static view right through your window can give you that hoped-for jump-start.
[Refer: This essay called to mind the essay “On Beverly’s Hill” by Therése Halschied.]
Judith G. Zalesne is a former high school English teacher whose “3 R’s” were reading, writing, and riding. She is a longtime advocate of A Better Chance in Lower Merion (a college-preparatory program for academically-qualified minority students), and a perpetual student in literature courses and writing groups. She is also a freelance writer of feature articles for the Philadelphia Inquirer; Main Line Times; Pennsylvania Gazette; Equus; Horse, Of Course; and Essence.
Image by slgckgc