It took us three years to get married (after the engagement. Eight years total if we are being technical). Three years to get our footing, financially and professionally. Three years to find our little lot of land in Chatham County. Three years to save up the money to build our home.
Today is our three year anniversary of moving in so I can’t help but think today might be a lucky day.
Our house has become the epicenter of our world. In and around it, we’ve celebrated all of the special moments life gives us.
We’ve had the support of our families:
And, friends too:
We’ve mingled with the natives:
We’ve found beautiful places:
And quietly creepy moments resting in the beauty:
We’ve had some pretty special guests:
We’ve watched the sunlight fighting its way free of the clouds:
I drove over Chicken Bridge with the radio blaring Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen”. It had to be loud because the straps holding the canoe on the roof of my car were vibrating like swarms of angry foul-mouthed bees. Errant sprinkles hit my windshield but the weather man had sworn up and down that it wasn’t supposed to rain until 4pm. He never lies.
I don’t think it has stopped raining for the last three weeks here. It’s been giving us a little summertime sadness. We needed a sunny day. We needed an easy day – the kind that
rewards you for the simple things. The Haw River runs low, typically. But, because of the non-stop raining, it was higher than I’d ever seen it – still runnable, still safe but high. The run from Old Greensboro to Chicken Bridge takes us about 4 hours on a good day.
So, we took to the water. The put-in was, well, difficult. The canoe wanted to run away without us. The reef was slunk low underwater. I plunged into a mud bank and almost lost a shoe. Michael was lodged between an underwater tree and a patch of poison ivy on the bank. The river gods demanded an offering but I needed that shoe. And, I needed that husband. So I unglued my feet from the muck and crawled into the canoe. Michael eased himself up behind me. We managed not to topple the boat over, somehow.
We made it about 50 yards when it began to sprinkle. And, then the wind started blowing. And then, the rain picked up. And then it was torrential. We looked at each other when the thunder started. Together, we shrugged, stuck our oars in the water and started paddling. The current was swift and the rain was cold. And, we were just two idiots on a swollen river, laughing because even the fog and rain are beautiful on the water.
I ate my peanut butter and nutella sandwich as quick as I could and slugged my trusty Silver Bullet before the rain watered it down (ha!). I threw my crust to the fish, grabbed as much litter as I could as it floated downstream and asked the river gods if that would suffice. A Thunderbolt cracked out an answer and I began to think our boat would sink with the force
of the rain.
But, then, something sweet happened. Blue sky skirted in and the rain tapered off. We didn’t hit a single boulder hidden under the brown water. We found some great rapids – normally absent on this particular run. The air started to feel warm and sunny. We laughed and talked and spun around in the currents. We began to think maybe today was going to be an easy day, after all.
We managed that 4 hour run in one hour and 35 minutes. If drinking beer and canoeing was an Olympic sport, we’d be gold medalists.
I didn’t think about work.
I didn’t think about the rejection email I’d gotten this morning (Bah!).
I didn’t think about what a drag the rain and humidity have been.
I was in the moment, a free spirit, earth child, water sprite. I thought, it’s really kind of true. Anything can happen. And, when it does, we’ll be just fine.
Oh, and then, at the take-out, I slid on a slick of mud, twisted my ankle, cut my leg and landed on my ass in a mud puddle. I’m pretty sure I got poison ivy on my big toe. Oh, and somehow, my left thigh (and only my left thigh) got sun burnt from the twenty minutes of clear skies.
I guess I don’t know what the moral of this story is supposed to be.
When I first started sending my stories out for submission, I joined Duotrope. Absolutely, if you are an aspiring writer submitting your work, I recommend this site. I wouldn’t be able to track my submissions as well on my own. It is a searchable database where writers can list stories, search for places to submit and track sales. In addition, it offers interviews with editors that I find really useful when deciding what to send where. It is a subscription based site – $5 a month but I find it so useful, I don’t mind the cost. (Similar free sites exist, I just haven’t used them. So I can’t recommend any of them.)
And, it gives me sweet little messages to keep me going!
The first time I got rejected, I cried.
Like a big baby.
For multiple days.
It was devastating. I didn’t have a lot of perspective, at the time, to be honest. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen – that my first time out of the gate, I’d take home the Triple Crown? It was a really nice rejection, too. The editor took the time to tell me what wasn’t working and to offer me the opportunity to resubmit when I made some changes.
But that first rejection made me shaky. Writing is something I’ve always been good at doing. It was the secret wish in my heart. It was the gravy on my mashed potatoes. But, what if I only thought I was good at it? What if everyone else on the planet thought I was just another shitty wanna-be purple prose Franken-monster? When your whole identity is wrapped up into a need to create, and no one wants your creation, what does that mean?
Of course, I was being a drama queen. That story hadn’t matured yet and it was actually really good it wasn’t published as it was. I made some changes. I let it simmer for a while. Then, I resubmitted it and got rejected again. Ha! Life is a trick ho, some days. The second rejection actually hurt a little less because I was expecting it. And, I could look at my submission tracker and see that my story had 4 more chances at 4 different magazines.
I worked on my story. I resubmitted it. I told no one what I was doing save my writing soul sister, Molly and my husband. If I didn’t tell anyone and I failed, no one would know! (Which, incidentally, is how I worm my way out of most diets.) And, then, I wouldn’t have to look like a loser. Well…you know what I mean. In any case, it was eventually accepted and published. And that little win gave me the courage to keep trying.
Some days you have to be brave even when the wind is rattling your door. You take the wins you can get and you let them carry you over to the next. I watch my submission tracker like a nut. I get excited every time I get an email from an editor – even the ones saying “No thanks”. As soon as I get rejected, I immediately start looking for a new place to submit. The rejections still hurt but not nearly as bad as that first. Because, I know a win is on its way.
I’ve been struggling just recently. Nothing too serious, nothing completely debilitating. Just a lack of inspiration. I write about water a lot and I think it is because writing is a very elemental thing for me. Inspiration typically comes from a word or a phrase associated with the four elements. It will get me going, get trapped in my head like a horrible song verse. I won’t be able to put it down. I’ll start with a place and write my way in. But recently, nothing has been jumping out at me.
So, I tried the normal go-to’s:
And, when none of those helped, I decided to go find some inspiration swimming around in the thick humid Carolina air. Sometimes writing is an active sport – the more I practice, the better I get. And, some days, I just don’t got the goods. But, I have to show up everyday and try.
We have a little park near our house (or, kind of near. Nothing is really near us) called the Chatham Northwest District Park. A far off thunder storm was calling but we decided to risk it – packed a lunch, grabbed our trusty frisbee and headed out.
When we first discovered this park, it was unnamed. So, we named it the Creepy Church Camp. I don’t know the exact history and I don’t really care to know it – the mystery is a lot more seductive than the truth. It was clearly an old camp ground with a lot of religious markers but it was falling apart. And, like most things that decay, in the right light, it is really kind of beautiful.
The county is fixing it up which is a complete shame, in my opinion. Safer, probably. The low hanging electrical wires and hobo filled cabins are, most likely, not great for children. The first time we hiked out the old trail, we imagined all the campy (pun intended) horror movies we could create. Old falling down cabins with raccoon families bunking down. Picnic tables destroyed by huge fallen trees. The Creepy Church Camp is what I’d imagine a camp would be like after the apocalypse.
I’m surprised every time I see another living soul scouting about in the Creepy Church Camp. I’m not ashamed to admit my first thought is usually: zombies. Worse yet, scary 70s church camp zombies. Those are…like…the worst kind!
But, it really is spectacular. If you walk along the trail, you’ll find little wooden markers pointing out smaller paths straight out into green moss and Oak. The first path we found was the “Prayer Area”. We walked out and found a mess of wooden benches situated in a circle. I’m not a religious person, but if you are, I can’t imagine a better place than in the middle of thick woods with the sun streaming through the canopy to worship. Just, please excuse the super creepy blood stained cross. I’m not joking.
I looked everywhere for my misplaced inspiration. It wasn’t in the cabins. It wasn’t in the lichen growing on the north side of the trees. It definitely wasn’t in the amphitheater – and I looked there twice. I fed the sweet little fish the remnants of my sandwich but they hadn’t seen my inspiration anywhere.
We listened for the thunder, watched the clouds roll in black like a charcoal painting against a milky blue palette. We walked and walked, the air sweltering and sweat dripping down our backs. We watched tiny toads jump across the trail, seeking out the shade. Every once in a while, we would find little pockets of cool ozone, the harbinger of nasty weather to come. It smelled like bark and dirt. The clouds began to spark. Still, no inspiration.
It doesn’t matter. I’ll find it somewhere. In a wine glass. In a playlist. In the Gillian Flynn novel I am reading (Dark Places – book review pending). It never really leaves me for very long. But, when it is missing, I feel anxious. Class on Tuesday means I better come up with something. It will come, it will come. Deep breath, it will come.
Clouds were spun like sugar at a carnival, pure white puffs set against a brilliant blue sky. In those days, all the mysteries of the universe were quiet, a whisper lost in the wind. Grainy stalks of corn reached up from the loamy soil. A gravel driveway, shrouded by forest that lasted a mile in a farming country, was full of anxious monsters. Monsters that were sprouted from vines on trees and sagging shadows. Monsters that were always hushed when I walked to the school bus, granting me passage. I needed them to be kind. But, how I wished one of my cousins would fall prey.
Grass grew waist high in a field left fallow to tend itself back into usefulness. Our Summer was – and is, still – marked by hay season and the grinding of tractor gears. The big red barn sat nestled against a hill, sheltering the animals like a long-suffering mother waiting each night for her children to come home. Step by step, hoof to hoof, they’d come in a long line, cows walking nose to tail. I would fall asleep each night listening to the nicker of the horses, the mewling cows, the pule of the crickets. The whole farm chorused.
Pastures led to fences, led to forests that surrounded our home and sheltered us in a strongbox of our own making. How arrogant one can become when barbed wire and Buckeyes stand hale against the world.
My Father, the strongest man I ever met, sat tiredly beside the yellow Formica dinner table with the metal rings along the edge. With a resigned smile for a daughter begging to play; wrestling in the living room with chocolate ice cream rimmed around my lips. Or, with a tear and strangled voice, “Baby, Grandma is dead.” Again, I am sitting on the yellow padded kitchen chair, pulling at the cracked vinyl and blanched foam.
My Mother, a mausoleum to her own sainted mother, soothed tears brought about by the vulgarity of being the youngest of three, always chasing the others and never quite catching up. She taught me how to knit, simple stockinette stitches, the night I accidentally killed my white kitten, Snowball. I cried as I wove, tears soaking the yarn at my finger tips. She ran a hand over the crown of my head, knitting her fingers through my hair until the tears stopped.
Autumn passed make-shift memories of leaf piles and down filled jackets into my mind. The smell of leaves burning still carries visions of smoke drifting through an electric night sky. Countless times we gathered around the fire like pagan worshipers thankful for the hunt, for the close of the harvest. Nothing could have been more benign that those moments, entranced by the dancing flame, we celebrated the simplicity of our life.
Clearing the drive of snow in the first dawn of winter brought forts compacted like huge snowballs. Our throats full of laughter, I would bump against my brother as we cleared new paths, our cheeks bright red against freckled pale skin. He thought he was Superman in his crystal cave. I thought he was stupid. When the gauntlet was thrown and war battled between the snowmen we’d become, the first ball of ice was usually mine.
My sister found a beagle our last winter on the farm, stranded along a country road. Its ribs stuck cruel against skin thinned by starvation. She brought it home and begged for its life and sure enough, it ended up in a straw filled dog box behind the house. She had no way of knowing that with its belly full of loving dinner scraps, it would growl and bite in her direction. My father named her Bitch but we christened her Lady.
When Spring found its way back to us and winter was swept from our front porch, confusion hollowed out the house. Piece by piece, our furniture, our things, were stuck like livestock on a truck and moved far away. In the empty rooms, our laughter would echo of times past but eventually, the orange shag carpet of the living room absorbed the noise and left the house eery in its silence. But, these memories of my first home smile at me as new puffy white clouds grow daily and I will wear that grin forever.
Note: All photograph credits belong to Katherine Wallick, my awesome sister.
“I didn’t ask for much,” he said in a voice of crushed rock. “I never asked for too much.”
“You say that, man. You say that all the time, Ed. Problem is, ain’t no one left to care,” Detective Waters replied.
Ed smiled over at the detective, a drowsy close-mouthed tightening of pink chapped lips. He couldn’t stop himself from licking them every time the cold wind blew through the trees. Detective Waters kept both eyes on Ed, his right hand seemed to be resting comfortably on the service revolver holstered at his hip.
“Yeah, well, maybe I could make you care.” He tipped his head back, took a deep, slow breath. He felt a chuckle, barely more than a bubble of trapped air in his barrel chest.
“I wasn’t askin’ for earth and water, man,” he continued, his eyes blinked once, slow, as if he was awakening from a long lazy dream. He shifted to lean against the tree at his back, his orange jumpsuit a glaring contrast to the muted browns and greens of the shadowy forest. His fingers flexed as he tried to draw the blood back into his cuffed hands. It felt like pins and needles against his skin. “That’s what the Persians used to say: Earth and water,” Ed’s voice was a whisper against the steady shhnnk of the shovels, the grunts of the men digging. “Absolute submission.”
“What the hell are you talking about? We didn’t bring you here to listen to your garbage.” The detective took two steps away from him and drew in a deep, weary breath. Ed lifted his manacled hands to scratch his cheek. His fingernail scraped over the stubble and left an angry red mark against his pale skin.
“This life has a way of making a man want to go back to the earth,” Ed said, as he watched the men digging around him. Watched as they turned that black earth. When the first white bone popped up from the dirt, he looked away. When things are buried, they should stay buried, he thought. When something goes to the ground, it becomes sacred. “Problem with you men is you got no respect for the work a man dedicates his life to.”