Proman and I developed a number of ways to cope with the pandemic. I know many of you did, too, and I’ve been delighted to hear your tales. Here’s one of ours.
In addition to jigsaw puzzles and growing vegetables on our lanai, walks together became a favorite event this year. These were not the usual walks around our neighborhood. We’ve always done those for exercise, and now we needed new horizons. One of our strategies–that did not involve a certain French bakery in downtown Venice–was to buy a state park pass. This makes particular sense for us because our house looks over one of the parks.
The strategy worked. We use the pass frequently, trying new paths, walking through the extensive campground and observing an eagle’s nest for signs of life On our walks and kayak trips down the creek we’ve come face to face with a bobcat, watched raccoons scurry along the water’s edge and learned how to turn our kayak on a dime when a whopping big alligator blocked access to the remainder of the creek.
One thing we hadn’t done until Mother’s Day was to find Big Lake. After many months, we finally realized we should ask the rangers for a hiking map, just to see what, if anything, we were missing. That was the moment we discovered there was a lake we hadn’t seen or whose existence we hadn’t even suspected. We knew the time had come to find Big Lake.
Two weeks ago we set out for a walk, confident in our ability to read the map. An hour later we were back at the car after making wrong turns and tramping through scrub and sand. Big Lake had eluded us. We thought we might know where we’d gone wrong and decided to try again someday soon.
Someday soon was Mother’s Day. The weather was perfect but scorching temperatures were on the way again, so we knew this was our last chance. We took our map–but foolishly not water–and hiked to the place where we thought we’d gone wrong before. Then we turned left instead of right. And once again we were exploring new territory.
We obviously weren’t the first to walk this way. The ground was covered with footprints, plenty of sneakers, many more raccoons and other prints we couldn’t identify, including what were probably wild hogs. We crossed under the Legacy trail for bikers and walkers that soon will stretch from Sarasota to Venice and walked beside South Creek where we’d kayaked the day before. Then, too soon, we were in the sun and scrub again, slogging through loose sand so white we could have been at the beach. We couldn’t see beyond the path on either side, and our GPS insisted we were walking where no one had gone before. We reached the inevitable point where we wondered if we should turn around and give up on Big Lake once and for all.
Instead we kept going. Although we couldn’t see what was beyond the scrub, we could see what might be a gap in the trees. With that as proof, we hoped when the path finally turned in that direction, we might be staring at Big Lake.
And that’s exactly what happened. Much farther than we thought, and well hidden until the very end, we arrived. The lake was not particularly big, and we could glimpse and hear cars a ways beyond it on an interstate access road. But we weren’t disappointed. Big Lake shimmered in the sun and we had it to ourselves. We hadn’t glimpsed a person or animal anywhere along the way. We climbed up to the observation post and simply enjoyed the view.
The way home was shorter because we found a better route, and after that hike of two-and-a-half miles (only two-and-a-half, but remember, sun, sand, scrub) we headed for home. Okay, we actually went to McDonalds for Sausage McGriddles and coffee, but pretend I didn’t tell you.
Big Lake had been found and conquered. Quite possibly we’ll never need to find it again.
So what, if anything does this have to do with writing? The whole time we walked I was reminded of the struggle to find the story I wanted to tell in The House Guests. Some books, like some destinations, reveal themselves a little at a time, with multiple false starts and dead ends. Some books lead you down one path, convincing you that is the best way to go, only to prove that a different turn in the road would have gotten you to a much better place.
The House Guests was one of those. As a writer, I’m a plotter, which is like a hiker who finds a detailed map and rarely gets lost. Before I start a book, I make sure I know exactly where I’m going. But not with this book. I killed off characters, brought them back to life, killed them off again. Some of my characters did not like what I had planned for them and forged their own paths. Some took over when they shouldn’t, and had to be whipped into shape. When I tried to explain the story to my brainstorming friends, they got lost immediately, because I was lost, too.
The House Guests was a destination I found without a good map to guide me. I had a starting point, but the rest was hidden in the scrub. Luckily, as I kept moving, hoping that what I saw in the distance was the story I knew was waiting, I grew more confident I was nearing success. I could see something beyond the trees, so I chose to keep going. Sometimes writing is all about faith.
I don’t need to find Big Lake again, and now that The House Guests will soon be on its way to bookstores, I can move on to another book. I can find a new map, start a story with a new idea. But I’m so glad I took both journeys. My faith in maps is still strong, but now I know that sometimes you just have to wander to find your way.