Friday, August 5, 2011
A Change in the Landscape
A few weeks ago my family returned to the remote property we have on Kodiak Island. The journey includes a pleasant ferry ride through Prince William Sound and another, less enjoyable ride in our small boat the final 20 miles to our destination, Boulder Bay.
The small boat puts us in intimate contact with the frigid Alaskan waters. We suit up in various layers and stow everything in water-proof drybags. The ride can be wet and cold, with a wind-chill factor of nearly freezing. But despite that, the ride is also full of wonder.
Wonder at the way the sea is in constant motion. Wonder at the fish that jump, silver in the sunlight and the huge beds of kelp we dodge. Wonder, and laughter, at the fat clown-like puffins that, if they’ve fed well, cannot take flight with a full belly and instead skim along the water, wings flapping, feet pedaling. Wonder at the sudden blow of air as a whale takes a breath nearby and flips its tail skyward.
At our destination this year we also began to wonder where the channel into our lagoon had gone. The straight-forward channel we had the year before had vanished. We idled the boat in the bay and gazed at the lagoon and the small waves pounding against the beach. Eventually we found the channel, which now had a large, lazy curve in it.
The channel wasn’t the only thing to have changed in a year. The sandy banks of the beach had been violently eroded. Huge logs, once tossed upon the grassy verge, hung like broken beams over the beach, tottering on the brink of falling back to the sea. What fearsome power had done that to our peaceful beach?
Change is inevitable, as they say. Nothing and nobody stays static, and in fact, the definition of growth is change. Claire and I have mused about how we’ve changed over the years and with it, our stories. Both of us have the experience of nurturing the same stories for years. Years in which we’ve had pivotal life experiences: weddings, childbirth, careers, losses and gains that have shaped us into the people we are today.
What about our novels, though? Are they still the same stories we dreamed of or have they also morphed into something different? And was that satisfying, or frustrating, to realize the stories we always wanted to tell no longer existed in their same form?
Like the new curve in our channel at Boulder Bay, my writing has also made a curve. It was inevitable that changes would happen, just as it was inevitable that the channel was changed by the winter storms.
Just as I stood in the boat and searched the waters for our channel, puzzled at where it has gone, I also read my novel and am perplexed at its direction. Did I do something wrong, did my storytelling instincts momentarily go on the fritz? Worse, I question my writing ability, my desire to write fiction, and doubts seep in. The landscape has changed and I no longer recognize my story or the potential it has. I see a wasteland of words.
This is where a buoy or two are necessary. Buoys mark channels for boats of course, but writers need them too. Claire, in her ever-present optimism and her unbridled belief that I do, indeed, have a story to tell, became a buoy for me and reminded me of that. In essence, she said this is who we are now, we’ll never be the old selves we once were. So the stories we are meant to tell are the ones we have now, changed as they are along with us.
So a change in the landscape is inevitable when storms rage, but instead of giving up, or doubting the new view, I take heart at the challenge and remember: the story I’m meant to tell is the one I write.