One Writer’s Beginnings

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When I was a young girl, aspiring to be a Semi-famous Small Town Author, my place to write was a large wooden pallet nailed into a high crook of a weeping willow in our back yard.  After school,as the afternoon sun lengthened on our grass, I would walk in that slant of light from our back door and head for the willow, tablet in hand.

The willow sprung from a twig Mom had planted years before.  She chose the twig for its shape–it contained its first crook, perhaps the same one I balanced on nearly daily.  Now, though, the tree had exceeded that single fork; its trunk was thick and massive, two feet in diameter at the base, and it split above that in closely spaced, sturdy branches that climbed into the sky step by step.

My platform was high enough that my eyes could skim the top of our rusting swing set, from which I would pump up so high that the back legs of the A frame would bounce off the ground; at the highest arc of my swing–though not so high as my tree house–I would ungrip the chains and launch into mid-air, my dress billowing out like a parachute. Beyond our yard, bordered by barbed wire, I could see cattle grazing in the fields, their black rope tails swinging to flick away flies, and beyond them, see the gravel road, churning with the dust of passing cars, meet the highway that ribboned past cornfields a mile away. I could look down on fence posts, the clothesline stretched across the yard flapping with sheets, and the newer trees, and be well out of the reach of our frantic black mutt leaping at the foot of the tree.  It was not high enough to see beyond our roof line or to skim the top branches of our neighboring elm.  It took five or six large, hoisting steps, my hips tilting into the different slants of the ascending limbs, to reach the pallet.

Once there, the slender, vine-like branches of the willow drooped around me, spilled to the lower branches, then to the ground.  The sky was open above me–such slim fronds could not block the sun, but only sway in its path, dappling my arms, and the boards beneath me.  I would watch the pale green leaves form in spring, tiny almond shaped buds, and sluice them off in one smooth stroke by pinching my fingers together in summer; swing with running starts on the sinewy, cascading strands in fall, and watch them yellow and fall in tatters like confetti as winter approached.

Here on my pallet, they formed swaying archways overhead, joyous branches that dipped and bobbed in the breeze.  The pallet was just big enough that I could rest my back against one of the thick branches which held it in place and stretch my twelve-year-old legs out in front of me to its further edge.

A tablet in my lap, a pen in my hand, I wrote: a plot line rip off of The Secret Garden that I called, cleverly, Ivy’s Secret Garden; an original novel, based on my best friend’s classroom exploits, that I titled, even more cleverly, For Tootsie Roll’s Sake, which thankfully never made it past the first chapter; a collection of craft ideas called The Girl’s Book of Things to Make and Do; sappy, tragic poems describing love that I had never experienced. Yet I wrote, trying out language, battling with the anxiety of influence, discovering what words could do and the different shapes they could take.

Most days, I stayed in that tree until dusk came in its chill grays, until Mom would creak open the back screen door and, without needing to pan the yard for my location, would cock her head my direction and call me in for dinner.  Each step down from the tree was a further distance from that author-self who remained perched on the pallet, ghostly because her substantial self existed only in the future. Each step made the connection between her and me more tenuous, yet I had to descend. Dinner was waiting. By the time that my foot touched the ground, I could barely make out her shape in the thickening twilight. Then, across the lawn ran a young girl, not a writer at all, but just a child, hungry for dinner, aiming for the bright windows of home.

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