Friday, April 30, 2010

What's your landscape muse?

by Kim

I imagine every creative person has a place of inspiration, a place where words flow effortlessly or the eye sees colors, shapes and textures with heightened sensitivity. Back in 2004, I found my landscape muse, a place I dream of, long for, and that forever changed me both as both a writer and a woman. Those who have followed us here at What Women Write for awhile already know I refer to Georgian Bay in Ontario. For those of you who have joined us more recently, click here to read the story about how a Texan fell in love with this rugged landscape of turquoise water, lopsided windblown trees, and rocky islands.

I’ve often told family and friends that if I could camp out in my friend’s cabin on Wahnekewening Beach, I could finish The Oak Lovers in six weeks. The cabin’s available anytime. With a husband and two small children here in Dallas, however, I don’t anticipate being able to move in anytime soon.
A couple of weeks ago, suffering from writer’s block and feeling restless, I decided I needed to find a closer source of inspiration, preferably one within fifteen minutes of my home.

I’ve driven by Restland Cemetery almost daily since moving to Texas back in 1997. When I’ve paid attention to it at all, I’ve noticed a perfectly manicured park. On this particular day I saw monarch oaks scattered over the grounds, inviting benches, and a complete lack of screaming children. Perfect.

An hour later I parked my car near the cemetery office and aimlessly wandered the grounds, waiting for a tree to call to me (so to speak). Since my novel features arguably one of the greatest forest painters the world’s ever known, I knew it could not be just any tree. Even if I had not spent the last four years hearing Carl Ahrens’ voice in my head, his blood runs strong in me. I’d recognize one of my great-grandfather’s wood spirits at a glance; I simply had to find something he’d have been moved to paint.

Within moments I saw an enormous oak with branches spread so wide I'm surprised it could hold them up. There's my tree, I thought. It couldn't beckon me more clearly. Upon reaching it, I peeked around the tree and saw my true destination – this pair. I smiled, seeing the womanly form enveloped by her larger male companion. Oak Lovers. In their shade, back to bark, I effortlessly composed an entire scene in a little over an hour.

I'm unsure if my burst of creative energy came from the tree itself or from the fact that I sat inches from two graves. Perhaps Edna Coursey (1894-1985) or Grace Newell (1899-1988) was a writer. Either way, I’m thankful, and plan to visit them again soon. Perhaps I’ll bring flowers.

So how about all of you? Tell us about your most surprising or unusual place of inspiration.


  1. I love to sit on my back porch at night with the lights off. My neighbor has a huge pecan tree and if you listen closely, you can tell which direction the wind is blowing from the sound of the leaves. It clears my mind, and the stars always provide enough light for me to write longhand.

  2. That sounds wonderful, Joanna. I'm pretty content anywhere so long as I can be by trees. I grew up in the back woods of Maine and so the lack of forest here in Dallas sometimes gets to me.

  3. I'm in Midland, where trees are at a premium. That's why the pecan tree is so special.

  4. Lorna Ferguson30 April, 2010

    This touches me. Thank you

  5. Joanna - I imagine they would be there, because I assume you're talking about Midland, Texas, rather than Midland, Ontario (one of my favorite places).

    Lorna - thank you!

  6. Elsie Saar01 May, 2010

    I love cemeteries, you can learn so much in them. The peacefulness is so calming. One learns one's mortality there also. Thanks for the blog.

  7. I'm glad you do love cemeteries, Elsie! If you didn't, I never would have gotten into the Daughters of the American Revolution.

    I met Elsie through the Find A Grave website (which is fabulous) and she was the volunteer who had photographed every single grave in several small cemeteries near Spencertown, NY. Turns out that's where all the ancestors I needed to "prove" were buried!

  8. Very moving blog, Kim. I must meet "your tree" when I come home in July. I'd love to bring flowers for Edna and Grace. As you know, my landscape muse is where your dad and I are living in Monterosi, Italy. Right now hearing birds singing and clanging of distant sheep bells. Out my office window tall grass and branches of trees dance in a breeze.

  9. Dan Loya03 May, 2010

    My "unusual" place of inspiration is probably not as conspicuous as other people's locations. Since I grew up in Southern CA, the beach was my refuge. I especially loved Carona Del Mar, where there are vast arrays of tide pools. When I was young, I would take my sketch pad with me when we took trips to this beach. I spent hours sketching creatures in the tides and later read about each one in my encyclopedias at home. Now I live in Seattle, so perhaps the Olympic National Rainforest is my version of the Georgian Bay for Kim.

  10. jeanna Thornton27 January, 2011

    Kim, thank you for sharing your terrific blog with me...I can tell by the company you keep, this is a keeper!

    Yes, his blood runs strong in you. I too, recognize your great-grandfather's wood spirits...and the male and female trucks do it justice.

    Paint large, lovely stokes, words that are sound and worth keeping, fall fallow into the earth and listen to the spirit that guides...LOVE it!! jink willis


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