“too scared of coming down, too scared of going up, too scared of rockface”
— from “Sugar” by Heather Nova
I spent the last week in Anchorage, Alaska, mostly visiting family, as well as spending a bit of time here and there going fishing and hiking. One of my favorite hikes near Anchorage is Flattop, a small (by Alaskan standards) mountain that is exactly as it’s name describes — flat on top. Every time I return to Anchorage, I try to fit in time to climb Flattop and last Tuesday, my mom, sister, and I took part in the hike together.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Anchorage when we set out for the hike. The air was cool, crisp, and fresh. My sister said that when she used to hike Flattop as a kid, she always felt like she had been whisked away to Ireland (a fair comparison.
The trail is steep at moments, with switchbacks and wood staircases that seemed to go on forever. We took it slow, breathing heavy and taking time to pause in order to look out and enjoy the scenery, which grew more and more impressive the higher we climbed.
Sophie Masson wrote a lovely post about a home she grew up in, which seemed to possess the soul of a good fairy. It was a home of secrete histories and ghosts and wild places to explore (and I recommend reading it, rather than taking it at my sparse description).
Her post immediately reminded me of the park and little woods in Anchorage, Alaska, where I used to live when I was a kid (seven-ish). The park across the street looked out over Cook Inlet, the water grey and, in the summer sun, sparkling. Two sides of the park were framed with little woods, patches of trees that separated the park from other peoples homes. I remember running through those woods and believing them huge, giant forests almost filled with wonders and strange creatures. I remembered looking up at the tall trees and feeling very far from home. I remember stepping only a few feet inside the little woods and feeling as though I could become utterly lost.
As kids exploring the little woods, we once stumbled upon a tree house — just a platform, really — that sat perched at what seemed to be the tippy top of a tree, which we were never brave enough to climb. But we imagined the kind of strange, brave person who would live at such heights.
Another time we discovered a cement slab (something industrial) hidden in the trees. It became the framework for an invisible house in which we pretended to live. It became a stage upon which we pranced and gave our bows. It became the home of an evil man who kidnapped good children and hid them away. It became so many things.
A few years ago, I was remembering the little wood and wondered what would happen, if such a small wood, the kind it was impossible to become lost in, actually hid in its heart an older, much greater wood — the kind one might never return from. That idea inspired a a short story, called “The Witch of the Little Wood,” grew into a novella, which transformed into part one of an unfinished novel that I plan to finish eventually.
My life inspires my writing quite a lot, usually in unusual ways. “The Witch of the Little Wood” makes use of several moments from my life, all unconnected. A phrase shouted at me by my sister during the middle of a fight (which made us laugh at the time) becomes barbed cruelty tossed at our MC by a bully. The awkward feelings of junior high, in which several people whom I thought were friends suddenly changed and became bitter enemies, makes it into the story. Bits of life here and there, hurts and loves and joys, travel through me and become new unrecognizable scenes in my characters lives. Bits of myself show up in everyone, from the heroes to the villains.
Writing is a fascinating process that way. Reading is, too. How you can look at a story just discovered and realize, oh, this is me, this is my life, here is everything I love and hate and need and feel all right there on display.
When you write or read do you often discover yourself in the stories? Does it surprise you?