There are woods behind my house and a path that I like to walk often. The path runs first close to Little Patuxent River and then loops around a rainwater collection pond and continues along a small stream. From beginning to end it is 3 miles long, so it takes me about an hour to walk it depending on my disposition. It is paved, hilly in places, and it has a few benches, one placed at a vantage point overlooking the pond and the river, and the others in the depth of the forest. The path is open year round except for a few mornings in late fall and early winter when it is hunting season and, I assume, eager camouflaged men with hushed voices and riffles in their hands walk the path and the woods in order to ‘control the deer population.’
Otherwise the place is peaceful. Crossing paths, people great each other. Some ride bicycles, others jog or walk their dogs, and sometimes there are children exploring the stream and the bushes. I walk this path more frequently now than when I was younger, mostly alone, sometimes with my wife and visiting friends. I know every turn, every stump, and every crack where knotty tree roots break through the asphalt. The path is never the same, and even when it surprises me, I feel that I know it intimately like you know an old friend with all his moods and eccentricities.
I like the path in the summer, when the air is thick with humidity and pollen and the mature leaves are full and heavy. I like it in the fall when it rains, the leaves turn, and everything drowns in color. In the winter the trees are bare, the river becomes visible from every angle and the homes along the path — not easy to spot in the summer — appear like gingerbread houses in the mist of a fairytale, cozy, warm, smoke rising out of chimneys. When it snows the woods become a winter paradise, white and pure. More than any other season I enjoy the spring. Nature is returning to life and the young leaves are fresh, playful. The translucent green of spring reminds me of puppies with their inexplicable happiness that comes from within, the need to run for the sake of running, to yelp, to tumble.
The only other place that is imprinted as deeply in my mind is the street where I grew up in my native Bucharest — a cobblestone street, winding up a hill, with tree branches leaning over fences and sidewalks, as if crying.
Then and now, when I walk, I think about my writing. Here, at this bend in the path, I planned the first love scene between Miriam and Jonathan. On this bench overlooking the pond, I imagined the moment when the dwarf shot Eva, Irene’s friend who was jogging. I talk to my agent in my mind, or my publicist. I do it aloud and I don’t care. I debate with my fellow writers. I rest, breathe, calm down and forget that everything has an end and time passes.
I write every day and sometimes, in the evening, I go walking. The path in the woods is my social life — my trees, my river, my buddies.
I spent this past Wednesday and Thursday, discussing my novel in progress with my wife. My novel is meandering. It is too stuffy. It needs trimming, and trimming is hard and painful. My wife is smart, an accomplished reader, and a good friend. I trust her. She read the manuscript and for two whole days we argued, debated, agreed and found solutions. I wrote them all down in my notepad. I reluctantly eliminated eight characters, merged three, and cut scenes that I loved but which did not contribute. About seventy pages will end up in the wastebasket.
When we finished, late Thursday afternoon, I needed to go for a walk, overwhelmed by my own exhaustion. ‘Go,’ my wife said. ‘I’m OK. I’ll stay home and cook dinner.’
I ran to my trail in the woods eager to console myself and recharge my batteries.
The youthful green of spring, tinged with sunset gold, danced around me. One thought crystalized in my head: more than anything else, I wanted to go back home and start writing.
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