At my family’s camp Up North in Wisconsin, one of the most beloved traditions we still follow today takes place far outside Birch Trail’s property lines. Our beloved BT sends out nearly 65 wilderness trips each season, taking the campers climbing on the granite bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, hiking in the Isle Royale National Forest, paddling down the mighty Namekagon river, or from lake to lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Some of the most beautiful scenery to be found on all of god’s green earth.
I never took to backpacking as much as I did to the boating-oriented trips because, to me at least, it always seemed rather silly to carry a week’s worth of camping gear and food on one’s back when a lovely little canoe or kayak could manage the heavy lifting for you instead. Though most of our days during those canoeing and kayaking trips were filled with talking, laughing, and singing (there is a whole lot of singing and cheering that goes on at Birch Trail) our trip leaders would inevitably institute another long-held Birch Trail camping tradition: the silent paddle.
There isn’t much about silent paddling to describe that you wouldn’t already assume; enforcing an hour or two of total silence as the canoes, kayaks, or sailboats cruised across the water allows a young person the opportunity to really notice the exquisite beauty and quiet of their surroundings, as well as to go inward and notice what those surroundings could make her feel. As a deeply imaginative and introspective kid, I truly relished those silent paddles, and they include some of my fondest memories.
On my sea kayaking expedition with NOLS in 1999 along the southeastern coast of Alaska the summer after my senior year of high school, I was surprised and much delighted to discover that silent paddles were a tradition among their ranks as well. Though I often found myself battling rainy skies versus the sunny ones of my summer camp days, and struggling against powerful swells and strong currents of unprotected ocean waters much more challenging than the gentle rivers and lakes of my Midwestern wilderness sojourns, there was still something comforting about not having to talk.
This spring has been a mightily busy one, with lots of traveling and working and of course, lots of writing. With a somewhat normalized schedule ahead of me for the summer, I’m fully engaged in the aim to finish my novel by the end of August. Not only is fall a great time for pitching, but it’s also, I believe, just about the point at which my sanity will bear no more strain.
So here you see me, writing like a madwoman. And it is magnificent. I wake in the mornings thinking about the day ahead of me, how to get through it quickly so I can sit down and write at the end of it. In the shower, where I seem to have some of my best ideas, I scribble feverish, disjointed thoughts on my waterproof notepad. On the bus, I become that girl who lets her belongings drop to the yucky floor as she writes sloppy notes on a too-small notebook. At work, I steal ten minutes here and five minutes there to add just one quick line or fix that nagging dialogue tag in my draft. The randomly acquired Hello Kitty flashdrive I use to transport my work drafts has become my most prized possession, and I hate all things Sanrio. I get home from work, walk the pup, assemble some kind of dinner, and hunker down in the office accompanied by said dog, a sliced pear, and a juice glass filled half-way with vodka. There, the work commences. If all goes well, I’m still typing away come midnight. Then I shower off the creative demons and dark juju, climb into bed weary but happy. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “I know what happiness is, for I have done good work.” And off I go to dream of, about, and as my characters, waking bleary-eyed in the morning to do it all again.
I know, I know—it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve written a post, and I get yelled at all the time for it. The truth is that I’ve been so immersed (infected might be a more accurate term) in writing my next project that I’ve barely come up for air, let alone had time to write the kind of blog post I know my readers deserve. So please bear with me as I stumble in and out of real life as I finish this book, and cross your fingers that I survive the process. I’m not joking–I may not make it though this one.
And speaking of the writing process, let me tell you—this life I’ve chosen for myself, this writer’s life—it ain’t for pussies. The incredible amount of discipline and dedication it takes to see a manuscript through to the end is indescribable, unnamable. That focus and devotion takes such an awful lot out of me, and when I’m working as fiercely on a project as I have been these last few months, I find that I can neither think nor talk about virtually anything else.