A space for conversations in a time of global disruption
After: A Short Story
By Tim Fox
I was a writer once. Very successful, niched into the nature/ecology market, which basically meant I’d have experiences in dramatic, often injured, landscapes under mountains, sun and sky, reflect on the broader meaning of those experiences through my keyboard and send the resultant story off for placement in one of the top global publications in the genre. I belonged to a small, well-regarded community of authors who rarely met anywhere other than conferences and symposiums, but shared a soft spot for the land, a peculiar attention to detail and a certain way with words.
Then the hard times came. The markets withered. The publications folded. My agent lost her job, and left me cut off, alone in the remote Cascade mountain hamlet where I’d chosen to live for the inspiration it gave me in my craft. I didn’t have a spouse or children. Writing had filled both roles.
And it was like they’d died. I thought I’d lost everything, but really, my despair derived from a different, and in some ways deeper, death, the death of the oldest kind of habits, cultural habits that don’t just die hard, but try to take you out with them when they have to go. Mine almost succeeded.
The period of numb despondency ended after precisely one month, mere days from the foreseeable exhaustion of my canned goods. A dozen or so neighbors I’d never met before came by unannounced, introduced themselves and, without asking, scooped me up to come help prepare an old clear cut for planting: lettuce, kale, pole-beans and the like. We ignored the disintegrating plastic, “No Trespassing, ” signs —skeletal remains of some recently deceased multi-national timber corporation — and made our way into the opening.
And suddenly, there I was in a dramatic injured landscape again, under the sun and sky. I couldn’t help it, all around me I saw countless things to write about. But why bother? If only I still had my community. The despair welled back up.
A slosh warned me an instant before the bucket of cold water burst apart on the back of my legs. I gasped and wheeled around to confront my assailant. Seeing her, my rebuke died in my throat.
“You here now?” asked little Kit, one of the neighbor children, age six if a day, squinting hard at me with much older eyes, sky blue eyes shaded under the ratty brim of a lopsided baseball cap sporting a logo so faded as to be indiscernible. “Sue and Ben need your help in the sugar snap peas.”
Kit sounded just like my agent, calling for a late essay. But more direct. Direct.
Community. Landscape. Life.
* * *
For the first time in over four decades, I’m a writer again, at the moment. I’m not sure why I’ve picked up my old pencil and browning yellow legal pad, stored away these many years. Unfinished business, I guess. A sense of time gently closing in. Time perhaps, to finish.
Back then, I could see the contraction of life only as a diminishment, rather than the substitution it turned out to be. In place of a planetary scatter of peers linked by Google and Boeing and dependent on the consumption of our stories by an anonymous and equally scattered readership, I have Kit, Sue, Ben and everybody else who matters most to me in the world living the stories with me, sharing this dramatic healing landscape we all call home, the mountains, the sun, the sky.
I didn’t lose a thing. The sense of community. The joy of stories. The family of words, spoken now over meals garnished with laughter, and yes, grief as well. I lost none of it. But what I gained by writing my life into this place that also writes itself into my heart and into the hearts of everyone here with me makes me feel so much more . . . real. Connected. Vital.
Maybe, I’ll write about that someday. After berry season. And camas harvest. After the firewood is in. Oh, and after the hunt.
All the indoor mending projects saved for after first snow will have to be done too. Then, maybe then, I’ll write again.
Unless, that is, I never really stopped.
Writing is all about the stories after all.
And the stories never end . . .
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