Walk In My Footsteps

IMG_1099As I let my gaze drift across the vast and rolling hills, feeling a part of myself drift away with it, I feel the stress sliding from my shoulders. I breathe more easily, smile more freely, and lay back in the seat without any weariness. I am no longer surrounded. Now I’m free in the openness of the countryside, soaring over these hills with happy wings.

As I look out the car window, taking in the enormity of it all–of how far the hills stretch, how much land lies beyond it, how many stories must live there–I for a moment am completely still. The world is a big place, I think with wonder. There’s a lot more to it than the small little universe I’ve made at home. I took a deep breath then, the air seeming fresher, and I knew that the weekend was going to be good.

Last weekend, I went camping with my family. The weather was beautiful, almost enough to call hot, without a drop of rain. I took a lot of great nature photos, enjoyed some good conversation around the fire, and ate lots of good, flame-cooked food. I spent enough time with smoke blowing in my nose and eyes to have picked up the smell of it on my clothes and hair, but was happy to bring it home. The smell of wood smoke is one of my favourite smells, partly because it reminds me of the peacefulness of sitting around a bright fire in a dark, cool night, and partly because it reminds me of stories and storytelling.

On the first evening, when the sun was starting to slant lower in the sky, we went on a hike in the forest. I took command of the camera, taking all sorts of photos, and I enjoyed the role. It encouraged me to really pay attention to what was around me, trying to find the smallest gems that Mother Nature had to offer, to make them larger than life. I got caught up in the photography, delving into the deepest parts of the forest, but partway through the hike, I paused, and actually looked around me.

I was surrounded by trees, ferns, bushes, leaves, with a dirt path under my feet, a vast forest canopy over my head, no houses or roads or cars nearby. I was trekking through wilderness, through a real forest, and not a small copse of trees in a park. I was out on an adventure.

Just like my heroes.

Most of the travel in the book I’m writing is through trees–thick forests full of ferns and dirt paths, with dry leaves or pine needles covering the ground. Forests full of birdsong and cool breezes, where the light that hits the ground is dappled and dances as the branches sway. Forests where the air is fresh, where there are bright flowers in hidden places, and where there aren’t any signs of civilization. My characters walk through forests like those, and that day, so did I.

It’s hard to explain that overwhelming feeling of joy and pride that welled up in me when I realized that the same dirt I was walking on, the same branches I was walking under, the same air that was filling my lungs was exactly what had been under my characters’ feet, over their heads, in their lungs. I was following their footsteps, tracing the shadows of their adventures, experiencing the same scenery they’d experienced. Or maybe I was walking ahead of them, guiding them.

I realized then that this was real. The forest I was walking in was the same forest they’d walked in. Partly, anyways, because it was that forest which had inspired my writing. It was the experiences I’d had in that forest that had allowed me to write new experiences for my characters. The forest under my feet and the forest in my book were indeed one and the same.

It was like a dream come true.

I enjoyed every minute that I hiked through those trees, aware that my heroes were walking beside me. It was a happy moment for me, and I carried it into the next day, when I spent an entire afternoon just sitting in the trees, editing my book. I don’t remember the last time I spent so many hours doing nothing but immersing myself in my book, besides while writing it, and so it was a real treat for me to give it so much attention. And to be able to do so while within the very forest that I was writing about made it so much better.

And it makes me wonder: How many places have I gone in my life where I’ve been tracing the steps of some of the heroes who inspire me? Their creators get their inspiration from somewhere, somewhere in this big and vast world–somewhere that we, too, can go. You never know when you’ll end up walking with heroes, but it’s incredible when you realize that you are.

So now, back at home, with a bit of a headache and feeling tired and slightly stressed, I try to remind myself of two things:

  1. The world is a big place. There’s more to it than homework and the internet.
  2. I’m not anywhere that heroes haven’t been before, or won’t yet go. If they can get through it, then so can I.

And it makes me able to breathe a little bit easier, smile a little bit freer, and lay back with a little less weariness.

Where have you been?

May your world be truly vast and your feet walk the paths of heroes.

-Alex

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