Authors don’t write about distant places the same way they write about home.
June 16, 2013
What was there about the Ozarks that squeezed my heart in its hand?
What essence did those green hills possess that stirred my emotions and caused me to write about those days and nights, those feelings that were so illusive, yet so pervasive?
I don’t know.
But, there was a delicate and beautiful Muse in those evergreen hills, and a wistful hunch that my search for a home, after years of nomadic wandering, were over. I had lived in the cities and I had lived in the mountains. And the memories of those places stayed with me. In fact, they became sharper and more distinct after I settled on our 90 acres and felt the Muse’s tap on my shoulder each afternoon when my professional writing had run its course and I had put the current novel out of mind until the following day.
I began to write about those distant places and I noticed that the writing was different. It was new and fresh and smooth as the velvet water that flowed in Ozark Creek. I began to write novels about those other places, but I also felt a tug at my heart to write about the Eden I had found in Arkansas.
I wrote about the people and the land, but I also wrote about the gentle majesty of the hills around me, the craggy faces of the limestone bluffs, and the old roads that bore me to hidden homes fashioned of whip-sawed lumber with their roofs of hand-froed shingles, their wells and the little creeks that meandered from one hard-scrabble homestead to another.
Oh, yes, the writing changed and the articles began to appear in magazines and newspapers. I lived in isolation, far from any town, yet the words found eyes and ears and, gradually, New York and Los Angeles drifted into the background, existing only at the other end of a telephone line and I learned that the party line blocked me from the West Coast in the afternoon and that mornings were best to call New York.
When the women were on the party line, they knew when I needed a line, a line that they could monitor like eavesdropping gossips. So, it was, at times, that I would hear one of the women say: “We’d better talk later. Hemingway is on the line.”
I submitted some of those early Ozarks pieces to the Ozarks Mountaineer, which was a fine magazine near Branson that extolled the virtues of the Ozarks, past and present. Its owner and editor, Clay Anderson, accepted some of my articles and paid me $50 for each. But, then one day, he wrote me and said that I had to change what I wrote about. “You and Dan Saults are stepping all over each other.”
I had read Dan’s articles and thought they were fine. They were more ecological than mine, but I saw what Clay meant. We both wrote about the beauty of the Ozarks, each in our own way. The Muse showed me a way to write what I felt and I continued to sell stories to the magazine. Later, I met Dan and we became great friends. In fact, I visited him on his death bed in Skaggs hospital in Branson. A few days before, at the Red Lion in Hollister (Missouri), he had drawn me aside and told me that he was afraid of dying.
“I’m shutting down,” he said. “Organ by organ, and I don’t know if this will be the end of my life or whether there is an afterlife.”
“Dan,” I said to him as I looked into his sad, frightened eyes, “it’s nothing to worry about. If there is nothing after death, then all memory has been wiped out. If death is just another part of life and some part of you goes on, then your consciousness continues and that is a richer life than this one.”
I believe that. I believe that consciousness exists beyond the dazzling circuitry of the brain and that, like energy, it can neither be created nor destroyed. Perhaps we don’t live beyond this life. But some part of our being does live on, as energy, particles, dark matter, spirit.
The Muse in my Eden came from somewhere, some place beyond the senses. Perhaps she is a spirit that came to being from all the writers and artists who lived on earth before us.
We all leave behind something of ourselves when we die. Perhaps, for me, the leavings are words on a page, tattered books yellowing with age, or just my footprints faint on the hillsides of these verdant and everlasting hills.