We all have experiences in our lives that are unforgettable, that are destined to become life memories. I’m talking about events that made a great impression, gave a sense of accomplishment, filled you with joy, filled you with gratitude, stayed with you forever, left a bad taste forever, taught a great lesson. Things like a good choice, a bad choice, a first date, a first child, a first marriage (whoops – that’s for another post). You have the idea.
As writers, our experiences are ready sources to mine. In a recent personal essay, I drew on a hike into the Grand Canyon. In a past short story, I joined my theatre experience with my father’s contracting business. (A strange combo.) A story in progress is drawing on a person I met at Muscle Beach in Venice, California. We all dig into our life material like this. As writers, our subjects surround us, leading us to ideas that drop into our minds and later into our writing files.
One of my life memories is my first hike up Mt. Whitney, highest point in the continental United States. The second time I made the ascent was exciting but nothing like the feelings and recollections of the first. I still can feel my aching legs, marvel at the Australian jogging by me with a 40 lb. pack on his back, take my first bite of apple as my companion gifts my arm with an attack of altitude sickness, sense the power of the landscape, the challenge of the unknown, the rugged beauty. These memories are as alive as yesterday.
I guess we’re writing all the time, even when we don’t know it. Something from the past can suddenly knock on the door of the present demanding to be written. The first ascent of Mt. Whitney manifested into a piece written a number of years later as I tried to capture the feel of what happened to me, relive a life memory that can best be described as spiritual. By going outward and upward, I went inward to feel both pain and joy, appreciation and peace.
I leave base camp, 8,500 feet.
Sun beats through pines, tall
keepers of the mountainside,
holding soil to earth.
Soft breezes whisper white
noise against blue jay’s banter.
Squirrels scamper, shy companions.
A trail, rocky, uneven, unfolds
to slash the mountain’s side,
a crisscross of switchbacks,
repetition upon repetition,
higher and higher.
Untainted air fills my lungs.
Against the trail’s wall
I rest. Vistas of the Sierra,
John Muir’s cherished land,
surround and enfold while
towering above looms
the crest, the prize.
The trail narrows, a sheer
drop on either side, as sun
slips away and night nears.
Bundled against deep cold,
I camp, cocooned in sleeping bag,
swathed by insignificance.
Sunrise brings more trail,
thinner air, shallow breath,
a final press to the summit.
From the highest peak
sweeps the great valley below.
I fill with the expanse of life,
joyous at my life.
Our experiences are gemstones, waiting to be mined, skillfully cut, polished. Wow, I didn’t realize how rich I was, how rich we are as writers. Happy writing.
Bravo for you! I am such a weakling, I’d never even consider attempting your accomplishment! But your excellent writing brought me along side you. Thanks for giving me the “armchair version” from my temporary perch in the Florida Keys! We are with an RV Ministry, volunteering in Islamorada.
Elizabeth Sent from my iPhone
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed. I’ve always found the Florida Keys fascinating. Hope your temporary perch stays comfy and you have success with your mission. Thanks for stopping by.
Beautifully written. I never realized you had such adventure. I did know that you are a remarkable and amazing woman:-).
Thank you, Kerry. I also know a remarkable woman who takes fabulous photos and discovers art and beauty around her daily. So glad you had a moment to visit.
Carol, I was right there with you. I have hiked quite a bit in the Sierras. I didn’t hike Mt. Whitney, but my dad did. He loved those mountains. I am looking at a picture right now of the family with Dad, taken on his last camping trip, which hangs above my computer.
The more you’re around the mountains, the more they lure you. I can understand your dad’s love and appreciation for the Sierras. Martinez Mountain near our home is over 6,000 feet and always reminds me of my Whitney hiking days. Glad you enjoyed.
So well written and such a gem to share when I teach a memoir writing class!
Thank you and I’m honored. Plus, I’ll get to be a class member vicariously!