Friday, January 22, 2010

Go Outside to Explore and Inspire Your Writing

For several months I have had the dream of taking writers out to explore nature and inspire writing. Today being Martin Luther King Day was perfect timing to fulfill that dream. Students from our after-school writing club brought signed permission slips for the holiday field trip which was to the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert, Arizona. It had rained this morning so it was cold, wet, and breezy as seven of us (three students and four adults) gathered for the excursion.

Walking through the gate near Cattail Crawl, we reminded everyone to use all the senses, not to just rely on what we see. Smells, thoughts, and textures can add meaning and dimension to our experience. The first spot we stopped was at the water’s edge where we watched it sprinkle. One of the boys said the sprinkles represent ideas or words. The fourth-grade girl said they were ideas that hit you and you want to write about them. Watching the circle disappear after the drop hit, the other sixth-grade boy responded by saying, “When you have an idea, you better write it down quickly before it goes away.”

Looking at a prickly pear one student said we should let ideas stick to us. My writer friend and former teacher told us that the sharp thorns remind her of metaphors and similes; they get right to the point so you can feel them prick your heart. Seeing a dried up fruit on the ground, I commented that the cactus reminded me of the pain and torment I go through to get my thoughts on paper, yet how pleased I am with the fruits of my labor when the writing finally comes together.

Mud cracks and pot holes reminded us to be aware of cracks and holes in our writing. One young man who was chasing the other boy stopped suddenly and pointed to a pile of leaves. “That reminds me of softness and love,” he said; then he started looking for animal tracks. Two adult women imagined the conversation going on between a gander and three white hens. Coming upon a yucca plant, a participant said, “Let your imagination expand!” He then amplified his thought by saying that each spike was a different idea and the serrated edges were the extra details you could add.

Time was almost up and we wanted to get back to the ramada to write and share. Besides, the increased wind made it colder. I had to put gloves on as we trucked the last part of the trail. It reminded me of how quickly a story comes to a close. Sometimes we come across things and places, like the refreshing stream, that we want to stop and explore, but these are only distractions. We can come back later and investigate more thoroughly for future writing projects.

We spent the last half hour munching apples, writing and sharing. One boy wrote a journal entry and included the drawing of a leaf so he could remember the day. An adult wrote to a leaf, asking why it had so many holes. Another participant shared her poetic observations that she had written while we walked. The sixth-grade teacher commented that the animals we saw softened our hearts.

We want to come back and get the rest of the club members to join us. We liked that we weren’t just learning but were experiencing the world we live in. Spring Break seems too far away so maybe we will come back some Saturday. We just need to pick a date to come. As one mother picked up her daughter, she told us the girl had given up two hours of food and fun at Amazing Jakes with her family and friends just to be there. Yes, taking time for writing is a sacrifice we writers (of all ages) are willing to make!

Suggestions for your own outdoor experience:

take a camera to record what you see and remind you of what you learned

take a snack (and water); you’ll get hungry!

take a friend; it’s amazing what you learn as you share your thoughts and build upon each other’s ideas

of course, take a journal and writing utensil; after all, we are writers and need to record our thoughts and feelings.