Deep Breathing

In a couple of hours, I head for Montgomery, Alabama, to participate in the 3rd annual Alabama Book Festival. If you are near Montgomery, come see me at 1pm at Old Alabama Town, the restored Montgomery downtown. I'm on stage directly after Rick Bragg. I was born in Alabama, and I always love going home.

I've been immersed in the writing this week, so I've been up and down Stone Mountain several times, and I took my camera so I can show you my writing partner. I did not bring my notebook -- stay tuned. The photo above is the mountain in springtime -- you wouldn't think there is so much life exploding on a big piece of rock, but there is. All year long, the mountain changes clothes as the seasons pass, and the mountain waits for me, so I can tell it my stories.

This is my path up. See the moon? Just before dusk is my preferred walking time. You'll see my shadow in some of these photos as well -- the sun is directly behind me.

Stone Mountain is a monadnock and the largest piece of exposed granite in the world. Folks come from the world over to see it. I have never walked the mountain that I have not heard someone speaking in Chinese, or Spanish, or (very often) French, or Bengali, or... you get the picture.

I am never alone when I walk up the mountain. Some days are crowded (especially when school kids come in buses) and some are sublimely quiet. Here are two energetic walkers -- look at that pony tail swinging! They passed me handily, but that's fine... my walk is a more meditative affair. I mean it to be that way.

It takes me time to negotiate the steppes, as I call them. I savor each step I take, and I let my mind go, after its hours-long wrestling with the story I'm writing. And as I let it go, the mountain catches it and lobs a thought back at me. Maybe she has a secret she can't tell her best friend! What about her mother? Is her mother approachable? Is she likable... yet? Is that word spelled correctly?

A quarter of the way to the top, I am rewarded with this view. They don't call Atlanta "The City of Trees" for nuthin'.

Then it's back to climbing. Even at my meditative pace, the climb is demanding, and my heart rate soars -- this is a good workout. (WW this week: minus 24.2 pounds -- finally moving away from that plateau I've been on for almost two months.)

I used to bring my notebook on these walks, then I stopped. As much as I advocate and encourage using a notebook for capturing your thoughts, ideas, and stories, there is a time and place for notebooks, I have found. I've become so reliant on my notebook that I wonder if I risk not being able to remember a dang thing without writing it down. So on these walks, I stretch my memory.

I love the challenge of remembering. At first, I was scared that, walking the mountain without my notebook, I would hit on a great fix or a terrific idea or a perfect way to write that passage I'm struggling with, only to lose it before I could get home and record it.

And it's true that, sometimes, the ideas and the suggestions and the answers to story knots come so fast and furious, I instinctively reach for my notebook and panic for a second when I know it's nowhere near me.

Not to worry. I have learned to trust that I will remember. And what I don't remember... well, that's okay, too. I am going to remember what is most important. I have found that this discipline of walking up and down Stone Mountain (or weeding the garden, even taking a shower) is a way for my mind to think in another direction, without the structure of the page, and this is good.

It's like deep breathing (which I certainly do on the mountain as I huff my way up) or writing in free verse after having spent the day working in form.

If you walk the mountain enough, you begin to see familiar faces. Here's Tony, or Guitar Guy, as I used to call him. Tony walks the mountain playing his guitar several times a week. I believe I have heard his entire repertoire. Today he is singing "Gloria" -- G L O R I A!

Tony tells me this is his 60th trip up the mountain this year. "I get in 240 to 250 trips a year. Just about every 48 hours, you find me up here, singing and walking." Yep.

And here is the city of Atlanta, rising up from the trees, bathed in the haze of the setting sun -- it's clearer than this, today, but my camera batteries are low, and the sun is brilliant in my eyes, and this is as good as it gets in this setting-sun moment... and that's pretty good. I have grown to love Atlanta. It's full of that Uncle Edisto messy glory, just like most of life. There is a lot here to love.

Stone Mountain is one of the places to love. Native Americans hiked over it many years ago. In the not-so-distant past, Ku Klux Klan meetings were held on this mountain. Today, people of all persuasions, colors, and languages claim this piece of rock as a personal mountain and a holy place. I certainly do.

I wrote about Little Altars Everywhere not long ago. I asked you to write in your notebooks about those little altars you create all around you.

Now, put your notebooks aside. Rachel Carson wrote, "I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel."

So... feel for a moment. Feel deeply, in the way that small children do instinctively. Hope and yearn and remember and find that place of inspiration within yourself... which sometimes you can best discover by visiting a place outside of your created spaces. An altar already there, waiting for you.

You don't have to write it all down. Sometimes it's good to let go of thinking in such structured ways, to let your mind rest, and feel the release that comes from taking a deep breath and spending time in the cathedral of your heart.

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