Nature appears as a character in everything I write. In my upcoming novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, she is a mountain that seems to be alive with a mind of its own. She manifests as a cluster of monarch butterflies that surrounds the protagonist and steals the scene. In another she is a waterfall with a hidden walkway, where a young boy learns to see his harsh world through a soft filter.
To write this post, I go out to sit on my deck under the tulip trees. The wisteria is shedding its beautiful blooms, resembling lilac snowflakes. A mockingbird sings through her song selections while lime colored worms drop on silk web strands. The wind blows and they seem to fly without wings.
I stop often and take deep breaths of fresh air. I was cooped up in a critical care unit waiting room all weekend. I watched the sky turn from the pale pink of morning to the brilliant red and orange of evening. The room provided a magnificent view of both the city and the mountains in the distance. In a small sterile room a hall away on a ventilator is a woman who taught me to love the outside among other things. Miss Ruth, as she is known to many, took her first whitewater rafting trip when she was hugging seventy. Up until she was eighty-two, she camped in the
. Now, I’m not talking about RV camping or cabins with running water. I mean the real thing, tent camping without electricity, showers, or beds. Miss Ruth pointed me in the direction of the best hiking trails and gave me lessons in plants and wildflowers. Many an evening I spent sitting around a campfire listening to her tell stories about raising her eight children. North Carolina Mountains
My novel in-progress stares at me from an open notebook. This story has been written in longhand outdoors in every kind of weather. One of the main characters is a granny woman/herbalist, who I would like to think resembles a young Miss Ruth. Nature shows up in the massive garden the granny woman creates, in the aroma of the herbs, in the passionate way the granny woman loves the birds, in her knowledge of hidden mountain trails.
I guess one could say Miss Ruth is my nature mentor, and this makes her my writing muse in many ways. So what does a writer do when her mentor/muse might leave her behind? Does a person like Miss Ruth ever really leave us? At this writing she fights in that little sterile room to get up and take one more breath of fresh air. She is a tiny woman with a huge attitude and has defied her doctor’s predictions a few times before. If anyone can stay here, she will. Don’t count her out.
What began as a blog post about nature and her role in my writing has evolved into a love letter to a tough little woman, my mentor and muse. Miss Ruth, may you get the opportunity to witness another sunset and tell another story around the fire. But if you don’t, we’ll find you in the trees, the mountains, and in your stories that will never leave us.
And that is the beauty of nature. Every living thing comes full circle. What dies out revives again in new life. Amen.
Footnote: This piece was written on Monday April 11th. As of this posting, Miss Ruth still holds her own.
ANN HITE has written short stories, personal essays, and book reviews for numerous publications and anthologies. Ghost on
, her first novel, is inspired by stories handed down through her family and will be released by Gallery Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) on September 13, 2011. She lives in Black Mountain with her husband, daughter, and her laptop. Atlanta