Writing Out Loud


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Something About Lighthouses

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Many years ago, I went to a local sidewalk art festival where there was the usual assortment of seashore art: paintings, drawings, shells with designs painted on them, and so on. Given that the state of Maine is known for its long coastline and all things associated with maritime living, booths displaying primarily lighthouse art are numerous at such events. After walking by several and spending the obligatory amount of time admiring the artists’ efforts, some more than others, I commented out loud, “There’s just something about lighthouses.” A woman standing nearby replied, “You’re right! There is, isn’t there? But you can’t put your finger on just what that might be.”

And she was right, of course. There is something decidedly attractive and appealing about a scene that portrays a lighthouse in some form or other. And here in Maine, we have plenty of them TO admire, from the southernmost town of Kittery to the easternmost town of Eastport. Here in the York County area alone, there are dozens of them that had served as the inspiration to many artists and photographers through the  years, yours truly included. And I’ve often wondered just why so many people are so in love with lighthouses.

I am not particularly so, but I have to admit that there is something fascinating about, not only how a lighthouse almost always stands out from its surroundings in a very dramatic way, but also the aura of steadfastness it exudes. Aside from the very urban Munjoy Hill Observatory, which is smack dab in the middle of a very busy Portland neighborhood, most lighthouses were constructed centuries as lonely outposts that cast light across the sea to get sailors and other seafarers safely to shore. Many of them have fascinating histories, and all, at one time or other, were home to keepers who kept the lights burning all night every night and during the worst weather. In time, as the properties that many of these lighthouses stood on was sold off, and modern technology crept in, ancient ways of illuminating the night gave way to electrified methods, and eventually to lights that no longer needed constant monitoring, which made the role of lighthouse keeper pretty much obsolete.

By its very design, a lighthouse can withstand tremendous oceanic energy, a fact attested to by the many that still stand in areas that have seen some pretty violent storms over the years. The sea can batter the tower endlessly, with no ill effect, embracing it with wave after crashing wave, that simply rush back to the sea for the next encore. The walls of houses are usually thickest at the bottom, measuring roughly 3 to 4 feet at their bases. This wall width decreases toward the top, where walls are generally a foot thick. The most impermeable lighthouses were built on solid bedrock, which made them even sturdier.

When I look at a lighthouse, different things come to mind. What was it like to live there during the days before electricity and automation came along and so isolated in most cases from the rest of the world? What must it be like to stand on the top deck and look out over the ocean, especially on a stormy day? Aside from all that, though, is this: when I look at a lighthouse, any lighthouse, I am drawn back to another time, another era. And the basic fact is that I just would love to be up there, and I suspect that this is what many, if not most, people feel when THEY look upon a lighthouse, either in a painting, on the side of a seashell, or in real life. Here in Maine, we’re very fortunate. For no matter where we live along the coast, there is a lighthouse within a reasonable distance to view.

A woman I know who lives in Colorado has never seen one. She has, in fact, from what I’m told, never been to either coast of the United States. I can’t imagine a landlocked life devoid of the experience of seeing and hearing the surf pounding on the rocks, smelling the salty air, feeling the sand between your toes, hearing gulls screaming high overhead, or seeing a lighthouse standing on its lonely outpost, its beam flashing in the distance. For me, they’ve been a way of life since the day I could run across the sand. So I hope she gets to experience them all someday.

Living just a few miles from the sea is one of the gifts in life that I have come to be most grateful for. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Photo is of Portland Headlight at Two Lights State Park)

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/1530989876

http://www.andreasweb.com/rachellovejoy/

 

 

 

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And the sea does not change…

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I realized not long ago that the words in the title, which were sung by Stevie Nicks many years ago now, still apply and always have really. The sea DOESN’T change, at least not in our human understanding and perception of change. Yes, it changes daily, hourly, and every second in places we can’t see from the shore. Some forms of life die while others are just starting out. The ocean floor shifts due to pressure from the earth’s core, and everything that sea water contains evolves constantly. And the oceans themselves continue to be redesigned by meteorological and seismic forces since they were formed. From one great body of water to what we know now, it has never stopped changing.

To us, however, it is always the same. Aside from the tides going in and out, a process that affects everything the water touches in its calmness or its ferocity, we look out, despite the season, over the same vast expanse of water that we did yesterday, the day before that, and that we will tomorrow. It is that eternal quality of the sea that is its appeal…that it’s there always…never going away…never completely evaporating into the atmosphere and leaving us high and dry in many more ways than merely visually.

For there is, and has always been among humans, a deep connection with the ocean. It is, after all, where all life has emanated from, and it still flows through us in a very tangible way. Because of its perseverance, it has also become a symbol of strength and grandeur which often moves us in deeply emotional ways. “Going to the beach” just scratches the surface, for reams and reams of poetry and other literature have been penned in honor to those shifting blue-green waves and the energy they produce and store.

I can visit a beach, any beach, at any time of year, and its basic components are not much different from what they were six months ago. Here, in the northeastern United States, where we are privileged to experience the four distinct seasons, the sea is the only medium that remains fluid and mobile all the year round. And I can be standing on a shore that is backed up with several feet of snow, yet I’d never know it gazing out over the water. For it, as always, remains the same…rising, falling, advancing, receding, ebbing, flowing, lapping or crashing…whether it be winter, spring, summer, or fall.

The sea does not change…which gives us here in coastal New England a visual respite from the doldrums of winter. For we can head down to the beach any time of day and, hopefully, watch the sun playing with the waves, a scene that never fails to erase anything else that might be going on inside our tired minds.

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/1530989876

http://www.andreasweb.com/rachellovejoy/

 

 


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The Case of the Talking Trees

 

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Being the tree-lover that I am, I already knew they talk because I’ve heard them. No, I’m not crazy. I’ve actually heard them talking. Not in words, mind you, but in other ways, including simply in how they behave together, communicating when it’s time to bend a certain way and to straighten up again, and when to stand perfectly still. Trees speak many different languages, and it can be a veritable Babel to most people. But to someone who understands them, theirs is the most comforting voice in the world, far preferable to that of humans that almost always portends bad news of some sort or that has the ability to grate on the nerves.

Recently, I decided on a whim to research trees and to see if anyone else out there believes they communicate, and I was both surprised and delighted by what I learned. According to at least one researcher, it seems that a vast network of tiny root fibers produced by fungi that attach themselves to tree roots actually do communicate by sending nutrients from tree to tree. Perhaps the most fascinating fact I discovered was that the oldest and largest trees in a forest are indeed, as I’ve always suspected, the most important ones, as their root networks extend the farthest and involve the most trees around them, and at sometimes great distances. Not only are these considered the patriarchs and matriarchs of a woodland simply by their size and stature, but they also are responsible for keeping many of the younger trees in their “families” alive. If nothing else, this system produces yet another lovely metaphor for the importance of cooperation that is the hallmark among families or other groups of people whose lives intertwine much as do tree roots.

Known as a mycorrhizal association, fungi, the same type that produce the mushrooms we see pop up along a forest floor after a wet spell, multiply rapidly beneath the soil where they attach themselves to the roots of everything, including trees, that grows there. This greatly improves the trees’ ability to absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil, but also creates a system by which these are distributed to whatever grows within the fungal network. The fungi help feed the trees, which in turn help to feed them. And this exchange, which also conveys information about soil conditions from tree to tree, is how they communicate. In some cases, the micorrhizal filaments are so small, they can be likened to the millions of similar threads that connect everything going on inside our own bodies. Hence, another wonderful metaphor for life!

I didn’t need to read the statement that “trees communicate.” I knew this. I like to take that one step further by saying that, not only do they talk to each other but to us, too. Don’t listen for words or even for distinct sounds. Listen, rather, with your heart and your other senses. Smell the air around trees. They’re telling you about how their very presence there produces that scent. Touch the bark of an old pine and feel its energy course through your own veins. And then, the next time you are in an old forest, close your eyes, clear your mind, and listen for that humming sound, very subtle but very much there, that only trees can make. It’s there. I promise.

 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1530989876

 


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Secrets

 

Trees...the sun and I...

For all who wonder what the purpose is of writing a book, I don’t have a ready answer, as the motivation is unique to each writer. A piece of writing can be the result of sudden inspiration, a message that absolutely must be shared, or a story that just won’t go away until it’s consigned to paper or word processing screen. Some writers become wildly successful, while others enjoy a modest sense of accomplishment. Then there are those who write simply because they have something to say that they think is important enough to share, and they don’t really care if they make a dime.

I’ve come to believe that what a person chooses to write about also says a lot about his or her reason for doing it. In my case, I write primarily about Nature. That takes the literary mantra “Write about what you know” to a whole new level, as I don’t just write about something I know a lot about but because it makes more sense to me than anything else does, especially now in these very troubled times, when NOTHING “out there” makes much sense. And when something makes that much sense and leaves no room for doubt, well, the words just flow.

That’s how it is with Nature and me: I get her and she gets me. And together, we make some pretty good music. In our world, there are no loud voices or disputes, and other than birds twittering, the wind blowing in the tops of pine trees, or the rustling of chipmunks chasing each other through the dry leaves, there is no sound at all. The benefit of that? I get to hear what my thoughts sound like, and what’s more, I hear whatever it is that Nature is trying to tell me. We have secrets, she and I, and from time to time, we share a few, and that is why I wrote this book.

It was time to let others in on it…

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Lovejoy/e/B00JJ259DS

 

 


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Second Nature

 

 

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Much has been written about how important reading is to the writing process. That might seem to some like putting the cart before the horse; but in the case of writing, it makes perfect sense. Of course, it’s entirely possible to read simply for the sake of reading, to soak up the narrative in search of the moment when the mystery is solved or the infidelity discovered. This type of reading does not take much into consideration beyond the story; and that’s fine, if one reads merely for pleasure.

For writers, however, reading is different in ways that can’t be adequately explained. Yes, writers also read for pleasure. But something else happens along the way that has nothing to do with the destination and everything to do with the journey there. Writers tend to notice things, usually unintentionally, that have to do with voice, style, sentence structure, and even the more mechanical aspects of a text such as punctuation and spelling. But what came first, the writer or the reader? And is it accurate to say that, for some, the seeds of the writing craft had already been planted and it just took the fertilizer in the form of thousands of written words to feed and nourish it?

I’m not sure how many writers would agree with this, but I have decided that writing, at least in its early formative stages, is more mimicry than anything else. A budding writer remembers what he or she has read in such a subliminal manner that it works its way into whatever he or she writes. This is a totally involuntary reflex, and yes, it comes from long years of reading that involve many different authors using a multitude of writing methods in the many different literary genres. To write poetry and write it well requires long years of reading poetry before an author finally finds his or her own mode. What started out as simply copying another’s style evolves eventually into a totally new one once the author finds the courage to speak in his or her own voice. The same goes for fiction or any other type of writing, for that matter. The first tentative baby steps involve imitating someone else, while the subsequent larger more assured strides are taken through new territory but that lead directly back into the writer’s own psyche.

In my own reading and writing life, I’ve noticed that it’s also possible to take that a step further. In my case, my love of nature impacts and transcends just about all that I do. Not a day, or even a few moments, go by when I’m not focused on some aspect of nature or not being distracted by something going on outside the realm of the human experience. And now, I find myself even looking for it in my reading, and when I find it, it’s almost a reason to celebrate. At such times, I say to myself…there it is, that reference, direct or subtle, to nature or to some aspect of her personality, or how she relates to our experience or to her influence on our perceptions of life and the world around us. I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t much writing, if any at all, other than the most technical sort, that doesn’t touch upon nature at some point or at least gives her a passing nod.

Right now, I’m reading Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis,” a long letter he penned, while serving a short prison sentence, to a friend and alleged lover in which he mentions nature many times. I would not have expected to find such references within those pages. But Wilde, as so many other classical writers, routinely inserts mentions of the natural world in the form of gardens, flowers, woodlands and birds, in nearly all their works, because they knew instinctively that there really is true division between us and nature, and that no matter what we think, where we go, or what we do, it somehow and in some way, has to do with nature.

It’s thus a serendipitous joy for someone with a great love of nature to come upon these references and allusions in her reading. I’ve gone beyond wondering now if it will happen to almost being sure that it will, which makes my travels through the writings of others all the more pleasurable.

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Lovejoy/e/B00JJ259DS

 


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Where Nothing is Expected

b25aa-img_0393Nature doesn’t ask your permission; it doesn’t care about your wishes, or whether you like its laws or not. You’re obliged to accept it as it is, and consequently all its results as well. ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

I’ve taken so many walks in the woods that now, when I move through any other aspect of my life, be it a personal interaction or when I’m “out there” in the big chaotic peopled world, I adopt the same mindset, the same stance, and it is as if I am merely walking through woods of a different sort. I close my eyes to those things that irritate my vision and my ears to those sounds that grate on my spirit like fingernails across a chalkboard, replacing them in my mind at least with scenic beauty and pleasing sounds. Most of all, I close my soul off from all those things I don’t understand. Because in the woods, in the secreted places that few know about or venture to, I understand it all and can move forward without a single question other than perhaps who might have passed this way before me…

It follows then that I am most comfortable when writing about nature, for it is the source of all things to me, the place where all my comforts reside, and the fount of all the knowledge I could ever hope to possess. In its vast and forgotten places, I am most at home and where I belong. I understand now why some are haunted all their lives by a sense that they’re in the wrong place, and I also comprehend now what a struggle life can be for such people who literally must step outside themselves to function in the world of human interaction that, all too often, becomes more emotionally strenuous and stressful than they can bear.

How often have I heard someone say how much they enjoy the solitude and serenity of a week spent at the seashore or at a cabin or in a tent in the woods, how much they prefer that experience over that of their daily lives? The more complex and draining the human experience becomes, the more naturally some of us tend to gravitate toward that place where none, or very little of that, exists. It’s not a regression but more a stepping off the assembly line…for we are all, like it or not, products of the system we alone among all species have created, and we continue to move along allowing ourselves to be shaped by whatever forces exert the most power over us.

Once off that line, we are then free to turn to nature, and I immediately feel the difference between being propelled forward by societal pressure or simply standing there surrounded and towered over by forces that couldn’t care less whether I exist or not. And there’s the difference: society and the world of people do care to the extent that they exploit what I have to give, while nature ignores me and allows me to blend in and not worry at all about being appropriated for its use. That is so liberating and, I think, one of nature’s more abstract qualities that many people miss: in the woods or in any isolated place, we can let our guards down, be totally ourselves, and no judgment will ever come to us from the trees or other living things around us. There, we are never ridiculed, poked fun at, criticized or demeaned. We simply are, along with everything else, in a place that puts us into the proper perspective and where everything–tree, flower, or wild creature–is simply trying to move through its life as best it can.

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Lovejoy/e/B00JJ259DS

 


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Nothing Else

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Yesterday, I took a short drive to a place I’ve only just recently rediscovered and where I sat on a bench beneath a great old maple tree. During the late spring and summer, this tree’s leaves are a bright vibrant green. But at this time of year–late October–they’re intensely yellow almost to the point of glowing when touched by the sun. And yesterday was just such a sunny day, so that tree was literally on fire.

I looked up through its branches from where I was sitting and found there were no words…none at all…that could adequately describe how that felt…to look straight up through a startlingly intense tangle of leaf and bough that was, ironically, in its last throes before the next strong wind or storm decimates it for another year. But that’s the thing…for just another year, not forever, unless someone comes along to cut that tree down, thus ending its life for all time. But in the place where it stands, protected, well-cared-for, and revered, I doubt that will be happening any time soon.

When I first got there, I was alone. And the only sounds I could hear were the wind in those dazzling yellow leaves above me and the calls of birds. Every few seconds, the wind increased and a few more leaves fell from the tree, some doing a small pirouette as they descended, others simply floating on the breeze in a to-and-fro motion. At that point, I heard voices in the distance and noticed two women walking toward where I was sitting.

As they passed, they never stopped chattering, and that, of course, spoiled the silence and serenity for a few moments until they moved far enough away so I couldn’t hear them anymore. It occurred to me how vastly perceptions of certain places and experiences can and do vary. There I was, needing no other sound other than that of the wind and birds, while they walked along talking nonstop. While I can’t be absolutely sure, of course, I suspect that they missed the true wonder of that place, lost as it was in the sound of their own voices.

I hope that, at some point in their lives, they and others like them, DO take a moment now and then to be still and listen to what Nature has to say, because she’s got plenty to talk about in that wordless way of hers that I love so much. Trees communicate, too, and yesterday, that maple I sat beneath was singing for all the world to hear…something along the lines of…”Let your gaze linger on me and you’ll know there is nothing else you need…”

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Lovejoy/e/B00JJ259DS