Finding the Water

I'm spending November writing little random bits of fiction inspired by photographs. Each piece is largely unedited and entirely made up. To learn more about this project, click here.

Here's my piece for November 10th:


The woods don’t speak to me the way the water does. It calls to me sometimes with such force that I will change directions, cancel plans, and search for it until I find it. There are woods everywhere here, but the water hides. It hides in little lakes and streams, buried in the trees. I have lived in this cabin for a whole year now, not because I chose to, but because it was available. I still dream about the ocean, such vivid dreams that I am convinced it is nearby, just around a corner, hidden, despite the map that tells me I am surrounded by mountains and miles from any coast. I awoke from just such a dream this morning. Today was suppose to be a writing day, there were deadlines to meet and editors to appease, but the call was too strong.

I didn’t bother showering, or even getting dressed. I rolled out of bed, pulled on my boots and reached for my coat. I pulled my hair back into a messy knot on the top of my head and walked out the door. Perhaps today I would find it. The air was cool and crisp and the trees were dripping wet. It must have rained in the night, I thought looking up. The sky was mostly hidden but I could see patches of grey between the green tree tops. I didn’t bother locking the door. I was miles away from everyone. When the opportunity to live here landed on my lap, I thought a few years of living in the woods would do me good. I thought following in Thoreau’s foot steps would perhaps produce a work of literature with lasting power. All I found was my own restlessness.

The woods felt like a cage. The trees were beautiful and majestic. They spoke to me, but I was coming to realize it wasn’t my natural language. I wanted it to be, but to me their words always felt boxed, confined, trapped. There language was a language of stability, and I wanted something fluid. I wanted water.

I had walked nearly every trail through these mountains now, I knew the woods well. I knew where the deer liked to graze. I’d watched them during slow afternoons in the spring, when the flowers had just started to pop out of the earth. I knew where the river got thin and I could cross it by hopping on boulders, always careful not to step on the frogs that played their own games in the shallows. Today I didn’t want any of my normal walks. I didn’t want the paths, I wanted to find the sea. I knew it was silly, but the desire was heavy on me, taking on a life of it’s own, pulling me forwards. I went towards the west.

As I walked I thought about what I had written the day before. I kept stringing words together hoping they would turn into a strand of pearls, something beautiful, pure, and captivating. Instead I was left holding a noodle necklace made with all the rough imprecision and misplaced eagerness of a preschooler. I stopped walking and turned back towards the cabin. What was I thinking? I thought. “That plot twist will never work,” I mumbled to myself.

I stood still between the trees, trapped between my desire to explore, create, unearth, and the alternate desire to hide, to run back to the cabin and rip the written pages to shreds, press the delete key on the computer and go get a normal job. I could see the cabin peeking out from the trees, I hadn’t gone that far. Then I heard a bird calling. Did he know the way to the water? I wondered. I turned and followed the noise.

I walked for a long while without much thought in my mind at all, just walking. One foot in front of the other. Listening to the birds. Listening to the wind. Listening to the active living quiet.

Eventually it started to rain again. I felt one drop on my nose, than another on my ear, a third on the back of my neck and then little droplets were falling all around me. I wasn’t really prepared for it, though I should have been. It always rains here, it rained last night, but I hated carrying an umbrella. It always turned out the times I had it with me the rain held off until I got home and the times I didn’t have it I ended up soaked to the bone before I made it back through my door. I thought about turning around, but it was water of some kind, even if it wasn’t the broad freedom of the sea that I was looking for. I’ll walk just a little farther, maybe over that hill, I thought.

When I got to the top of the hill, I saw the most beautiful lake I had ever seen. It sounds trite to say it that way, but it truly did surpass all other lakes I had ever come across. It wasn’t the sea, but it felt large and expansive. In the mist of the rain it was hard to see the other side and I could imagine the water going on and on unendingly. There was a little makeshift dock near where I stood, if it could even be called a dock. It was really just two large thick slices of wood hammered onto a few rough wood poles that jutted out of the lake. I walked down the hill and straight out onto the dock. I lay down on my side, as if a small child curling into a ball to sleep. I stared at the circles of tiny waves that spun out and away from every rain drop as it hit the lake. The rain fell on my face, my hair, my arms, my legs. I dripped as if melting, and shivered from the chill, but I didn’t care. I had found the water.

(The picture that inspired this piece)