After a snowstorm drops a foot or more of snow in our rural neighborhood, I strap on snowshoes and go for a “shoe.” I set out to break trail and see what I can see in our 14-acre woodlot. Often this trek leads me to an old logging road. It twists and turns up the side of a steep hill through stands of fragrant pine, sugar maples, and hardy oaks. Occasionally I discover white-tailed deer tracks or the footprints of a red fox in search of an unsuspecting meal. These fellow creatures manage winter as best they can—just like the rest of us.
Recently I turned 55. It terrified me. Usually I savor the gift of a birthday and celebrate with chocolate cupcakes and chocolate ice cream. The day always blooms with possibilities for the upcoming year. What happened? No other milestone in my life has created such a breach of confidence. Black balloons and over-the-hill jokes started to look and sound good. Fifty-five means this is it, folks. Now I’m really a grownup. I don’t have time for nonsense—my own or anyone else’s. What are my priorities? Discerning them is breaking new trail.
While writing a memoir, the narrative unspooled smoothly. Journals I’d kept for decades confirmed dates and facts. The emotional pulse of each scene beat with a steady rhythm. No secrets hid between the lines. The ending wasn’t a surprise.
I expected the same ease with writing a novel. I’d step right into the story; it would unfurl like the frozen oak leaves I warm between my hands while out on the trail. It didn’t work. Characters sounded stiff on the page, and who were they anyway? What did they eat for breakfast if they ate breakfast at all? What did they think about in the middle of the night when they couldn’t sleep? I didn’t know their language or how they dressed. I abandoned the well-worn path and began bushwhacking a new one. Life requires it.
Muriel Fish lives on Fishbone Farm with her husband, five hens, and one spoiled tabby cat. When she’s not collecting eggs, she teaches public speaking and writing courses at Thomas College. Currently, she’s working on a novel and seeking publication of her memoir, Sing Me a Lullaby.