On Staying Home

I wrote last week that I would do something interesting to report back on this week, and I’m sad to say I haven’t actually done anything differently since last week. It’s probably just as well, as we’ve seen a persistent increase in COVID cases here in BC (1000 new cases over the weekend), and the Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has warned people that we have to go back to how we behaved in the spring: “socialize virtually, check in on those that you’re close to, plan parties and celebrations for next year when it is safe for us to get together again.” 

However, I’ve been thinking of this idea of having to leave home to come up with writing ideas. I’ve realized it’s not necessarily a requirement for writing – in fact, there are many books out there about staying at home, about the seasons and the animals (both wild and domestic), and the fact of just being at home in one place.

I think about writers like Louanne Armstrong, who lives on her family’s farm on the east shore of Kootenay Lake and is steeped in Kootenay history and story, and Anny Scoones, who lived on the Saanich peninsula and wrote about Glamorgan Farm in such a way that readers got to know her livestock as individual characters. There’s also Wendell Berry, who travelled extensively before buying a farm in Kentucky in 1965, from which he has been writing ever since, championing the benefits of becoming deeply rooted in your home place.

One of my favourite Luanne Armstrong books.

Writing doesn’t have to be all about adventure – it can be quieter, about literature and politics and your take on it all. It can be about your lifestyle, your immediate surroundings, your community. The weather, the landscape, the animals that populate that landscape or those with which you surround yourself. Your interactions with friends and family, your celebrations for specific holidays and family events. Your memories of days gone by, of who you used to be and what you used to do, compared to who you are and what you do now. The books you’ve read, the ideas you’ve discovered while reading.

As Pico Iyer writes (thanks Antonia Malchik for this one), “as soon as I get to a place of real quiet, I realize that it’s only by going there that I’ll have anything fresh or creative or joyful to share.” He was talking about a monastic retreat, but the focus on quiet is also something you can find at home, something we’ve been experiencing more of under COVID.

But being an engaged citizen still requires that you leave the house for a walk, for example, whether you’re going somewhere in particular or just getting some air. You can ponder what you’ve observed and experienced on that walk, what you thought about as you walked, how this walk was just like but also completely different from every other day’s walk. You may not go far, but you step outside and feel the environment working on you as you move through it.

Walking is for everyone, but not easy for everyone to access.

I think that’s the one thing I miss the most here – the ability to step outside and go for a walk. Yes, I can do it, but I will walk on a busy road that has no shoulder for pedestrians and on which people tend to drive over the speed limit. It’s not an amble through tree-lined neighbourhoods on the way to the library or the coffee shop. In fact, if I want to go to either of those places, I have to go by car.

There’s a lot to be said either for living in a walkable neighbourhood or for living on enough land to be able to walk your property (Berry has 117 acres, Armstrong has quite a few acres as well). You can see how people’s yards shift with the seasons and what changes take place in the neighbourhood, like house renovations, or people moving in and out. Or you can see how parts of your property change over time, as trees grow taller and streams cut new courses. In winter, if you live in a snowy part of the country, you can see what animals have passed before you from their tracks in the snow.

I realize that, while field trips are fun and can be enlightening, they’re not absolutely necessary to the writing process. What is necessary is simply the ability to get outside and engage with your environment. It makes me long for a walkable neighbourhood that would get me out and about more regularly than I get out now.

I think about Malchik’s book, A Walking Life, and how she considers walking a social justice issue because so many people live in neighbourhoods that are unfriendly to pedestrians. It makes me realize the importance of walking as a way to connect with your community, to pass through neighbourhoods at a walking pace rather than at driving speed. As the Goodreads blurb for Malchik’s book says, “How did we lose the right to walk, and what implications does that have for the strength of our communities, the future of democracy, and the pervasive loneliness of individual lives?”

Antonia Malchik’s book on walking.

Somehow I have circled from writing to walking. I think that makes sense when you consider how walking has a rhythm that can help generate writing – something I realized when I was training to walk a half-marathon last year and I got loads of writing ideas while walking. 

Which means that I don’t have to get out and have adventures, necessarily (though it wouldn’t hurt) – I just have to get out and walk, while also savouring the quiet of my home.

Note the featured image for this post is free for commercial use.

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