Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Resolving to Walk into Writing

Black vultures on the neighbor's roof

I want to get back to my practice of taking (at least) weekly walks down the neighborhood trail. I have missed that quiet, open time that had been such a part of ’09 and then dropped almost as soon as ’10 was in the door. I suppose that without the commitment to count birds once a week, it was too easy to find other things to do. Too easy to be too busy.

Lately I’ve been realizing what an effect this not-walking the pond trail had on me: I felt more rushed and hurried and short of time last year. Too often empty when I sat to write poetry and telling myself that I was perhaps just too busy. When I walk and watch birds, investigate trees and follow butterflies, everything else slips away. There is a sort of purposeful emptying that occurs and yet, I also feel full when I get home. Not full in the sense of having overindulged, but full in the sense of fulfillment.

I’ve come to realize that these walks along the trails, the regular path to the pond and back, the place I always veer from the path to look for certain snakes in the summertime or certain birds or a deer bone that moves from time to time across a meadow… all of this adds to a sort of ritual (dare I say prayer or communion) that I have missed this past year.

And so, having learned my lesson the hard way (is there any other?), I suspect I’ll be taking those (at-least) weekly rambles again. I started on New Year’s Day, as if to make a statement to myself and also to collect a few stones, and it was a great half-hour. So simple, a half-hour-a-week, but those half-hours accumulate like compounding interest into so much more than just thirty short minutes.

Regarding my writing, I’ve felt uninspired lately. That’s not to say I’m not writing. I am. I’m just not happy with what I’m coming up with. It feels like wheels spinning, forward motion only a dream or perhaps an illusion. I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. It seems an excuse. I mean, I can write. I do. It just hasn’t been flowing. Doors open, and I’m ambivalent at best about going through. As though I already know what’s out there, and without surprises, why not just stay home?

Perhaps getting outside on the little trails between the streets will help me find my way back to Mars—or at least the parts of Mars where the end of my novel still hides beneath billion year old sands. I know it will help uncover those things that make poems more than just words and line breaks.

Jumping into the river of stones has reminded me of the importance and, yes, pleasure of discipline in writing. Of being ready to meet the muse, if you will. That was my intent when I started a gnarled oak two years ago, but I slipped away from the discipline of doing that too and it became a too-sporadic thing. I plan to continue this daily practice when January rolls to a close. The kind of close observation and paying attention required is exactly the sort of practice I need—meditative and prayerful (there it is again) in some sense that goes far deeper than simply writing 2-3 lines of poetry or prose.

And it’s bigger than writing, of course, this walking and seeing. More important somehow than just a door to words. It’s a door to discovery and a deeper knowing of myself, the world around me and my place in it. Somehow, all these small things add up to so much more than the sum of their parts. Is it magical that so little time can be transformed into so much living? I feel like it is sometimes, I admit it, and so I resolve to perform at least a little more magic this year, careful always not to endanger anyone or turn myself into a toad.

(There are still a few gnarled oak chapbooks left. Let me know if you want one. They’re free and I’ll send them anywhere.)


  1. I feel that same thing with this small stone thing; it is a way to wake yourself up. maybe we all just need a reason to stop and look and think, or least to give ourselves permission to. fiona and kaspa have started something pretty big here, I think. an awakening…

    I got your beautiful chapbook today! and my daughter picked it up off the table and said “wow! this is so cool!” (the astrophyics major approved). I’m looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea and reading it. thank you so much for sharing, james. 😀

    • and I totally forgot to say: love that photo! your vultures are so pretty with their black faces and feathers.

      • You I know love vultures 🙂

        Oddly, that’s the only shot I have of vultures on the ground. Usually when they’re on the ground, I’m driving and they’re eating roadkill.

    • I like the word you used… awakening. That seems right. It’s too easy to sleep through life. I hope you enjoy the chap, and I’m thrilled that it impressed an astrophysics major. My favorite electives in college were the astronomy classes I took.

  2. I’ve taken to keeping my notebook handy for any and all inspirations or snippets or ideas. Even, and especially when I am reading. In fact, I wrote about it recently. Just trying to do whatever it takes to make sure stagnation doesn’t kick in again like it did last year.

    Keep up the walking, it’s also good for your health!

    • I need to start doing that. Actually, I already do keep one handy. I just need to remember that it’s there.

  3. Lovely post of reminders to us all.

    Enjoy your walks. The vitality of connection to place, the wonder of those supposed little things. You’re right about compound interest.

    I got my chap today, too. I like seeing the collection in one place. New friends I might have misses. Familiar faces I’m glad to see. It’s terrific!

    • Thanks, Deb. Glad you like it. It’s fun to put it together for that reason. I typically forget the ones I’ve written not long after they’re posted.

  4. James, I’m interested in the chapbook. My email is I love birds and just watching them. Don’t know
    all of their names, just the most common ones. But, two days ago
    had the opportunity to see a gathering of Bald Eagles near my home.
    Fantastic! And about your walks, they are what is called Active
    Meditation, moving the body frees the mind to wander deeper than
    usual. Am also glad to see you doing the stones. I am really
    enjoying it, and I like that idea of awakening mentioned earlier in
    your comments. It resonates with my own feelings about the
    experience. Elizabeth

    • I bet that was cool. I’ve only seen bald eagles once and those from a great distance.

      I think active meditation is a very apt way of putting it.

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