Early mornings, without fail, I slip out from under the bed sheets in darkness, softly so as not to wake my wife, and wake the dogs instead. But the other day, as I fumbled for my clothes, a voice startled me.
“Have fun with your mistress,” my wife said.
Without another word she rolled purposefully over in bed, as if that settled it. I knew, of course, she couldn’t mean what she said. But as I stood frozen to the floor, a truth rose in me. I felt the stirrings of guilt – as a husband with a mistress might feel.
A creative writing teacher once told my class that writing ideally should be better than, ahem, sex. That the experience of playing with words and bringing ideas to life on the page is sensual, like foreplay. Discovering a world veiled, at first, by gloom – then clarified, revealing nuances – is a climactic moment writers live for.
If this is true – and I’m not sure it is -- the forest would be the no-tell motel for my muse. Early mornings, no matter what the weather or time of year, I pull into the trailhead at Kinns Road Park, about a mile away from my home, with my dogs and a notebook and pen.
Now the cool September air greets me as I step out of the car into the pre-dawn and unleash my silky terrier and toy poodle. As I follow their bouncing tails down the dimly lit trail, thumbs of trees twirl past. Unseen insects shriek. Then: an unfolding of light. Splotches appear across tree trunks, like paint balls, and in the dawning day I grow visual, scenes unfurling in my mind just like the green canvas before me. I pull out a notepad, even as I walk. The scramble of squirrels makes me jot: Scritch! Scratch! Themes sprout. I think of my next blog topic. I work out a challenge in my novel.
The air warms. My pulse quickens. The forest counsels patience, trees not budging from their assigned places, ruminating in mulch. The counsel calms me as I think of events that have swamped my life, upsetting my meticulous order.
Sometimes, as on a recent gray morning, impulsiveness works better than patience. The sky opens up and vents its wrath, banging cold drops against my skin and notebook pages, smudging ink. I cannot write a word. The drenched dogs turn longingly toward the parking lot. I linger, hoping the sky will clear, but after a few minutes realize it won’t and return home.
My wife hands me a fresh coffee when I return sodden, dripping on the carpet. No need to feel jealous of my time away, I reassure her. Accept you’re co-habiting with an artist. She looks at my soggy notepad, and her arched eyebrows appear unconvinced.
“Why don’t you come with me one day?” I ask.
Too buggy, too rainy, too early, she says. But one morning she does. It’s darker now, deeper into September, breath of change in the air. She grabs my hand on the path as we set out, but I feel awkward, like I’m cheating on the trees.
“Where is she?” she asks, but I sense her black encircling arms. There’s an unfolding as sun cracks through the trees. One moment we are sparring in the shadows, the next, encased by light, we dance to birdsong, maneuvering for space on the path. I hold my wife’s hand for ballast.