Welcome Autumn–You’re Worth Writing About
Welcome, Autumn. My favorite time of year. So I thought I would post a passage from my novel Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three about my character John Vandelaare (yes, he’s loosely based on me) and how he begins to write about growing up in the U.P. one autumn:
As autumn approached, he became aware again of the Upper Peninsula’s special environment. That year, the autumn colors appeared more brilliant than he had remembered them in past years. In the mornings, the smell of rotting leaves gripped his nostrils with a comforting feeling he had not known since childhood’s countless autumn walks with Dickens. The sunlight sparkling on orange and yellow foliage reawoke a sensitivity to light and color he had long forgotten. Soon, the snow would come with its blinding reflections, its cold, its white wonderland possibilities. One evening, he heard the harmonious honking of the Canadian geese on their southern flight. He looked up into the cold northern sky as darkness spread across it. Quickly he tried to count the V of geese—twenty-six, twenty-seven—he was not quite sure how many, but they were a miracle.
His senses had reawakened to the voices of birds and the wind, the beauty of leaves and the lake, the smell of snow and an approaching rain shower, the taste of blueberries, the bitter cold biting at his cheeks and fingertips. The singular elements of this land began to mold his imagination, to heighten his senses and his aesthetic appreciation. He had been isolated from Nature’s powerful influence while downstate. If he moved away again, he would not have this oneness with his environment that was so essential to his writing; he refused to let himself again forget these little details that made life so splendid. This land had shaped seven generations of his family, until it had seeped into his being, claiming him as its native son.
He began to make lists of his sensual memories—the feel of deer munching dandelion leaves from his hand at the Shiras Zoo, the smell of his Grandpa’s cheek when he kissed it, the ivory soap smell of Grandma’s bathroom, the glow of light streaming over Grandma’s lace tablecloth, the comforting dusty warmth of his grandparents’ old furnace turning itself on, of going sledding and then coming home with frozen fingers he had to thaw in hot water, his mother always baking until the house smelled perpetually of chocolate chip cookies, the texture of Aunt Eleanor’s crumby date bars, the festive wrapping paper on presents brought to him by Lucy and Maud. Memories came flooding back, one leading to another, and with them came back stories, memories of childhood, tales Grandpa had told him of his own grandparents and of his mother’s childhood, of Aunt Eleanor’s divorce, Grandpa and Grandma’s religious differences that had postponed their marriage, a hundred little family dramas. He quit worrying about writing—that would come. For now, he was cataloging memories. He began reading historical articles whenever they appeared in the Mining Journal, Marquette Monthly, and Marquette Magazine. He cut out articles and filed them, realizing the potential source of fiction in Marquette’s history, in the environment, the buildings, lake, trees, all of this land that had helped to form him.
A few days before Thanksgiving, he called Mr. O’Neill.
“I’ve begun to write again,” he said proudly. He asked whether he might come to lunch to discuss the novel he wanted to set in the Upper Peninsula. They set a date for the following week, by which time, John intended to have drafted a few chapters to show his prestigious mentor.
“Splendid,” said Mr. O’Neill. “I can’t wait to see it.”
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