I'm sitting in an old farmhouse in rural New Jersey. When I left home last Tuesday, the streets of my town were lined with greenish-brown Christmas trees, put out for the trashman. Here, right across the road, are rows of live evergreens, part of a veritable Christmas tree ranch, its herd of spruces and pines grazing under the winter sun.
Back home, when I gaze from my window, I see a fairly constant parade of cars, pedestrians and neighbors' pets. Here, a vehicle passes by maybe five times a day. Otherwise, the only movement on the landscape is created by the January wind, swirling the big rhododendrons beside the house, quaking the shriveled, black leaves that cling to shrubs by a thread, making the tall brown grasses over in the tree pasture billow like the ocean.
Back home my nearest neighbors are on the other side of a cinder block firewall. Here, they're a quarter mile away.
Mulling over these comparisons recalls to mind two things. First, a conversation I had with the editor of Double Cross. She grew up in the city and her feeling was that a small town placed in the middle of the wilderness (which I used as a setting in the novel) automatically has sinister overtones because of its remoteness. I didn't agree.
The other memory is from last week's reading matter. I was researching old Celtic and newer Wiccan beliefs for my next Pat Montella book. Much of what I read stressed the view that humans are a part of nature and shouldn't try to master it or fight it. While reading these materials, I was reminded how much I used to love hiking and bird-watching and star-gazing and rock hunting, even simply sitting by a quiet stream listening to the water. I used to love nature and spent a little time each week enjoying it. I realized, except for working in my garden, I hadn't spent many hours outside in the last few years. So one of my New Year's resolutions is to change that and get back to nature. Which, at least, should help me write the novel.
Sitting here, I suppose I can understand why someone might think this house—a good distance from its neighbors and remote from the nearest town—might make a sinister location for a story. But I think man brings all things sinister with him. This place is lovely and peaceful, which seems to be good for my imagination.
In fact, I can almost picture tree cowboys riding in to roundup those evergreens next fall, to drive them northwest to Philly for the Yuletide season. That would be a sight to see.
Yep, I definitely need to get out more this year.
(and thanks to Robin Hathaway for sharing her solitude)