Richard Hackler

How to Write About Walking Through the Woods

Begin by describing the leaves, circling your feet, gathering into piles, hissing overhead when the wind blows until they fall and fill the air around you, catching the sun, a blizzard of light, and the branches, stripped bare and spidery like the handwriting of grandmothers and the squirrels, their vigilance, sprinting ahead of you, across the trail and then freezing to watch you pass, their voices a chorus of typewriters and the light, steeping the leaves above you and around you and pooling at your feet like a luminous tea but don’t go on for too long because people will get bored, people could just go outside and look at trees on their own, you must introduce the human element, the hook to keep your reader engaged, so describe the woman you’re with, her flannel hoodie and sensible shoes and hands she keeps blowing into, how she walks ahead of you and stops to photograph mushrooms and caterpillars and moss growing on logs in striking ways and says, every time, looking over her shoulder and frowning, I’m sorry I keep stopping, and the way she punctuates her speech with Fucks and Goddamns, eg: Goddamn, look at this mushroom! or, Fuck, look at the lake! but how she does so with such gee-whiz grace that her speech seems filled with camera flashes, with indications to stop and look, look, look! And more about this woman, jogging ahead of you to kick apart a clump of leaves, mention that she is a singer and guitarist and mention, too, the nights you spent listening to her sing in basements and bars back when you both lived in the town adjoining these woods and mention, too, that you left this town and moved to a city to pursue the vague promise of city-things, eg record stores and Major League Baseball and mention, too, that you first saw her sing a few weeks after your older sister died and mention, too, the way her songs lived and paced inside of you that winter, the way they distilled the long nights and blowing snow and impossible loneliness of someone you love first here and then gone and mention, too, the Christmas lights strung on the wall behind her when she played one night and her on a stool and you sitting on the floor with your legs folded beneath you and mention, too, the defiance you heard in her voice, how it stoked your young person’s sense that we might organize against the forces that conspire against us, that there are, in fact, forces conspiring against us, that we might sit on basement floors and listen together to music and in that way strike a blow against death itself!, though mention, too, your mellowing views on such matters, perhaps owing to the fact that people keep dying, that death, maybe, is not something against which to strike youthful blows etc and mention, too, that you could love this woman up ahead of you, holding her phone in the air, trying to photograph a cloud or leaf or squirrel, but you moved away, and she stayed, and so your love for her is a place you will never visit and mention, too, the suspicion, spreading through you like an anesthetic, that she was right to stay. And now bring your reader back, the pine needles under your shoes, the dragging of fingers along tree bark, the crouching to listen to streams where they run over rocks, the dipping of hands into these streams to see how cold the water is (very), the stopping to observe mushrooms on the sides of dead trees like lumps of skin and cartilage, and the leaning in to examine these mushrooms, the cautious sniffing of them, their odor like sawdust, their texture like cardboard against your nose, and then inventing facts about them, turning to look into this woman’s eyes like seaglass or stained glass or Heineken bottles and saying, This mushroom, you see how it looks like a nose, well: the Ojibwe Indians who lived once in these woods noticed this, too, which is why this mushroom is called The Nose of the Distant North, and she says back, quietly, But can you eat it, and you say, This mushroom would kill you in seconds, and you say this because you want things to say, you want to make her laugh and remember, later, when you’re driving home and she is still here, the things you said about mushrooms and, finally, the end of your walk, a steep climb to the top of the hill and the trees falling away and then you stop: to your left, unbroken for as far as you can see, hills and streams and trees with branches like candelabras and leaves like flame and then, in front of you, hundreds of feet below you, the lake, blue and sun-spattered to the horizon and, a few miles downshore, off to your right, a cluster of brick buildings and houses hugging the beach, which is the town in which you used to live, and it’s so quiet up here, there’s only the wind, and you try to think of something to say, something grand and encompassing, to betray to this woman your keen poetic eye but there is nothing, really, to say, nothing you can think of, and so you sit on a rock, and she sits on the rock, and maybe there’s a seagull hanging over the lake, so far away it seems embedded in the sky like a star, and finally one of you says, without turning, Fuck, look at that seagull, how it’s just hanging there, like it’s not even moving.