After reading Melanie Meehan’s post today and learning about her thesis on the importance of setting in fiction for middle school students, I remembered an exercise about setting from one of my summer workshop classes, called memory walking. This writing practice was introduced in the book A Life in Hand by Hannah Hitchman, which prompts the writer to:
- Choose a place from your childhood
- Let the image become clearer
- Think – what were your landmarks?
In her book, Hitchman notes: “Most of us sorting through childhood memories, have remarked that it isn’t always the significant event or the important day we remember. It is more likely to be an apparently random detail… What is it about the child’s mind that allows it to register impressions with such clarity? She stands and gazes or listens and lives in the gazing or listening. There is nothing held back, she is all eyes and ears.”
Although I am not much of a sketch artist, I gave it a shot as my memory unfolded, which happened to be the roughly ten acres of woods in the back of my house. I tried to mark the places where we ice skated, went sleigh riding, rode mini-bikes, swung on a tire swing, caught frogs, picked flowers, climbed on rocks, and slid down a sandy pit with makeshift summer sleds made of cardboard. On my map, I indicated that the woods was my “free zone,” while my house was the “safe zone.”
Going to the woods was an escape from the world. No rules, no parents – just trees and trails. Some paths were clear, while others were not. Sometimes we went with a purpose, but often we went out exploring just for fun. Near the tire swing was a giant single boulder – to climb it took guts, which we gladly risked.
Winter was glorious. We nicknamed the two slopes, Snakey Lane and Bumpy Hill. One of the boys tried skiing once, but snapped his skis in half on the un-groomed hill. Another time we used a plastic boat from the pool and slid down Bumpy Hill. As we neared the bottom, we hit a patch of ice and soared right into the unfrozen brook. Ice skating was another adventure. The frozen pond was in the middle of the woods, so skating around trees made it a challenging course.
It’s interesting to me that I chose the woods. I guess I’ve always been an explorer. I’ve always been independent. I’ve always longed to escape the boundaries that restricted my freedom. Despite all that action, the woods echoed a quiet calm – infused with nature, we were free and at peace. There was no better gift.
Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for providing this opportunity to write in this supportive community. We’re headed into the stretch, with only four more days to go!
Thanks for sharing this technique. I will definitely give this a try. Sounds like you have lots of stories to share about your special place in the woods. I like that it was an escape from the world with no rules, no parents… I began to think about all the adventures I had in our woods.
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I can tell by your post what a special place the woods were to you. You have vivid memories of many small details. The peaceful tone added to the wonder. Thank you, too, for sharing your notebook. I love to see other writers’ processes.
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I agree with Rose that is is wonderful that you shared your notebook. I also appreciate the reference to the book, A Life in Hand, where you got your inspiration. I had to smile at the line, “Winter was glorious. We nicknamed the two slopes, Snakey Lane and Bumpy Hill.” It brought back some winter memories of my own.