Kate Flora: A thousand years ago, back when I was in first or second grade, we learned a little poem called “Black and Gold.” I’m not sure I remember it all anymore, just the lines:
Black and gold, black and gold
When the world turns black and gold,
then it’s Halloween.
Of course there are so many colors in between. I remember one early, misty fall morning driving from Augusta to Belfast on Route 3. All the hollows were full of fog and on the highlands the trees were blazing and the fields were full of orange pumpkins. Fall can be a sad season because we know the browns of November and the snow of December are coming, and yet it is a season when we need to, as I used to say as a child: Go out and be in the world.
Back when I used to teach writing (something I would love to do again one day) I used to make my students carry index cards or small notebooks around and each week they had to share something they’d seen. It is so easy to go around with our heads down, our ears blocked by devices, and not see the beauty around us. I often have to make myself slow down and pay attention instead of rushing. When I do, I am often richly rewarded.
Out in my garden, the periwinkle of perennial ageratum and the white allium that were buzzing with bees, have given way to the rose of asters. Soon the soft pearly pink of my chrysanthemums will be my flower’s last gasp before frost. Outside my front door, a mass of white anemones with sunny yellow centers have been blooming for three weeks and I pause to admire them whenever I come out the door.
Soon my lovely amsonia, right now tall and feathery and green, will start to deepen into paler green, then pale yellow, and finally into rich gold. Some years, despite frost and cold, a few brave roses will continue to bud and bloom. The leaves on the ninebarks have deepened into a shiny deep maroon while my newly planted shrubs are going from a soft spring green to a darker green with red tips. My montauk daisies look like bridal bouquets.
Every day something new is happening, something I would miss if I didn’t get out into the world and pay attention. Even though this is happening, and I try to be present and observant, sometimes I need reminding. Sometimes I need another writer to suggest an exercise to make me focus better, to tune up my observations and force me to use more interesting, vivid language to share what I have seen.
Back when I was teaching (there I go again) one exercise I used to give my students was to find a place, a building, a structure, a place, and write different descriptions of it each time isolating only one of the senses. My students often chose sight because they thought it would be easy, and then were surprised and challenged to find the best descriptive language.
This choosing of descriptive language can also come into play as we craft characters, when we discover that one character’s way of seeing the world may differ greatly based on their background, their experience, and their profession. I’m always fascinated by how Joe Burgess sees the world, as in the opening of Redemption:
The warm and windy October day was so beautiful it hurt. The sky and the dancing sea were a deep, sapphire blue, the trees in the city rising up behind them in the full glory of a Maine fall. Fishing boats tied to the dock creaked and groaned and the rigging on berthed sailboats clanged. Farther out, the water was dotted with white canvas as sailors squeezed in one last day before their boats got hauled and shrink-wrapped. Despite the fishy smells permeating the old wharf, the air seemed nutritious and refreshing. It was a day made for hikes and picnics, for apple picking and seeking the perfect Halloween pumpkin. For breathing in the crisp fall air and being glad to be alive. For law enforcement, it would be a long, slow day for death.