I always wanted to write. I have been an avid reader all my life and, while I never aspired to be another Steinbeck, I knew I could write as well as, or better than, some of the authors I'd read. My problem was environment. It's very difficult to write at home.
Don't get me wrong; I love my home and family, but it's impossible to maintain a train of thought when the wife comes home from work and wants to spend half an hour describing the inner workings of the new office switchboard. My teen-age daughter, on the other hand seems to have taken a vow to sequester herself in her room through puberty. She emerges from her hermitage only to make pronouncements such as she has just perfected a new method for growing fungus in her sock drawer. No, you can't write at home.
A friend suggested that I get away somewhere for a few days to devote some time to serious writing. I liked the idea. A little cabin in the woods for a week. Living on bread, cheese and cheap wine. Images of Thoreau flickered through my head. I would take long invigorating walks every morning to get the creative juices flowing and then go back to the cabin and write until nightfall, with Bach blasting out of the tape player (My one concession to the outside world; after all, Thoreau took an ax.) It would be wonderful.
A little research located the perfect place, only an hour's drive from home. A phone call and a deposit check later, I was set for an entire week of literary creativity. I should have known better.
When I told the friend who had suggested the venture about my plans, he said that he was off that week and he'd come up to the cabin and help me settle in. While I sought solitude, the idea appealed to me, if for no other reason than I'd have an awful lot of stuff to carry. On the appointed day we set off in two cars, as my friend was coming "right back."
The cabin was perfect. Made of real logs, it had a fireplace and the bedrooms were in a loft right under the eaves of the roof. How much closer to a writer's garret could I get? My friend helped me unpack and move in, and then he became enamored of the fireplace. He had never lived anywhere that had one, and he soon was building a fire, "Just to get the chill off the place." It was 62 degrees outside! You know how people get transfixed watching the flames in a fireplace? After about an hour I couldn't have moved him with dynamite. So I joined him.
Together we decided that the sun was, indeed, over the yardarm. We opened a jug of cheap wine I'd brought along. Unlike the brothers from California, this particular vintner seemed to take pride in selling wine before its time. Needless to say, we were soon both totally blitzed. I couldn't let my friend drive home in that condition so I insisted he stay the night. Thus it was that I spent my first night of solitude with my old friend, sitting in front of a roaring fire, trying to remember the words to every dirty song we'd ever learned.
Late the next morning, after a pot of strong coffee and several handsful of aspirin, my friend departed and I was, at last, alone.
I would begin by taking a long walk in the woods, seeking inspiration from nature. I barely had gone half a mile when the sharp crack of a rifle shot shattered the quiet. Then it dawned on me--it was hunting season and here I am walking around the woods in brown pants and a chamois shirt, the color of which the L.L. Bean catalogue describes as "Fawn." Remembering my Army training about what to do under fire, I tore off the chamois shirt (thank God I was wearing a red sweat shirt underneath), and ran back to the cabin. So much for inspiration from nature. I spent the rest of the day in front of the fire, calming my nerves with wine and counting the rifle shots echoing across the valley.
That night I went to bed in my garret and started to reread The Prophet until the FM station I had tuned in began to play tapes of old radio shows. So I lay there, just as when I was a kid in my grandfather's house, staring up at the exposed rafters of the roof and listening to "The Great Gildersleeve." I almost expected to hear my mother's voice calling up the stairs, telling me to turn off that radio, that tomorrow was a school day. Who says you can't go home again?
The next morning I was ready! Making a large pot of herb tea I sat down at the typewriter and started on a short story. After a while the wellspring of my mind started to dry up and I was sitting back in front of the fire trying to come up with an ending for the story. It was late, I'd call it a day and finish it tomorrow.
The next morning I slept until after 9 o'clock, a true luxury. When I rolled over and looked out the window I saw it was pouring rain. I said the hell with it and spent the day in bed.
The following morning I was once again inspired. I rose early, made a pot of tea and stared at a blank piece of paper in the typewriter for over an hour. The tea got cold. I said the hell with it and drove into town and bought a bottle of Jack Daniels and a copy of Penthouse.
Sitting that evening, enjoying both of the above, I discovered the animals. It was quiet in the cabin when I heard the first scratchings. They seemed to come from inside the walls all around me. I shrugged. Mice, I thought. The noise persisted. Were they getting louder? Where they inside or out? I got up and looked out all the windows, dark as a tomb. I went back and sat down again. Now they really were louder. My mind (with the help of the Jack Daniels, I'm sure) began to conjure up thoughts of Yeti, Bigfoot and other Nameless Horrors. God, I wished I hadn't read so much Lovecraft as a youth.
After another drink, visions of newspaper headlines wafted through my head, "Lone writer, victim of Unseen Horror." I wanted to look outside the cabin, but fearing I would find a trail of undigested bones, I stayed inside and made another drink. The noises finally subsided, but I wasn't fooled. I knew that the creatures were merely trying to lull me into a state of false security before striking. I vowed to sit up all night. I made another drink and I kept my vigil. It worked; when I nodded awake in the rocking chair the next morning (I must have dozed for just a second) I was still alive. You just have to know how to deal rationally with Unseen Horrors.
After shaking the remnants of the Jack Daniels and thoughts of beasties from my brain I tried writing once more. I put the unfinished short story aside. I thought I would try my hand at some poetry. With Bach blasting forth from the tape player I began. Do you have any idea how grating Bach can become after an hour or so? I turned off the tape and found a bluegrass station on the FM band. Johann Sebastian was soon replaced by Lester and Earl. I didn't write any poetry that day, but I did learn all the words to "Mountain Dew."
The next day I went around the cabin talking to myself.
"Of course, you're talking to yourself," I shouted at me, "there's no one else here." I knew I'd had enough. I packed up my books, leftover food and unfinished short story and headed down the road toward home.
I don't, however, count the venture as a failure. I learned I'm no writer, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I gave it my best shot. I also learned some valuable lessons. Not the least of which is: Never go hiking in the woods during hunting season in a fawn-colored shirt.