The carved spines of mountains clothed in trees, the shadow of a house barely visible.  map-virginia

Or San Francisco defined clearly by roads and the expediency of horses, tucked complete against the north shore by the Gate.

Or roads – Secretary’s Sand, Cocke, River – that trace along the more permanent parts of life – rivers and ridges – acting as memories of the way we build things.

I have always loved to see images of places “before” now.  In a local diner, I stand waiting for the bathroom and study the photos from the 1920s, cars still new on the streets of Charlottesville, and I try to pick out profiles I recognize – surely that is the bank, that the theater.

So easy, I assume that things are as they always have been.  I forget that Los Angeles is a series of canyons, that traffic snarls are caused, in part, by the pincer tips of ridgelines.  I imagine that the shopping center in Fork Union sits there because the road goes through that place, forgetting that the place was there – the fork and the unity of two rivers – long before, when Monacans settled the banks.

I forget the same for stories – that they do not becomes hundreds of pages by some sort of Athenian birth fully-formed, that each word I read was chosen, placed, moved, replaced, shifted, over and over again in time and fingers.

Yet, now, as I write the words down, I must remember this because it is the only way to continue. I need to call forth Lamott’s “shitty” reminder, and the memory – faint and clear as old window glass – of how I did this before.  Trace the lines of story that etch my mind – rivers of emotion and history, roadbeds carved from scars and questions.  I have paths to follow, if I just will follow.  It is tempting to blast through the ridges rather than walk them.

Today, I finished Chapter 16 – a first draft, 156,000 word steps into a totally new form.  But I am blessed by the maps of before and of now, those books that threaten to topple beside my bed.  I study them with inky fingers, watching where they stayed true to the line and where they arced out from it.

A mix of tried-true and adventure, built over time.  As is every journey and every place.

When does writing feel like tracing old trails, and when like building new bridges for you?