I salvaged a treasure when I was five. My mother discarded some paperbacks. On impulse I grabbed one from the garbage. I remember nothing about the book’s title or content but once I seized possession, nothing—candy, toys, or threats of lethal germs—could redeem it from me. Clutching it close I ran into my family’s basement apartment and found a pencil. Then, outside again, surrounded by urban noise and smells, I sat on my Bronx tenement’s concrete stoop and scribbled inside my book.
“Wouldn’t you like some blank paper to draw on?” someone asked. I shook my head. “I’m not drawing,” I said. “I’m writing.”
Decades later this memory fuels my passion for writing. Indeed, I played a game that day but I also labored over that book with as comparable a focus as any adult author. Ideas and stories poured from my head onto the pages. I surrendered to the process and my ego swelled.
I draw on this memory whenever I mine my imagination. It inspires me to persevere despite slippery wordings, shaky sentence scaffoldings, or conceptual cave-ins. I return here every time I write. Here I find courage and the determination that strengthen my self-image. I return when my notions defy excavation, when I wander through tunnels of phrasings that lead nowhere, when my fear forces project abandonment, and when, in desperation, I yearn for words to manifest magically upon my pages. Indeed, digging through intellectual rocks and shifting emotional layers is no small task. I never know whether my work will yield anything until I’m well invested in the endeavor. Yet, my hope of discovering something worth cutting and polishing spurs me on and forces me to take the risk necessary for success.
As a child I lost myself in make-believe by adding scribbled footnotes to my stolen treasure. I trusted the nature of the ores deep within my consciousness. My combined effort and play extracted precious gems. And that pleased me. Yet my energies brought few accolades from adults in my world. My scribbles’ meaning was indecipherable. Without real letters designing real words scribbles lacked coherence and relevance. They provided representations only I could “read’ and my chances of holding onto their substance diminished with the day. Unlike a sketch adults could appreciate, scribbles did not declare, “I am a polished gemstone.” But I didn’t care. The book in which I scrawled was a precious showcase, a unique reflection of my world. And though I didn’t understand it at the time, I sensed a sketch could not bear witness to its own inner state. But through writing, I could, and that was the point.
Of course, at the time, I knew nothing of motivation, only that my behavior satisfied my need for words. My little girl compositions have long vanished. But I cherish my returns to the experience that gave me my first awareness of my love of writing. I truly believed in the make-believe life and the credence the process gave my thoughts, and in the confidence I felt. I believe it still.
That night, as I slept, my mother returned my treasure to the trash. I probably cried over my loss the next morning though I don’t remember. Most likely, I applied my pencils to other media. Of course, I would not realize until adulthood just how much my scribbled-up paperback served it’s purpose and sealed my own. I continue mining memories, digging through the rocks, seeking gems, and writing them down.
Looked out my window this morning and saw the brilliant, crisscrossed sky.
It was zero degrees Fahrenheit.
I threw my bathrobe over my flannel PJs, grabbed my camera, ran out onto my front porch, and shot these.
A short time later, the temperature rose.
Radiant sky turned gray and cast a dismal shadow for the remainder of the day.
Snow is in the weather forecast for this evening.
Whether ’tis noblest in the mind
to proffer opinions unto vexation’s peak,
to sketch sentiments conforming to a menacing decree,
to splinter our pencils and sprinkle unenlightened charcoal atop unreflective, withering leaves—
(What would Shakespeare do?)
The bird swooped into range as I walked across the Navajo Bridge.
I set my camera on it and started shooting. I had no idea what it was. Just that it was huge and I was mesmerized.
I began clicking, rapid firing, following the bird wherever it went–high above me, below the bridge to the Colorado River, around and around, close to the canyon walls. The bird soared, dipped, and circled.
I heard my husband behind me.
“Go, Jo,” he yelled. “It’s a condor.”
I ignored his cheerleading and focused on the bird. I’d never seen a condor and I wasn’t sure that the creature now in my sights fit that definition. I knew only that I was invigorated, that it was beautiful, and that I had to capture it.
I don’t know how long the bird stayed with me. Seemed a long time. It vanished as suddenly as it appeared. It wasn’t until I after I researched the introduction of California condors into the Grand Canyon and checked my photos with a credible birder that I realized the rarity of this sighting.
The California condor (Tag #LO) in these photos is a young female. Raised at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey she was released into the wild in 2012.
And three years later, we met. What a gift!