Saturday, February 02, 2013


Walter couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when he noticed something strange was happening to him.   He tried to keep track of his symptoms but they were so vague that he put off calling his family doctor -- a general stiffening in his joints, a decrease in appetite, and a fairly drastic increase in thirst.  His wife, Judith, never known for possessing patience or compassion,  drifted out of the room whenever he began speaking of his ailments.    

Walter had never been an outdoorsy kind of guy.   His whole life had been spent indoors.  He had been brought up in the city by parents who thought nature made a nice backdrop for photographs and little else.   Now he is plagued with a general restlessness that can only be assuaged by outdoor activity.   He begins taking vigorous walks through the park on his lunch hour.   Some days though, he just sits on a bench, basking in sunlight and returns to work positively glowing.   As Walter spends more and more of his free time in the woods, the distance between him and Judith widens.  She not at all accepting of this new Walter and not willing to join him in what she sarcastically refers to as “the great outdoors”, with her emphasis on the word “great”.

While he walks, he begins to take notice of things he has previously never taken the time for: birds and squirrels are all around him, and so many species of fungi.    He derives great pleasure from the simple sound of rustling leaves and creaking branches.

His doctor gave him a thorough exam but could find nothing specifically wrong with Walter.  In fact, his cholesterol levels are better and his blood pressure has improved to such a degree that he no longer needs medication.    Walter sleeps better than he ever has before;  his old anxieties seem to have left him, and he doesn’t toss and turn all night like he did in the past.  He sleeps like a log.

One Friday afternoon that fall, he is eating lunch alone at a small vegetarian restaurant -- though that is most often the case now.   His colleagues preferred to take their meaty meals in dark, smoky atmospheres with drinks and cigars afterwards.   While Walter was eating a mixed green salad topped with walnuts and cranberries, he felt something caught in his throat and assumed he had swallowed a walnut the wrong way.  He coughed it up into his napkin and was a bit taken aback to see that it was an acorn, not a walnut.  Oh well, it must have fallen into the organic greens somehow, he thought to himself.    He didn’t want to complain or cause trouble, no harm done really.  He put the acorn in this pocket and finished his meal.    

It was the peak season for fall foliage and Walter decided to make a weekend of it.  He had an extra long hike planned and he was going to camp for the first time in his life.  Having grown up in the city, this is a big deal for him.  He smiled, thinking of the look on his families’ faces if they could see him out there with just a sleeping bag!  He could have gotten a small tent but he wanted to keep his load as light as possible with just the bare essentials.  Walter hiked for several hours at a brisk but comfortable pace.  The days were already shorter and when the sun was close to setting and there was a distinct chill in the air,  Walter found a perfect place to spend the night.   The spot is fairly sheltered, but with enough of a clearing that he would be able to look up at the stars.    As Walter fell asleep that night, he imagined he had the strangest sensations in his toes and fingertips.  He dreams that his fingers are sprouting branches and leaves and that roots grow from the soles of his feet.   The next morning, all is quiet in the fall forest.    Walter awakes feeling more free than he ever has before, yet at the same time, deeply rooted.

tree of dreams

The above story was inspired by this embroidered piece by artist Cathy Cullis.  Her work is amazing - painting, embroidery, sculpture, poetry, photography.    One morning last November, I woke up thinking I had nothing to write about that day, despite the 1,667 daily word quota.   I took some time out and browsed through Cathy's photostream on flickr and this image gave me the idea for the story of Walter.

Thank you Cathy, for your great body of work and getting me through another day of writing.


Cathy Cullis said...

A fascinating tale, so beautifully written, I enjoyed reading Walter's story of transformation - and thank you for your very kind words, much appreciated. Have a good weekend.

Anonymous said...

Love the story and Cathy's artwork.

Anonymous said...

I love your writing x

annamaria said...

Such a lovely story Vivienne- really!(And will you illustrate it as well?)
Yes, Cathy's artwork is an inspiration-all poetry.

vivienne strauss said...

Thank you all for reading and leaving nice comments! I truly appreciate it!

Elizabeth said...

Wonderful story! And I love the connection to Cathy's beautiful piece.

Mandy Behrens said...

Vivienne - your writing is as breathtaking as Cathy's embroidery.

Jane Cornwell said...

Oh Vivienne, what a wonderful story and thank you for sharing the story of its inspiration. I found the ending very moving. You both have such rich and wonderful work.


A beautiful story and beautiful work by Cathy ... both favourites xx

vivienne strauss said...

Thank you all for your nice comments and also for taking the time to read the story!