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Copyright 2012 Mary Montanye All Rights Reserved.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Where is your creative place?

Crow Island Woods was an elongated, rounded at its edges, strip of land – a slight mound actually – behind the low-slung, single-storied, yellow-bricked, big-windowed elementary school I attended in the late 50s and early 60s.

The woods were farther out from the school even than the chain-link fenced-in playground with its wood-chipped surface, its canvas-seated swings, rings, and jungle gym. Crow Island Woods stood green and welcoming on the far side of the school’s playing field with its patches of grass and dirt and baseball diamonds. These woods were what Lesley, my best and only friend, and I considered our haven, a wooded sanctuary sacred as any church.

Every recess and lunch period we escaped to this tiny patch of forest from Mrs. Gellar’s third grade classroom. We didn’t like third grade much, because Mrs. Gellar often called on us to respond to questions we rarely had the answers for, and where bigger and more boisterous boys and girls teased us for our skinny legs and fat pigtails.

None of the other kids ever went into our woods, as we called them. They stayed on the playground and field to play games with their friends. Four to five times each day, if you counted before and after school, we were alone among the low hanging branches thick with leaf as spring reached into summer, or bare and crispy in midwinter.

Lesley and I sat ourselves on tree roots big as benches beneath our small bodies and worked on an ongoing saga – an epic tale based on the life we wished to be living in a time and place we would have much preferred to inhabit.

With our fat 3-ring, wide-ruled notebooks (red for me and blue for her) we made up our conception of an ideal society loosely based on the tribes of the American Indians that we were currently studying in school. We created our own secret language and drafted the laws of our world. Loud boys and stuck-up girls were refused entrance to our tribal lands. We stationed guards at all entry points.

The laughter and screams of our classmates in the field and playground beyond our sanctuary faded as we debated whether our society should have school teachers and priests, or if perhaps they too should be banned. As we focused on the details of our ongoing story and inhaled the heady fragrances of the cool mulch and sun-warmed leaves, we invariably missed the school bell calling us back to class. One of us would suddenly notice that the calls and laughter of the other children had stopped. Everything was silent except for the occasional chirp of a bird or the rustle of the breeze through the trees. Our classmates had returned to class and we were late again.

Crow Island Woods was not the first or only place I connected the outdoors with creativity. Nor was I the only child to do so. But because I had very few friends and was lonely much of the time, I retreated to the worlds of nature and fantasy perhaps more quickly and more often than most. Today I’m rarely if ever lonely and most of my solitude comes about by choice. Still, I find that love of a place – a special wood or field or beach – feeds my creative spirit like no building ever could.

Tell me, are you also fed by the natural world? Do you have a special place that feeds your creative spirit? If you've lost the connection you once had and are hungry to find it again or, perhaps, discover it for the first time, I'd love to know.


  1. You transported me back to my school days, searching the perimeter of the playground with my one friend for special rocks. They had to be smooth and round, and small enough to fit into my 10-year-old hand. When we had collected several, we took them to our "workbench," away from the other kids, and proceeded to crack them open with a larger rock to find the crystal treasures inside.

    As for special places, there are a few that call me back to a simpler time. I try not to go too often, so I won't exhaust the magic and spiritual fulfillment they hold for me.

    My home is such a place, but I've grown blind to its beauty and sanctuary. When I travel, I long to be home; yet when I'm home, I find my energy drained with all the chores necessary to maintain this place.

    Am I doomed to be forever searching for places my soul feels connected to?

    I received this message in an email, and it resonates with me. See what you think!

    When meeting someone in our contemporary American culture, researchers
    report the four most commonly asked questions are:

    How are you doing?
    Where are you from?
    What do you do for a living?
    Where did you go to school and what did you study?

    In contrast, sages in many traditional cultures say there are four questions useful for gauging our lives at any moment. Often, they ask
    these questions to those who seek out their wisdom and presence.

    When in your life did you stop singing?
    When in your life did you stop dancing?
    When in your life did you stop being enchanted by stories?
    When in your life have you stopped being comforted by the sweet silence?

    Enveloped in the practice of mindfulness and familiarized with the realm and resting place of the heart, these questions become the river
    of wonder and inquiry we travel. Let’s see where this river will lead us...

    1. Wow trisha! I loved reading this and especially the questions! I really didn't want any of those things to stop so when did they?

  2. What a beautiful contribution and addition to this post. Thank you!

  3. Mary,
    I just read your blog and I absolutely loved it .... I think it is the first thing I have read that you have written and you are very very good! I loved the imagery. the emotion, and the feeling you created . . . I will be a follower ------ love it.
    Reminded me of my own childhood, grew up playing in the woods behind my house everyday -- we made soup out of berries, leaves, and water from the creek. We had a tunnel through the woods that were bushes bent over to form a tunnel that we could walk under. I was there in the summer after breakfast until the sun went down - thanks for the reminder

  4. A wonderful story with a great question. It reminds me that today my younger brother said that he couldn't remember noticing leaves so much as now. He couldn't remember paying so much attention to nature. He wasn't sure if it was connected to becoming a new father or simply growing older. He said he wants nothing more than to sit outside with his son and point out the beauty around them. I had to remind him that that is what our parents used to do with us when we were little, as we sat in our small backyard. And he said, "Oh yeah!" I will certainly share your post with him and I look forward to reading your future posts. ;)

  5. Love your blog! We had a creek and little timber behind my childhood home. What great times we had playing and adventuring in the 'wild'. As a teacher I have students who would rather be inside than playing outside - so sad!!! Barb

  6. Beautiful imagery. I was able to stop and just be with it. I'm looking forward to hearing what you discover on this new phase of living and falling in love with place.

  7. Mary, this did bring back memories for me from when I was younger. I often spent hours by myself outdoors finding places that I could just listen to things around me or discover flowers I could take home to my Mom. Or finding rocks that I took home and put in my rock polisher. My friend and I often made up adventures, always outside in places just on the edge of town or at a place in town hidden away. And I was ALWAYS outside – I think that is what it was like in those times when we didn’t watch TV as much, etc. Outside is what we had. Riding our bikes everywhere!

    I was very much able to be by myself. Maybe it was being the middle daughter. My older sister was just old enough to not want me around and my younger sister always needed attention and was in the center of anything going on. But I wanted to be and could be by myself. I was often sent to my Grandmother’s during the summer to help her because my Mom knew that I was the one that wouldn’t get bored and could be by myself. Even there with my Grandma I always found the place outside in her garden or in her yard that I could claim as my space; always creating little worlds that were my own.

    I think that is one thing I miss most about getting older, having a family, being busy with the world; that I don’t get to spend as much time outside. I haven’t got to have a garden in many years and it just always seems easier to come home from work and go inside. But I also know that even now I don’t mind being by myself. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. But with reading your post and taking the time to think about it, I would like to get back to finding those outside places that I could spend my time. Away from the computer and TV. Away from the AC and Heater, enjoying the weather, nature, and quiet that it all brings.

    Thank you Mary for bringing back these memories and for helping me see what might help me to be more satisfied with where I am and what I already have.

  8. Just stopping by from the Invincible Summer course! I love this post =) I am totally an outdoors (when it's not 100+ degrees in Houston in the summer) kinda gal. I'd pack my stuff and move the mountains in a heartbeat if I wasn't so fortunate to have a lovely family and fabulous job here. I agree that setting & environment can make such a different to our creative juices and even our soul-attitude, that's why I love getting onto the yoga mat and out of the real world a few times a week.