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Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Vastness of Earth to Me & To Historical Characters In Stories

Well today's post is a mixture of personal observations and ponderings on historical novels (specifically those set in the 19th century American West).

A fellow writer who lives on the East Coast needed some info on the Superstition Wilderness area. I offered to help and went out to Lost Dutchman State Park early this morning, where they sell really good maps of the entire wilderness area. I was able to find a map which I think will be very useful for her, plus I have some old maps of AZ that she might find useful as well.

Then I decided to take a short hike while there. I can't proceed with this post without putting it in perspective. For seven long years I had no car. No way to see natural Arizona. All I could see of Arizona was what was visible through the dirty windows of the city bus.

Today is the first day I've been back to Lost Dutchman in a minimum of eight years. Words could never describe what joy it is to see "real" Arizona after so long a time without. On the way home from this trip this morning, I even got to see a coyote crossing the road on his way to wherever he was going so bright and early.

That coyote, that whole trip, brought tears to my eyes. Have you ever been so filled with joy in the Lord that you simply HAD to cry tears of joy because there was no room inside you for them? That's what today was like for me. I am so thankful to be able to live in a state which I dearly love, and which moves me and lets me see the awesome power of God just by looking at what He created.

This trip was also very humbling for me. I took a very short hike inside the park. I had planned to hike a little longer, but I got a little disoriented as to what was the trail and what wasn't, so I decided to turn back instead of finishing the loop. Desert hiking is disorienting - after all, if there's one thing we have aplenty here it's rocks and dirt - and one pile of rocks and dirt is at times indistinguishable from what is designated trail. 8-) And since I hadn't been on that trail (any trail) in years, I discovered I'd lost my hikers confidence in my sense of direction and trail sense.

Now I know some out there think that sounds stupid. We have GPS and technology, etc. Well "we" don't all have technology. I can't afford that stuff. So I decided to exercise caution and gradually rebuild that natural trail sense I used to have and not go getting myself in over my head.

But that got me to thinking. Unless we really put ourselves in the shoes of our historical characters from the 19th century American West, we really can't know what it was like to be them living in this huge vastness at that time.

To some degree, I think we in the modern age have lost respect and awe for the natural land that God created. We fly over it in planes, balloons, helicopters. We speed through it in cars and trains. Our way is much easier than that of the 19th century travellers because we've dynamited and built roads, bridges, etc to make it easy and convenient.

Today, while I was standing in that arroyo, the rising bluff on one side of me and the vast Sonoran desert stretching out over rises and lowlands for miles, I was reminded that our historical travelers never got a bird's eye view of the lay of the land. Park Rangers weren't there to post signs every so often to show they were on the right trail. They never knew what was around the bend - be it friend or foe, blessing or curse. And because it took so much longer to traverse short distances, it required an act of concentration on their part that we just don't think about today.

So as I move forward with my historical novels set in Arizona, I want to take time and get the characters' reactions to their environment right. I want to remember today's trip - and think back to how insignificant and small I felt against this vast landscape of God's creation, and see my characters through new eyes.

1 comment:

Nikole Hahn said...

I can't believe you haven't had a car in so long. Wow. I can well imagine how it must have felt like. The Superstition area is great. In fact, there's a skinny trail that loops behind that large mountain marked by a pile of rocks. I followed it halfway one year, but not all the way. Beautiful area to hike. A suggestion: Go find some ghost towns. This is a great way to step into the shoes of the American West.