I am a big believer that books can mostly be written in the space of time stolen here and there from a busy life of parenting, working, running around like a crazy chicken. Twenty minutes on a Tuesday night…four hours on Saturday…two and half on Sunday. We can train ourselves to make good, creative use of a focused hour’s walk by the river or a fifteen minute drive without the radio. I can just about work through an entire first draft sneaking off into these little writing pockets.
For me, there does come a day with every book where I need to go off to the mountain. With ten miles of good trails, a fireplace in every room, poor cell phone reception, hearty breakfasts, and amazing dinners, I have found my perfect writing place at House Mountain Inn. House Mountain itself inspired the setting for Chancey of the Maury River (Candlewick Press, 2008) and Macadoo of the Maury River (Candlewick, forthcoming). House Mountain makes a beautiful place to ride, to walk, and to breathe deeply. The mountain offers a still and quiet place to be alone with a story.
I saw my first belted kingfisher at the base of House Mountain. One summer on a hike to do my daily yoga practice on top of the mountain, an injured and dying spicebush swallowtail landed on my leg at about mile 2 of the hike and rode on my shorts all the way to mile 3. I have learned more about wild turkeys from hiking around House Mountain even than I did from my granddaddy. For me, it’s in encountering these little things – kingfishers and butterflies and wild turkeys – that my characters find grace or resolve and that chapters settle into a natural rise and fall that illudes me in the regular world.
The family who runs the inn takes good care of their guests; they let me hike the mountain with their Redbone Coonhound, even. They don’t really mind that all I do is walk around the mountain thinking and then hole up in my room for eight or ten hours at a time. What I treasure most about House Mountain Inn and the Irvine family who run it is that they care enough about House Mountain and outdoor people to keep the mountain natural and undeveloped forever.
Since 1966, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation has been working with landowners in partnerships that honor both private property rights and public stewardship. VOF holds almost 500,000 acres of protected land in Virginia, and almost 2,000 acres of Big and Little House Mountain are in a conservation easement with VOF. While I love knowing that for the next fifty years I will be able to go to that mountain whenever I need to connect with something both beyond and inside myself, I love even more that this place belongs to the kingfisher, the warbler, the turkey, deer and bear and it will, forever.