"Big open spaces are important ... They can birth big dreams in people. They did it for me."
Savannah Naffziger, ACT VI member and marketing specialist
By Savannah Naffziger
I don’t often surprise myself. Except that recent trip to Zumwalt. In the days leading up to the trip, I was nervous. I write for my job, sure, but this was different. This was poetry, fiction.
Yet here I was, headed to the Fishtrap writing workshop, to spend a week nestled in the grasslands of the Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. Although I work for The Nature Conservancy, my life is urban: cubicle-bound and computer-oriented. But on the prairie I was to write by hand and sleep under the sky.
Opening up to the Landscape
We gathered, a dozen of us, around the central picnic table on the first night. Irene grew up on Zumwalt and was returning to the area of her childhood. Ray traveled from South Carolina. Kathy’s writing a book on her pioneer great-grandmother. Jolie’s a professor of landscape architecture from Idaho. Me? I’m an AmeriCorps member. Who’s learning more about Oregon’s natural history. And writing.
With mugs of tea and mason jars of wine clutched in hands, we explained why we were here. I blurted out, “I’m here to take myself more seriously as a writer.” Which was not what I thought I’d say.
And yet as we ate homemade goat cheese, and fell asleep to the sound of coyotes yipping just north of the camp: I did exactly that.
We wrote: morning, afternoon, evening. Drawing on the prairie as inspiration, we wrote about the lilac-blue flowers that surrounded the tents, compared exes to the surrounding basalt rock, and worried on paper about the local badger.
I found myself opening up to the landscape and, strangely enough, being in the middle of a vast prairie, I reflected on the Oregon landscapes I grew up with:
“I notice the air smells salty, with a hint of beach wood, no matter that we’re hundreds of miles from the ocean. I remember driving to the beach with my grandmother. Ever cautious, she took the corkscrew roads at no more than 20 miles per hour, growing an unfriendly parade of cussing and underused accelerator pedals behind us.”
Read more writing samples from the prairie.
I went to Zumwalt directionless — with my own 20 miles per hour, cautious approach to what’s next — unsure of life after this AmeriCorps stint. But as I drove back over the Blue Mountains, chased by a summer storm, I found myself finding a new road and setting new life goals. Big ones. That involve writing.
And now, I write. I get up early every morning, head to my coffee shop or sit with my dogs, and write — drawing on the memories of mason jar evenings and the power of the prairie.
I surprised myself, and the prairie surprised me. Because of my job, I talk about nature every day, posting gorgeous pictures on Facebook and learning about rain gardens. But I glimpsed something else out on the preserve.
Being out in nature takes us away from our normal, enriches us, and provides a framework for understanding things in a new way.
Big open spaces are important for ecosystems and critters, for sure. But what I learned? They can also birth big dreams in people. They did for me.