For my recent trip to Portland (the Oregon, not the Maine), I had a short mental list of things I wanted to do. Powell’s, Voodoo Doughnuts, a glimpse of the coastline. The thing I wanted to do most, I didn’t get to do. I was hoping that a trip to the coast would inspire me to finally figure out a story that has been on the back burner for quite some time now. It involves that coastline, time travel, and the hope of a better future if we can just figure out how to send ourselves the right message.

Multnomah Falls, by E. Catherine Tobler

I was hungry for the coast, for water and rocks and landscapes I don’t have at home, but the days fell together differently than I’d hoped and we didn’t reach the coast. Still, something unexpected happened which gave me water and rocks and new landscapes. An unplanned excursion to Multnomah Falls took my breath away–and helped anchor my current novel’s voice in my head.

Multnomah Falls was nothing I expected. Didn’t expect to go there and once there, didn’t expect to find such beauty and inspiration on what seems to be nothing more than the side of a highway. Beyond the parking lot and through a tunnel beneath the highway, the world changes. It opens up into a space of soft greenery and a trickle of a river over smooth stones. Farther on, a six hundred and eleven foot waterfall spills.

To view the falls from the base is staggering. It’s the best place to contemplate the entire height. At the very least, you will also want to hike up the trail, to reach the Benson Footbridge (1914) where the mist of the falls can smudge your glasses and trickle into your shirt collar. I think you can hike even beyond that, but we called it good at the footbridge.

The air was cool up there, and wet. Moss grows on everything, even the stones. Standing on the bridge, pieces of my novel began to assemble themselves in my head. Though one piece of that novel is unrelated to water and falls, it still said “hello, here’s how I actually work, now go write me.” Through my camera lens, I saw my heroine in her watery environment, trying to reconnect with it even as I tried to connect with my fiction.

Unplanned, unexpected. When my mind was given a detour, it found the right path anyhow, and offered up exactly what I needed–even though I didn’t know I needed it. Maybe it’s not about sending ourselves the right message after all; it’s about letting the right message find us. Anne Lamott tells us we aren’t blocked when we stumble in our writing, but that we need to refill the well. Rather than trying to control how that well refills and checking things off a pre-made list like a boss, let yourself stay open to opportunities that may arise.

Where are you going this summer? Wherever it is, I hope you find yourself detoured in one way or another. Don’t frown or fuss; you may well find something you need on that path.

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