Photo Freewrite – Week 1

I’m easing back into an active writing practice by committing to freewrites prompted by my daily photo posts on Instagram. Nothing polished and precious here, just a handful of sentences bubbling up and out each out day. I’ll be posting them collectively here once a week. Maybe you’ll be inspired to join me with your own freewrites. Thanks for looking/reading!


photo by Tracy Burkholder

Last day of the year and I’d been driving from the dying to the almost dead all morning. I stopped in a patch of suburban woods to catch my breath, there in the wet, gray air under the firs. It was waiting for me, hovering just above the river, gently buffeted from rock to rock to muddy bank. The sky was heavy and dark, but the water reflected it back all shimmer. All liquid silver.

Lungs opened wide. Heart beat out welcome back.


photo by Tracy Burkholder

From the plane window, you used to turn clouds into houses. You’d leave your seat and land on the soft, white roof. You’d roam around the gentle halls and make a home there in the sky, waving to the passing planes from your cushioned perch.

From the back porch, you now turn the fallen leaves into a jagged landscape. You leave your spot by the door and land inside the dry skin of ancient walls, made by ancient earthquakes. You duck under a shelf and pause in the cool, darkness. Try not to move, to not make a sound. The whole world rattles in the wind.


photo by Tracy Burkholder

Even the simplest dash of turquoise and a line of beige and my body becomes a singular demand. TAKE ME TO THE OCEAN. Not the cold Pacific, but the clear, warm waters of Caribbean or Mediterranean or Aegean. How lucky that my body has tasted these places and can crave them. The sun bake. The float of soft waves. The salt dressing me at the end of the day. How lucky that I can see a turquoise tag on a beige building on a cool rainy day in Portland and my body can remember the world holding me in its watery, sun-warmed palms.


Is this what O’Keefe would have painted if she lived in the northwest? A slot in a tree? Not branch-shaped but what shaped? I suppose I could have slid my flattened hand inside, or maybe just my fingers. I could have cleaned this room of needles and webs, but maybe needle and web were nest to some small being. This was not a place for hands, but a home. Still, I would have liked to see what a man with his dog would do at the sight: a middle-aged woman slipping one hand into a tree, the other hand pressed into the trunk for balance.


In the middle of all the mess, she dances. Not her usual swirl and sway but something more traditional. It’s a dance handed down from mother to daughter over and over. Part burden. Part gift.

This isn’t joy. The chaos gouging away at the world on all sides doesn’t allow it. But it’s necessary and brings small waves of relief that ripple from belly to fingertip. She lifts her heel and raises one arm, first one side, then the other, over and over across hundreds of troubled years.


The ducks are sleeping, their duck noses buried in their duck wings. They’re still and compact and we watch them, some of us. And maybe some of us drift into metaphor and think of ostriches and sand. Maybe some of us go maternal, something about the nuzzle. I go to anatomy, admiring the twist of the cervical spine. I go to memory, thinking of earlier that morning when I pulled the covers over my head and tried to pretend it wasn’t time to move into the world and try to make decisions as if everything I did actually mattered.


The clematis vine climbs and smothers the tree beneath it trying to wrangle a position closer to the clouds.
Hey…hey…look! I’m just like you.
And the tree under the vine hopes the clouds notice. And the people wandering (but not the people cycling and jogging and selfie-ing) hope the clouds notice. It’s not the best imitation, but the effort is there. The desire. The admiration.

But the clouds just roll through, morphing into something flat and gray. Maybe it’s a spurn. Maybe it’s a lesson. Maybe they just didn’t see.

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