The Vista al Valle Trail in Warner Springs is only 3 miles, but the elevation gain is 1100 feet and our time was limited, so we decided to take a short nature walk out and back instead of making the full circuit. We had our trail map and a guide describing the terrain and the views we would see.
At marker one, though, there was a fork in the trail and we weren’t sure which route to take. We chose the widest of the paths and we set off. We never saw another trail marker.
Eventually, we reached a dead-end and we had to retrace our steps back to the trailhead. I don’t know what we missed by taking the “wrong” route, but I do know what we gained. As we walked quietly, listening to bird songs and the rustle of small animals moving in the dried grass along the trail, we heard the unmistakable sound of water tumbling over rocks. Just off the path, we found a shallow stream.
There aren’t many creeks that run in San Diego County in mid-July, but we were lucky enough to discover one with a small waterfall that was just barely visible through the trees upstream.
As I work on my new novel, I’m starting first by drawing a map of the plot. I want to plan my route with scenes that will keep the story moving forward and that will encourage a reader to turn the page. I want to decide on my final destination before I begin writing.
I wouldn’t be comfortable striking out into the back country with no knowledge of the landmarks to guide me safely along the trail and I don’t want to write my novel blindly with no idea of where I want the story to go. At the same time, I have to be open to wrong turns and unexpected vistas. I may think I know what will happen in a scene, but when I pick up my pen, I have to be willing to let my imagination take a detour.
With free writing, if I let myself, I follow a fresh path every time I use a prompt or idea. So maybe today I’ll write a scene and veer off in a direction that I didn’t envision when I first plotted my story. Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll open with the same image and then try another approach. It might lead me to a dead-end, or maybe it will be a shortcut to the place I want to end up. I can wander through my story until I find the route that works best. My pen might run out of ink with all of these detours, but I won’t get sunburned or rub blisters on my heels. Still, I just might find a hidden waterfall.