Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Your Wheelhouse

Upon returning from a trip to Nelson, British Columbia, I happened upon an old expression. Technically, the term in your wheelhouse, refers to your particular skill set. Literally, a wheelhouse is the enclosed compartment from which a vessel can be navigated. So it would make sense then that a writer casting about for subjects topics and ideas, would do well to consider this idiom.

In Nelson, I enjoyed basking in the culture of my native land. With my family off ripping up the powder at Whitewater, a ski resort blessed with both magnificent terrain and fine cuisine, I decided to take a personal day and wander around the town. My love affair with the city of Nelson began in my early twenties with it being the destination of a never to be forgotten drive across Canada. What we discovered along the shores of surely one of the most magnificent lakes on the planet, had much to do with the course of my adult life.

Vessels powered by steam, were the life blood of small towns on northern lakes. The mail, the groceries, the summer guests and the news of the day arrived with the welcoming sound of a steam ship whistle. This sent islanders and lake dwellers scurrying down to the docks; missing the boat meant waiting another week and doing without vital supplies. My mother told me tales of hearing shouts from upstairs windows in summer cottages: bread, milk, eggs, and get all the vegetables you can! Yes, the concept of a wheelhouse is ingrained in my mind, but taken to the idea of stories waiting to be told, I find it to be a useful concept.  After all, when writing, I alone am the captain.

As I wandered happily about Nelson, I was thrilled to find the local museum open. In I went, knowing that because I was alone, I could stay there for hours and hours. Inside, I found much fodder for inspiration. A beautiful white linen summer costume, complete with  a lace collar and straw hat filled me with awe.  Photographs of old yachts, races and regatta days from the golden era before World War 1,  found me marveling, as I do here in North Idaho, at the courage of the settlers of long ago days. In every photograph of that era, here and to the north of us, and across the wide expanse of the nation, you see pictures of men standing beside a string of huge fish. The first skis, those huge curved planks, the photos of brave souls out in their warm sweaters, the parades, the soldiers returning from war, the wagons, and the horses, it is all there for anyone to see. Nothing inspires me more, or gets my creative juices flowing, like an afternoon spent at a local museum. It is not just the artifacts, it is the stories, the curiosity I feel in the presence of the past, brought lovingly back to life by the curators. Then, of course, there is the gift shop, the small volumes which would otherwise go unnoticed, depicting the lives of early settlers. If you are at a loss for words, find yourself out of ideas, fearing that your tank is running on empty, then I would suggest a wee trip and a small museum where something may just spring to mind. Keep your own culture, your own history, your community in the forefront, and write from your heart, from the seat of all passion, from your own particular wheelhouse. Do not be surprised if you are suddenly so inspired that your fingers can barely type quickly enough to match the rush of ideas.

As for Nelson, it is a welcoming destination for people from all over the world. If you take a trip there, don't be surprised if you find yourself falling in love with the place. 


Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Beautifully written, Liz. I have been to Nelson a couple of times and love its gorgeous setting. Thanks for your inspiring post.

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

Thank you so much. Coming from you, I consider it to be high praise indeed.