Inspiration for writing comes from all sorts of places. I have long held the glimmer of an idea for a Civil War ghost story in the back of my mind, yet haven’t worked on it enough to set anything down on paper. Although it hasn’t gone away, it’s been quiescent, lying quiet and still in my thoughts, making no demands on me.
Earlier this month, during my little out-of-state getaway, I felt this story idea spark back to life when I paused in a tiny hill town called Powhatan. The old courthouse there has been restored (as I mentioned in my previous blog), and a park has been created to include the courthouse, a log cabin dating from the 1850s, a small brick building, the jail, the old school with its separate doors for male and female students, and the stone-capped town well. The log cabin intrigued me most. It is built high off the ground on stone piers, and I had to bounce on my tiptoes to peer into its windows at some of the sparse furnishings inside. When I looked at the information board in front of it, however, I felt a little shiver of astonishment. The first owner of the cabin carries the same name as my maternal great uncle and one of my grandfather’s cousins. So this cabin was built for someone who’s either one of my direct ancestors or a relation.
In view of that, I find it amazing that I’ve felt a connection to this place since childhood without having ever actually known why. Does it sound too woo-woo to confess that I believe in the atmosphere or vibrations of places and buildings? The one-room cabin dates to 1858 and was probably quite large for its day. There’s a second, smaller log building behind it, connected by a short stone path. This smaller cabin was probably the original kitchen. Even more amazing was that this modest abode was lived in by a succession of owners from 1858 until 1970.
So now my imagination is all fired up. I am eager to shake out that ghost story idea and do something with it. And while I probably won’t set it in this small community, my mind is alight with the textures of what I’ve seen and discovered: the hue and roughness of the logs, the stone path from one building to the next, the curve of native limestone edging what would have been a tiny flower or herb bed at the kitchen steps. These exact details don’t have to be in the story but through them I have seen and touched the nineteenth century. I’m on fire from that connection. It resonates with my creative side, and so much is coming alive because of it. Just having this fresh memory of those gray weathered logs and the sturdiness of the little cabin will certainly bring alive my setting, my sense of place as I begin to shape words into a hushed place of twilight and a lone figure in a long dress of plain brown cloth, standing half-concealed among the trees at the river’s edge, perhaps with an unlit lantern in her hand as she waits and listens for what’s coming.