A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Passion and Awe
I stood on the brink, a palette of colors splayed before me like a surrealistic painting. It was just before 6:00 a.m., and I was alone—lost in a vision unlike anything else I had ever seen. The panoramic spectacle before me had been played a thousand times before . . . no, a million times before . . . but never in this manner and never before these eyes. I was without words. I was transfixed. I was stilled by unimaginable beauty.
I was perched on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, watching a sunrise sweep up and over geological monoliths and multi-chromatic rocks—painting the rugged horizon with flashes, blushes, and a moving panache of hued encounters and tinted strokes. The pigments were disparate, but precise; random, yet artistic. My breath was stilled and my mind calmed as I watched the sun begin its daily arc over this enchanted and ancient landscape.
I was in awe!
For her 70th birthday, I had brought my wife to the edge of the Grand Canyon—her first encounter with this transformative geological carving. After an overnight train ride from Chicago, we checked into a refurbished cabin perched along the precipice of the Canyon—a room with both a view and an experience. That first morning of our (ad)venture, I rose early, walked less than 25 feet to the edge of the abyss, and observed a world unlike any other. My laptop stayed closed, but my mind and eyes were gaping with both wonder and reverence. I was swallowed by a vision unlike any other . . . a vision without equal, without measure.
Many times, in writing workshops or conference presentations, I am asked about my inspiration for writing. I always smile and say that two conditions must be present before I can write a story: passion and awe. Although my specialty is nonfiction writing, I do not write about animals, or nature, or environmental concerns. I write about the sentiments those constructs engender. If I look at a mountain lake, a croaking bullfrog, or a redwood forest and am not overwhelmed with passion and awe, then there is no writing . . . or, more precisely, there is no incentive to share that scene with young readers. Writing is not telling readers about what I see or what I researched, it is about getting youngsters interactionally engaged in the deep dynamics of the subject. My emotional connection to the scenes I describe with letters, words, and sentences must be passionately evident and fervidly detailed. It must be embraced—not just read—by the audience.
Anne Lamott, in her classic book Bird by Bird writes, “I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. The alternative is that we stultify, we shut down.” Writers, according to Lamott, don’t write about things; they write with things. They share insights, they share glimpses into the soul of their subjects—whether those subjects are riddled with teenage angst, wrestling with life-altering decisions, soaring over forests of towering redwoods, or hiding in the nooks and crannies of a vanishing coral reef. Nonfiction or fiction—without passion and awe we simply write words, rather than sharing the wonder of seeing things anew or the joy of moving beyond “our small, bordered worlds.”
My experiences with the magnificence of dawn along the rims and rocks of the Grand Canyon that morning resulted in a children’s picture book manuscript—Hello Grand Canyon—currently under review by several publishers. I was inspired by the ever-changing palette of shades and paints that crept over the geography of northern Arizona but knew that mere words would never capture the sentience of that time-worn environment. My written symbols had to be wrapped in vibrant layers of passion and awe; they needed the natural enthusiasm of my targeted audience to achieve their intention. Without passion and awe, they are simple linguistic sentinels, rather than shared emotions and vibrant connections.
The shape of words is insignificant; but their tenor paramount.
A retired professor of education and resident of York, PA, Tony (www.anthonydfredericks.com) is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He is also the author of Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2AsNmWw).