Memoir Writing Prompt: What Tracks Do You Leave?

by Matilda Butler on December 21, 2013

Writing Prompt LogoPost #183 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompts and Life Prompts – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Your Tracks May Surprise You

As many of you know, I moved from California to Oregon three years ago. In California, I made it a point to not spend any time in the snow. I’d left colder climates–Boston and Chicago–for northern California and didn’t intend to get cold or work or play in that frozen watery substance again. And I didn’t for the 40 years that I lived in that sunny, warm state.

Then the pull of family drew us to Oregon. I obviously knew I’d have to put up with the wet water. Kendra passed on her mother’s sage advice, “Don’t worry about getting wet. You won’t shrink.” So for three years, I’ve learned to live in a rainy climate. But I figured I’d see little or no snow. And that has been true.

Until a week ago.

Then one of those snow storms that breaks records hung over Corvallis. As the hours went by, the white flakes continued to fall until we had nine inches. Yes, nine inches. And to top it off, the temperatures dropped and stayed so low–between nine degrees and 25 degrees–that the snow didn’t melt for a week. We saw two cars spin out of control on the little stretch of street in front of our house. We only took one short walk during those seven days, just to prove that we could.

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For the first day after the snow, everything was quiet. Neither animals nor people seemed to move in our little spot of the state. Then, as the days went by, I began to notice tracks in the snow. Animal tracks near the house and eventually people tracks on the sidewalk. At first, I didn’t think much about it. On both sunny and rainy days, we regularly see deer and wild turkeys with an occasional bobcat. And, of course, birds in our nearby forest trees. But during the first couple of snow days, we didn’t even see birds.The trees that are the favorite perch of the extended crow family were bare. We’ve had a small, but boisterous Steller’s Jay family. They had settled into our Oregon white oaks a couple of months ago, quite happy with the large number of acorns that we’ve had this year.

When the snow fell, all signs of animals disappeared for two days. Then little by little they returned. At least their tracks returned. In the first photo above, you’ll see and recognize deer tracks. We live on a hillside so I had the fun of looking down at our snowy driveway and could easily see that the deer had passed by. Hardly a surprise.

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We have a concrete deck just outside our kitchen. The wind blew snow to the sliding door. This meant there was a layer that could capture any animal tracks. When I looked out there, I recognized raccoon tracks. We’d have an incredibly smart raccoon in Gilroy, California so I knew that was the animal that had graced our deck. This was a surprise because we’d never seen a raccoon since we’d moved to Oregon. It’s true they are night creatures, but they usually cause some mischief that they leave as a calling card. Now I knew a little more about the night life around our property.

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But it was the third set of tracks that had me completely stumped. Maybe you recognize them right away. I didn’t. I wasn’t even sure about the kind of Google search I should do to find out what animal was making him or herself at home…just outside our door…during the night.

Then I was looking at some other photos I had taken in the last couple of months and discovered this one. A turkey…one of a number who like to wander through our property. I looked at the raised foot and could see that it would make exactly the kind of track I had spotted. But I never knew them to be out at night. Of course, how could I? It is dark outside and we have no outside lights. So the turkeys could…and obviously do…come up on our kitchen deck. I’ve now got the tracks to prove it.

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And finally, we get to the easy to identify tracks. We walked out through the kitchen deck thinking it would be much safer than down the long double flight front steps. They were still deep in snow. But as you may be able to tell, we got as far as the edge of the deck and decided to come back in. There are only two steps down from the deck, but they were snowy and icy and there wasn’t a handrail. We then took the safest path of all, down the inside steps to the basement garage and straight out to the driveway.

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So What Does This Have to Do With Memoir Writing?

The snow revealed all kinds of tracks that I hadn’t even thought about. Animals, including humans, leave tracks. Sometimes these tracks are left by our feet.

Memoir Writing Prompt #1: Close your eyes and think about the invisible tracks you have left with your feet today. Around the house. Outdoors. To the car. Into a grocery store. Visiting a friend. With your eyes closed you can probably see what no one else can see…all of your tracks for just one day. And these won’t be tracks into fresh, unblemished snow. They will be tracks on top of tracks on top of tracks. Do they reveal a pattern? What if you change the pattern tomorrow. What if you change the tracks of your life you are leaving behind on a daily basis?

Now, open your eyes. Think about the days of your life. What parts of those tracks do you really love and would want to continue no matter what other opportunities present themselves? What parts of those tracks do you dislike but are used to? Maybe it is time to make changes in the tracks.

Write for 10 minutes about your favorite tracks and what you might do to have more of them.

Write for 10 minutes about the tracks you dislike. As you write imagine what you could change in your life so that you are leaving fewer of those kinds of tracks.

Memoir Writing Prompt #2: There are tracks we leave with our feet. But there are also emotional tracks we leave. Tracks of anger. Tracks of sadness. Tracks of hope. Tracks of joy. Think about the emotional tracks you have left today. These tracks make themselves felt both on the person expressing the emotion and the person that receives the track. If you are angry, it influences you. If you are angry at a friend or relative or spouse, the track changes that person.

What kind of emotional tracks do you want to leave? What kind of influence do you have over these emotional tracks?

Write for 10 minutes about today’s emotional tracks. Which ones are you especially proud of? Which ones would you just as soon pretend didn’t happen? Write about today and then proactively write about tomorrow. How much you manage your emotional tracks so that you have more of the ones that make you and others feel better and fewer of the ones that leave you exhausted or depressed.

Memoir Writing Prompt #3:Most of our writing prompts are designed to get you thinking and writing and are just focused on the now. If you find the writing exercise in Memoir Writing Prompts #1 and #2 interest you or cause you to think more deeply about your life both in the looking back and looking forward, then you might want to return to those two exercises tomorrow night to see if you have some changes due to today’s writing.

And with the holiday season almost here, it’s interesting to notice how family relationships so quickly fall into the same old tracks. Perhaps this will be the year with you and other begin on a new path with new tracks.

Thanks for visiting Women’sMemoirs. We hope you have enjoyed our blogging this year and that we’ve given you some fun, some guidance, some writing techniques that will be helpful to you in 2014. We have a big year planned and hope you do also.

–Kendra and Matilda

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Hubert C. Crowell November 3, 2015 at

I had just written a poem about Tracks of Life, and was searching for another word to use in one of my lines and ran across your post, very interesting and helpful. Thank you.

Matilda Butler November 3, 2015 at

Hi Hubert:

Thanks for your comment. Best wishes to you with your writing. I am always in awe of poets.

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