My Spy Route
When I was nine-years-old, I read Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. After I had finished the book, I wanted nothing more than to be Harriet. My recent re-reading of the book, however, left me with a sense of consternation.
How had I missed Harriet’s bad manners?
Harriet’s manners aren’t just a little bit bad, they are so bad that she sometimes puts other people in peril (as when she runs pell mell into the family cook), and somehow, I had missed it completely.
This served to remind me of something that I told my students when I taught writing:
You never know what a reader is going to bring to a text.
The truth of readers is this: when they read your work, they bring their own baggage and dreams to the text, and my nine-year-old self did exactly that when I first read Harriet the Spy.
Despite what Harriet thought, it wasn’t really all about her, it was all about me, her reader.
When we are taught to write, we are told to “consider our audience,” but writers are seldom told to “think of the reader.” The reader, however, is a critical component of the writing experience. Without a reader, our musings are simply notes — in a notebook, in an electronic file, on a bathroom wall — without a reader to read, our writing is a list words.
Sometimes, as in the case of a diary or a journal, we are our own readers, but much of the time when we write, we are doing so to be heard on some fundamental level, to have someone else say, “I see what you mean!” or “I never thought of it that way!” or “What a clever idea!”
But the experience (or baggage) that a reader brings to a text influences how that text is read as much as anything the author might have to say, and what I learned after reading Harriet the Spy for a second time a half century after my first reading was this:
Much of what I loved about Harriet the Spy was about me and what I wanted, not Harriet and what she wanted.
Harriet’s spy route
I had long envied Harriet’s spy route, and the ease with which she left the world of her home and found other, equally or even more compelling worlds to explore. It seemed that she was just steps away from a galaxy of adventures, each unlike the world of her home, her school, or her friends.
I wanted that kind of a adventure.
At the time I had thought that the way to have the sorts of adventures I wanted available at my finger tips meant that I had to move to a big city — well, not just a big city — an internationally renown city.
But I was nine and could not just pack up and move. So I lobbied both of my parents to move to the nearest city that met my future fantasy spy route requirements — San Francisco. Just ninety miles south and west of the rural farming community where we lived, I tried to interest my parents in my grand idea, but my pleas fell on deaf ears, and it wasn’t until this past year when my husband and I moved to and began to settle in Albuquerque, that I got my spy route, and it had not even been a feature noted in the listing for the house we bought.
The Alameda Drain Trail
The City of Albuquerque has more than 400 miles of bike paths and trails and one of them runs right behind the house where I live, and twice a day, my dog Clooney and I walk along one of them, and it turns out that this walk along the Alameda Drain affords me the spy route I had wanted so badly when I was a child.
There are, of course, the breathtaking vistas:
And the delightful colors and surprise of a hot air balloon landing nearby:
And then there are the occasional mysteries, like this unnamed woman who peers out at me and my dog each time we pass, her expression never changing.
Near to the mystery woman is this CLUE:
And shortly beyond that, Jasper, the dog who runs like the wind. Most often he is trailed by a cloud of dust, but in this photo I captured him in a brief moment of stillness before he resumed his run:
Still later, there is this trumpet vine which serves as an oasis for the hummingbirds that live along the drain:
Then there is Sparky, a miniature horse who stands just over 23" at the withers:
and who lives next door to one of my favorite stops along my route: Summer the goat:
Summer is particularly appreciative of leafy snacks and having her portrait taken.
And sometimes, as the day draws to a close, Clooney and I are out at just the right moment to see one of the exquisite sunsets that grace the Chihuahuan Desert:
When I re-read Harriet the Spy, I thought I would be able to figure out how reading that book as a child had lead me to this moment as I walked along the Alameda Drain Trail.
What I learned instead was that I had superimposed my own dreams onto the tale of Harriet, whose story I read.
And it is the reader, along with the text, that ultimately completes the story.