I’m a walker. In the best of times, I walk three to six miles a day. I developed the habit a few years ago when we were still living in Indiana where my Animals in Focus mysteries are set, and I’ve mostly kept at it since we moved to North Carolina in 2009. I walk “unplugged”—no music, phone in pocket for emergency only. I walk for exercise, to clear my mind, to feel my environment, and—yes—to work out problems with plots, characters, pacing, and other elements of whatever I’m writing at the time.
I live in Wilmington, a beautiful city in the “lower Cape Fear” corner of southeastern North Carolina. Although many people come to Wilmington and neighboring towns for the beautiful Atlantic beaches, Wilmington was and remains a river town with a rich, complex, and sometimes disturbing history. Luckily for me, this area is also rich in beautiful places to walk in a variety of natural and developed habitats.
One of my favorite places to walk is Airlie Gardens http://airliegardens.org/, a sixty-seven acre private garden that dates back to 1867. With my annual membership, I visit the garden several times a week, and no two walks are ever quite the same. The gardens, of course, change as the blooming seasons take us from camelias to azaleas to saucer-sized magnolias, and the annuals bloom and die, and the perennials blossom in their turns. One thing that doesn’t change much, though, is the grand old Airlie Oak, a massive five-hundred year old live oak tree dripping with Spanish moss.
On one side, Airlie borders the saltwater marshes and open channel of Bradley Creek, which links directly to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and, from there, to the ocean. Airlie is a birdwatcher’s paradise, and one of the highlights is the osprey pair who nest high above the marsh’s edge. A freshwater lake meanders through the center of the gardens, and it’s a rare walk that doesn’t include views of Great and White Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and many other birds. On warm days, oodles of turtles sun themselves on logs in the lake, and occasionally you might glimpse one of the non-venomous snakes that live in the gardens. Every time I walk there, I think that a fictional garden like Airlie would be the perfect setting for a novel.Another of my favorite places to stroll and unwind is the New Hanover County Arboretum, http://www.gardeningnhc.org/. Although only seven acres, the grounds of the arboretum include a large pond alive with waterlilies, papyrus, water hyacinths, and other water plants, and a big school of humongous koi who love to be fed from the fish-food vending machine. A small bog garden winds along one edge of the property, and I love to walk there among the dragonflies. At the back of the arboretum, a Japanese garden, complete with tea house and Zen garden, provides a peaceful retreat.
Finally, and first, I love to walk on the beach and along the salt marshes, especially on the two islands that make up the town of Wrightsville Beach, just east of Wilmington. The best times to walk there are, I think, early morning and just before sunset. The many birds of the coast are busy, and if I’m very lucky, I’ll see dolphins leaping beyond the surf line. I can’t think of anything more calming, or inspiring, than that.
Sheila Webster Boneham writes, among other things, the Animals in Focus mystery series published by Midnight Ink and featuring 50-something animal photographer Janet MacPhail, her Australian Shepherd Jay, and her orange tabby Leo. Book 1, Drop Dead on Recall (2012) was named Best Fiction Book of 2013 by the Dog Writers Association of American and a Top Ten Dog Book by NBCPetside. The Money Bird (2013) continues Janet’s adventures into amateur sleuthing with the help of her friends, and Catwalk, the third book in the series, will give Leo and his ilk a bigger share of the spotlight this fall. Sheila is also the award-winning author of seventeen nonfiction books about dogs, cats, and animal rescue. Sheila’s books are available from all the usual sources, and personally autographed copies can be ordered from http://www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/p/autographed-books.html. Learn more at sheilaboneham.com, or connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sheilawrites and www.facebook.com/groups/writersandotheranimals.Sheila Offers a Prize to one Lucky Person Who Comments:A Sheila Webster Boneham Autographed book of winners choice to one poster. Include your email for contact info in your post. Visit her website to check out all her work!
(All info provided by author Sheila Webster Boneham)