Garden & Gun
Posted July 31, 2020
I’ve never had much of a social life…the poet and fiction writer Ron Rash admitted on a video call one day last spring. He had just returned from fishing for brook trout near his home in upstate South Carolina, and he was pleased to have caught one, as well as a snake he came across in the woods: a black racer. His wife, Ann, crossed the frame with a knowing shrug.
In a parallel universe, Rash would have been preparing for a book tour to promote his latest collection of stories and a novella, In the Valley, or traveling between Clemson and his other home in Cullowhee, North Carolina, where he teaches fiction writing at Western Carolina University. But the world had instead mostly ground to a halt.
Rash, though, has built his life around long stretches of solitude, so his daily rituals went on as they have for almost forty years. First comes forty-five minutes of reading while working out on an elliptical machine. “It opens me up, to get the endorphins going,” he says. Now that he is sixty-six, his knees can no longer handle the strain of running the eight hundred meters, much less in the blistering 1:53 he did in college, or the ten- and twelve-mile jogs that used to clear his head, but for Rash, sweating and writing are twin engines. One doesn’t work well without the other.
Once his workout is complete, he typically spends three or four hours scratching away at a legal pad with a freshly sharpened pencil. He doesn’t trust the smooth, uniform look of his sentences on a computer screen, at least not at first. Using paper and pencil feels more intimate, more like real physical work. When he needs a boost, he reaches for a glass of unsweetened iced tea, and can polish off forty-eight ounces of it before finally putting the manuscript away.