Last week I was visiting my home town. The weather was lovely and the landscape was vivid. I grew up in a farming community, and since a number of our neighbors were family as well as farmers, I had over a hundred acres of land to wander and explore. It wasn’t until this trip home that I realized Mendel’s hometown of Abylant is very similar to my hometown.
In The Alchemist’s Theorem, the story begins in Abylant. How I describe the small country town and Mendel’s relationship to it is much like my own story:
“To occupy his time and his thoughts, Mendel spent the days wandering the rolling green hills and patches of woodland that surrounded the town of Abylant. Nature quickly became his friend. She was delightfully distracting and very inviting. Every wild thing begged for his attention. He often ran from plant to plant, dazzled by the variety of colors, or he chased after painted insects or furry creatures that scuttled down holes or up trees. Nature never made him feel as though he didn’t belong. In fact, Mendel felt as though he were allowed to be himself out in the forest.”
It was very important to me to make nature a part of the story. Something that motivated me even more was the book The Reason I Jump. Naoki Higashida wrote about why children with autism have such a strong relationship with nature. He said that nature “gives us permission to exist.”
Out in nature, the pressure, constraints, and expectations of our culture and society vanish. Instead of trying to keep in line, please our peers, and conform to what is expected, we can exist simply as ourselves.
The landscape of my home town was an important part of my childhood development. Higashida’s insight helped me understand why. It provided a place for me to be myself and to use my imagination. I used to steal the handle of a push broom and hike up to our back pasture. There was a bare spot in the field and I would stand there, with my magic staff, and conjure up storms that only I could see.
I felt compelled to include this important relationship as a major theme in my novel. So there are a lot of beautiful and exotic landscapes, strange creatures, eccentric alchemists, and adoring relationships between them.