Germ Theory


It’s snowing here, in the Catskills. Again.  This will go on top of the four inches from yesterday that went on top of the three feet already on the ground. It’s been quite a winter, and I can only imagine what the spring thaw—called the “Mud Season” around here—will be like! For now, though, it’s beautiful.  Unlike in the City, the snow here stays mostly white (until the Mud Season), except for the border of plowed snow along the roads.

I took our dog, Lily, out for a walk after the snow stopped yesterday, and I got to thinking. Thinking about snow and writing. Not the kind of writing that you do in the snow—you know, the kind made famous by the book, Yellow Snow, by I.P. Freely. Not that. I got to thinking how snowing is like the act of writing.

I read a story over the weekend that “germs are the most common snowflake starters and lie at the heart of 85 percent of all flakes.” Apparently, water needs a seed or nucleus to form around, or it won’t turn into snow at the kinds of temperatures we get here, even if there is a Polar Vortex.

Germs! We usually think of germs as pathogens—and that is the kind of germ that lies at the heart of so many of our snowflakes—but germs are also “something that initiates development or serves as an origin.” The “germ of an idea” is what lies at the heart of every story. Writers are constantly collecting ideas, germs of ideas, to write about.

As a teacher, I taught the “Writer’s Process” to students:

  • Gather Ideas for Writing
  • Choose a Seed Idea to Write About
  • Draft
  • Revise
  • Edit
  • Publish
  • Celebrate (you’ve got to celebrate!)

Writers should constantly be gathering ideas for writing—ideas, characters, quotes, “noticings”—in a Writer’s Notebook. These become the germs that develop into writing. The rest of the process is germinating those ideas into stories and poems and essays. Without the germs—the seeds—there is nothing to germinate!

One of my germs grew into a poem about this. You can decide if it “germinated” or not!


I am a collector.

A collector of words,
Of thoughts,

A collector of sights,
Of sounds,

I collect feelings,
In lovely little
Lined boxes.

Like this one
With the color of your eyes,
The smell of your hair,
And the salty taste of your neck.

Or, this box,
High on the shelf.
I take it down
And hug it to my chest.
Inside, the first time I saw you,
Our first date,
Our wedding.

I collect them all,
Waiting to weave them together
In a tapestry,
Our story.


3 thoughts on “Germ Theory

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