I write this from my parents’ retirement home near Chapel Hill, NC, where I’ve come to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. They live along a fairway in a gated golf community several miles from the quaint downtown area, where the university is. In the spring and summer, when golfers take to the course in the early dawn, you often wake up to the thwack of a solidly hit ball, followed by the soft whine of the electric golf cart speeding away. This morning, though, I awoke to silence, blessed silence. I looked out the window of my guest room, which faces the course, and saw no duffers, only a soft blanket of frost covering the grass like baby’s breath. Then I sat at a tiny wooden desk across from my bed and wrote, and wrote, and wrote in my journal.

Though I’ve learned to write in bustling offices and cafes over the years, I write best in silence. Somehow my mind expands in the quiet, and the words come more easily. This morning I thought of Thoreau’s mysterious comment in Walden when he says that he wanted to build a cabin large enough for big thoughts. In the silence, I understand that. I also thought of Natalie Goldberg’s suggestion in Writing Down the Bones that we need to fill our well of imagery by traveling to new places, whether it’s a museum, a drive into the country or spending Thanksgiving Day at your parents’ place in the land of the Tar Heels.

I’m thankful I had the opportunity to travel South for this most remarkable of holidays–just think, a day set aside to count our blessings!–but I’ll also be happy to return to New York. The roar of taxis, the squeal of subway cars and the barking of sidewalk vendors lift my spirits, too. But only after a long draught of silence in which I can hear my breathing and the beating of my heart.