Saturday, January 8, 2011

My pilgrim shrines

"those locations that have become like pilgrim shrines to us for the power they hold over imagination and identity."  
- one prompt among many from Kim Stafford's website:

Like a pilgrim shrine to me for the power it holds over imagination and identity, years ago, still now, I would choose our family's cabin, tucked in an insignificant New Hampshire town, without a mall, with the classic white Protestant church, small businesses, brick library....  But it was the cabin, on a lake, that formed the centerpiece of my identity.  My years started and stopped there, under the great pines, centered on the weeks we'd spend idle there, in the summer.  I'd read, nap in the sun, write, run, swim.  Eat with the neighbors, maybe listen to music.  My head would empty.  I did not know guilt for doing nothing.

I looked, for hours.  Small fish, close to shore.  The wind rippling the water.  At night, the steam rising from the lake, around the floating docks, forming ghostly shapes.  I found myself and felt whole there - but because there was always the return to home, school, the frantic life of a busy teenager - I doubted the realness of the place and what I felt there, couldn't imagine a future in which I permitted myself such a place, full time, couldn't imagine being able to make a living out of such a place, felt compelled to investigate more obvious, acceptable paths, and thus ignored my increasing feeling of alienation, the farther I went from the solace of that place.

This prompt drew my attention, resonated - a place like a pilgrim shrine, true north for identity...  What was that fleeting bird call of recognition, that high keening?  Not just the past... but ah, also what I've had here, in the high desert, and what I'm continuing to seek.  Not in this horrid house in the burbs, but the house we lucked into when we left the city, and used as a home base, looking glass, for all our explorations of this place.  I can't call that house home anymore, and without it we, too, are too removed from the daily miracles obvious only over time in an undisturbed, wide-open space, but I still feel it out there - the mountains, ever-changing, cool and mysterious; small creatures, dun-colored in the brush, surprising colors amongst the dryness, the giant sky.

I wanted it, want it, because I found myself there, too.  Felt my feet in the dirt, my heart beat slow, allowed my eyes to follow the birds across the sky, learned birdsong, thanked the universe each day for the river, became present, knew the place and felt how short my time in it.  I was innervated and slowed by the minute changes, felt myself a small, gratefully observant thing in the place the river calls home.

I am so much more the girl who walks through dust, sun overhead, beside rivers and lakes, than I am the one who shovels a cement walk that looks like all the others in a neighborhood of 400 identical houses.  I am the one that notices that day's new, minutest blooms, that notes flocks of birds migrating through the seasons, that lies back to watch the sky, that sees the water bend around a rock, that requires quiet and solitude to think, center, rest.  I declare myself a foreigner to urban, unimaginative environments.  I want to go home now, find myself, live from that fecund center. 

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