“The blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. . . . in this world we actually live in, distance ceases to be distance and to be blue when we arrive in it. The far becomes the near, and they are not the same place.” — Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, 29-35
“Nature goes on and on and on.” — Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Secret Teachings of Plants, 23
Every journey brings with it great possibilities of the imagination,
the anticipated arrival, the nervous nail-biting feeling as plans take flight to soar or dive down to the ground. I am collecting my things, my few things, as I prepare for a new life elsewhere.
Among the things I have collected are portions of maps, old maps from several decades ago. They detail the topography of Shake Butte, Sellers Marsh, and Shady Grove, Oregon, and though it is to Oregon that I am headed, Shake Butte will at best be a distant unknown peak on the horizon, Sellers Marsh an imaginary wetland a hundred miles away. What can I learn from these maps, charted out decades ago, and how can they guide me to my arrival at my destination?
They provide a story that for me is not literally true. The steep ascent to Shake Butte is not my adventure. The town of Shady Grove will not become my home. These distant unreal places, however, shape the story of my making. They testify to land, to man, and to time. These maps provide a human remembrance of the story of the Earth, sharing not how it was on a summer day in the 1970s, but how it was seen by the men (and yes, they were most likely men) of the U.S. Geological Survey at a time before my making. These maps tell a story of observer and observed, where the Earth was something to be measured, to be seen, to be charted. They do not tell the story of intimacy, of homeland, of the special nook one finds in an abandoned plum tree or the lazy days of summer heat spent in birch tree’s shade at the side of burbling brook.
These maps are a lesson, for they are a counterpoint to the course of my own learning. They speak of distant relationship, and I seek the language of intimacy. I wish to know the secret spaces, the damp grounds where skunk cabbage rises in the spring and the special sound of oak leaves sighing in autumn winds.
Though they will not guide me along state routes or nature trails, these maps will nevertheless guide me in my growth, help me chart a course to my discoveries, as I learn to fill in the blank spaces with the world of my words. For the books that I create are but a map of another kind: in the pages between book cover and book end is the vastest blank space, an area where one cannot help but get lost.
Within, I find myself; I find connection. Of these blank spaces I make a life.
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