Monday, February 9, 2009

Awakening to the Power of Place

My awakening to the power of place has taken many years. When I was a child I was held and formed by the power of my home territory
--the woods and fields, the rolling hills, the creek and the tiny streams that fed into it, the pond, the barns and farmyards. But I wasn't aware of it. Totally immersed in it, I had no perspective. I was the youngest of five kids and the only one to be born after my parents moved to Soap Hollow, so I was fortunate to spend my entire childhood blissfully fused with that particular landscape.

It was only once I left home that I began to get some perspective and realize how profoundly that terrain had influenced me. The first hint came when I would bring boyfriends home from college. They'd complain of this extreme sleepiness--it was almost a stupor they'd fall into. And it clicked that home always made me sleepy too. A hypnotic peaceful sleepiness. At first I tried to rationalize it. In the summers the buzzing drone of cicadas in the tulip tree weaved a hypnotic spell. And for years there was an old mine shaft up the back road on the opposing hill, whose huge fan was always humming in the background. I thought maybe its white noise was the culprit. But eventually the mine shut down and the fan was turned off, yet still the hypnotic energy of our place in the hollow remained.

I began noticing other things too when I went home. Not only sleepiness, but vivid dreams. And if I stayed more than a day or two, I'd fall into this deeply contemplative state. Always armed with a stack of books (some things never change) I'd delve into deep philosophical subjects and fill my journals with profound reflections. I'd take long strolls up the back road, into the woods, to all of my old haunts. I felt monk-ish--very spiritual, deeply contemplative, fused with nature. Intuitive too. And always there was a feeling of timelessness.

All of my life I've had what I tentatively label "past life" memories. I don't ultimately know what they are, and it doesn't really matter. But whenever I went home those memories would drift to the surface, fleetingly, but with much greater frequency than when I was anywhere else. They'd come to me, brief images, like a slide show set just a little too fast. I could just grasp the mood, the feeling sense, more than anything. The whole constellation of a different time, a different place, a different persona. A familiar feeling-sense--familiar yet different. Exactly like memory. And always an aching sadness, the feeling of loss and beauty. Blissful, but it hurt too.

As a child, I was a dreamer--in daylight and in sleeping hours. As a teenager, when I was obsessed with the works of Jung, I kept a dream journal for several years. Some mornings I would wake up recalling as many as seventeen dreams. A frequent dream motif was the black bear. Usually these were very pleasant dreams, but occasionally there was an ounce of healthy fear.

It occurred to me that the black bear is a perfect symbol for the energy of the landscape of my childhood. Sleepy, contemplative, dreamy, fused with the natural world. When I moved to Colorado the black bear dreams stopped, but they've been replaced by occasional mountain lion dreams. I can remember the exact night this change occurred.

It was when I had been living in Colorado for a year. I had just weaned my son and decided to go off into the mountains for my first weekend alone since his birth. The first night I was camping I was brought bolt upright in the tent twice with dreams of incredible realism. In the first dream, a black bear and her cub simply walked through my campsite and moved on. In the second dream, a mountain lion silently padded into camp on magnificent huge paws and flopped down. It seemed like something was trying to get my attention with these dreams--I can't remember another time I was brought bolt upright by a dream, let alone two in one night. I think all the dreams were saying was that the mountain lion somehow reflected my new life in the West, whereas the black bear had represented my life (and the energy of the land) back in Pennsylvania.

Today, though, I'm still a dreamy, contemplative person. Would I be who I am had I grown up immersed in a different sort of energy? I think not. The energy of this new place is certainly shaping me, but that specific terrain in Pennsylvania that held me for my first seventeen-and-a-half years really created me and defined me, and defines me still.

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