(Essay 1) Kinship and Power of Place by Sara Wright

Rams Head by Georgia Okeeffe

Rams Head by Georgia Okeeffe

What do I mean by the word kinship? I believe that kinship is the idea, and the belief that all aspects of nature from photons to galaxies are connected to one another. Practically, I think of kinship as my feeling/sense of being intimately linked to place/landscape. In my mind Kinship and Place are not only related, each is shaped by the other.

The powers of place are invisible threads that work on me by exerting a kind of physical and psychic pressure, pulling me into relationship; place acts like an attractor site. My body behaves like a lightning rod or perhaps a tuning fork picking up information from the landscape. Once I have heard the “call” the door opens through my relationship with elements, trees, animals, stars or stones, to name a few possibilities. As this presence manifests through its individuals, place begins to teach me what I need to know about an area and how I might best live in harmony with a particular landscape, if not its people. This learning occurs in bursts or very slowly just below the threshold of everyday consciousness. Either way, information seeps in through my body as I listen and pay close attention to what my senses are telling me. I allow animals, trees, plants to speak to me in their native language, and I note synchronistic occurrences. Information also comes to me through dreams. Eventually a discernible pattern emerges. My body acts as the bridge between my self and Nature; my body is the vehicle that keeps me connected to the whole.

 

Ironically, I never heard the phrase “power of place” used until the 90’s. Yet, this force has driven my entire life spanning almost seventy-one years. As a toddler I was already “reading” and absorbing landscapes through rain, flowers, the presence of deer, stars, and the moon. This first intimate relationship with place occurred on my grandparents’ pre-revolutionary farm with its attendant fields, brook, and forest. I found  “home” with the land and my love of Nature sustained me. As an adolescent, power of place fatally snagged me with Monhegan Island, an artist’s paradise located off the coast of Maine with its beautiful cliffs and raging seas; I moved there after college, married a fisherman, and my two sons were born during those years (I use the word “fatally” deliberately because accompanying the call is a sense of being pulled into the “right” place for unknown reasons. To live one’s Fate is another way to express this calling). On Southport, another island, 300 year-old apple trees cried out to me, and a diminutive 1700’s cape style house embraced me after my divorce.  After my children were grown I heard the sound of “wilderness” keening and I moved to the western mountains of Maine seeking the source of that call, the one I called the Mountain Mother. The Mother of Stone.

 

My initial experience with place is one that usually occurs through joy and wonder, followed by a visceral feeling of belonging, the best kind of natural high. After a time the joyful aspect continues intermittently, as I become more deeply enmeshed in a landscape through relationships with its particular features… Experiencing joy also opens me to sorrow (For example, moving to the mountains brought the plight of the trees to the center of my attention.) Love and loss are related.

 

During the past three years joy has once again absented herself and once again I am dreaming of the desert… I feel like I have lost access to the positive relationship that I have had with these mountains, a relationship that has sustained me for many years. There are many reasons I could give and all involve change. The massive tree destruction, noise, gunning, chaotic neighbors are concrete examples of negative changes that have profoundly impacted me. I still experience deep pleasure in particulars like the unfurling leaves and the first mayflowers, my love of birds, the few bears that continue to visit now and then, but I feel overwhelming sadness overall, though I retain a deep love for the land as a whole and my small log cabin.  Do the powers of this place understand that I need to leave at least for a time in order to regain my perspective? As I continue to converse with the land that I love I feel that She is giving me permission to let go at least for now.

 

Running parallel with all these feelings is the powerful sense that I need to return to the desert. I first visited this timeless world in my early twenties just after I lost my only brother. That first time the desert was unable to penetrate the haze of this young woman’s grief. It wasn’t until mid-life after another series of losses that returning to the desert helped me re-capture my lost soul. How this happened remains a mystery to me but it has everything to do with the powers of place. The desert has a healing aspect to it that is unlike any other. What I did was to surrender myself to the Desert Mother while asking one question: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? After six months in the Sonoran desert, I returned east feeling whole, having recaptured my joy, and ready to return to college. That was 20 years ago and in retrospect I see that the choice to return to school was a sound one because it helped shape my teaching and writing life and it gave me my first experience with a community of like-minded people.

 

A year ago an artist I knew moved to Abiquiu, New Mexico, and last spring she invited me to visit her. Here was the chance I had been waiting for! Most astonishing to me was that of all the deserts I wanted to visit Abiquiu New Mexico was at very the top of my list because the artist Georgia O’Keeffe lived there during the latter part of her life and painted some of her most astonishing desert paintings in this amazing world of wide open blue sky, stars, and stone. Although I never met her, Georgia has been a mentor to me, a beacon of hope, because I believe that she experienced Nature in much the same the way as I do, and she allowed the powers of place to influence her decision making too. I admired O’Keeffe’s tenacity and refusal to live her life according to other people’s expectations. She lived an authentic, self-directed life. I accepted the invitation to visit the high desert with much gratitude.

(To be continued)

See Meet Mago Contributor, Sara Wright.

 

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12 thoughts on “(Essay 1) Kinship and Power of Place by Sara Wright

  1. I am presently living in the high desert of Abiquiu New Mexico. I reach out in desperation, asking “powers of place” to help me find a way to survive the losses that all women will be experiencing in this post election haze of fear and defeat. According to ” The Guardian”53% of American women voted for a misogynist – the likes of which we have never seen before. What this tells me is that women in this country do not support one another; they support the dominant culture at their own expense.

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      • I haven’t yet read the article you sent but I would like to see a lot of discussion about this election on MAGO about how we got here – all of us – white women included. Some women also chose to vote for a third party candidate instead of HRC which also helped her to lose. What this says to me is that women of every ethnic group are repeating a pattern that has been devastating to the Women’s Movement as a whole – women splitting away from women from the inside out through getting caught up in “feminisms” etc. This time the consequences are catastrophic – for women, for men, and most of all for the Earth. Unlike many I did not believe the polls because I am aware of the underlying hatred women have for other women. I taught Women’s Studies at the University for too many years not to have learned that. We have to face it – women betrayed other women with their votes.

        As a woman with mixed heritage – Native American and White – I am in a minority group who will be targeted for discrimination in ways that I probably can’t imagine. I am experiencing a lot of fear. I am a woman without a country and where does a woman without a country go from here?

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        • Dear Sara,

          I appreciate your conversation. You are not alone. Feminists who are beyond nationalism are not alone. Because we chose to refuse isolating ideologies of nationalism. I hear that feminists are hampered by either burn-out or fear. This is something each of us needs to work inwardly. Actually no one can do it for us, if we want to be be well. After all, there are things that we can’t do in our life time, no matter how hard we work for. We have to let go of them. But there are a lot of things we can do in our life time. That we will have to figure out among ourselves. I have found some and have done a few things such as RTM and the Mago Work projects. I want our minds to meet and seek something we can do collectively. Our hearts and souls are calling us to be together. You have given so much to RTM. May what you give return what you seek! In Mago Sisterhood, Helen

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          • Helen, you know, i would love to see this kind of dialogue MAGO’S site. Right now I think feminists need other feminists to be speaking to the crisis we now find ourselves in. Naturally each of us has to work through our fears or burnout individually. But it would help a lot if we shared those processes with one another, rather than forcing individuals to be isolated during a time of such upheaval.

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        • Detached from nationalism means that we are not taking such analysis personally. We have a new lens to see things widely and broadly. It is time to see that. However tone this article puts it, I am not taking it as a blame. It is not about you but a group of white women who have shown a distinctive voting preference. In fact, I am not for HC either. So don’t get me wrong! Let’s not be invested in this phenomenon personally and emotionally. We don’t want to hurt ourselves. It is like the practice of mindfulness meditation. We see, know, and sense but let them go; be and live without being harmed by them! That is what I try to do each time and every day!

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  2. The Sonoran desert has claimed me. I never expected it to even welcome me. I understand power of place and I knew the desert would be the most intense place to both know and live. The bare bones of all beings and the earth itself are unveiled in this desert. I could not imagine living anywhere else. It is a great gift that I also live very close to canyons and mountains. Ponderosa Pines speak a unique language.

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