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)