Writing About Spaces

Something has been nagging me as we’ve discussed ‘spaces’ in our seminars. At first I thought it was something to do with the space I’m going to write my essay on. Then I realized it didn’t have to do with that at all—it had to do with the very process of writing about space. It finally hit me today: I’ve done this before. I was seventeen, on a fishing/camping trip with my dad and brothers. I was sitting on a rock in the middle of Wyoming nowhere, trying to figure myself out. Reading over it again I can see it's something I still haven't resolved; perhaps I should write about it again, and try harder to name the space this time. But here, in all its plain, hand-written, mostly un-edited honesty, is my first experience with writing about space:

Have you ever missed someone and not known who you were missing? I look around at all these astounding sights, and I feel like someone else belongs here too. I even catch myself turning to empty air to point something out, or forming remarks that are never made because the addressee is unknown. I’ve gone through images of my friends trying to find the one that fits, but although some are close, none of them quite match.
The country here is so vast and remote, but of itself it does not seem lonesome. Rather, it seems to invite the solitary: A craggy peak breaks the sky; a tree rises alone from a hillside of sagebrush; a large boulder sits in the center of a river. The land, air, and water all call for me to leave my family and sit on my own, but once there they increase my loneliness in a beautiful, tugging way. The wind blows across a lake and whistles through the trees and through my ears; waves are created that attempt to scale the boulder on which I’m perched. They all talk to me, and I seem so far from alone, but I’m distanced by the fact that I cannot speak their language.
A massive boulder surveys several bends in a river, and raises me enough to again see the mountain peaks above the river bluffs. Fish jump here and there, and an Osprey makes a breathtaking dive in search of dinner. I can’t see if it succeeded, but two crows follow it closely as it flies off into the distance. The sun is playing with the mountains as it sets, highlighting some and throwing others into shadow. Clouds and the sun’s descent alter the picture unceasingly, like nature’s kaleidoscope.
Way off I can see my family gathered around tying flies for tomorrow’s fishing. I’m the only one not involved. I’ve enjoyed the fishing as well (and have sunburns to prove it), but I needed a bit of solitude, and they understood.
There’s an empty space beside me on the boulder, and again I turn, and almost manage to see the person I’m coming to expect, gazing at the river as I have been doing. They appreciate the sights and sounds as I do, and this time I feel no urge to speak to them.
The sun drops lower, and this river valley and most of the mountains rest in shadow. A cool breeze makes me shiver, and as I glance around I realize I can see no other signs of civilization than our small campsite. How many people have seen this? How many of those stopped to notice and appreciate it?
When you’re this alone so many people go through your mind. I can see people I’ve not talked to for years as though they are here. They take their turns on the rock beside me, but none stay long. Some laugh, and remind me of time spent together; some cry, and I cry at time lost. Others simply smile or wink, and then they’re on their way. And there’s still at least one that I cannot place, which frustrates me to no end; to him I write these musings: my solitary friend.



Sky said...

Shannon, I really relate to your feelings. Sometimes I think I see this person missing from my life, who should be there, or will be there--just a faint shadow or a hint of a presence walking near to protect me, or sometimes, I see a shape in a cloud, or hear him in a song, or certain ocean smell, and the longing in me wells up big with the empty space. And I think, "Who is this? My brother? Who is this?" We all long for our "home," no matter who or where that is--this place, this someone where we fit, where we belong. And even though this sounds very sentimental and romantic, I don't think we'll ever be satisfied until we go home again. I can't believe I just wrote this.

Chan said...

I remember talking about sunsets and beauty in a high-school English class, everyone saying things like, "oooohh, I love staring at a sunset," or "that's where life gets meaning, in the beauty of things." While they may have all been lying--it was high-school--I couldn't (and still to a degree can't) relate to feeling just...pleasure, contentedness in beauty and nature. I recognize beauty, but it's usually full of longing for something I can't ever pin down. It's gilt-edged discomfort, but it's discomfort. Sometimes I feel like I want to merge with the whole thing and can't; sometimes I think I want someone, the right one (a her), to wholly share it with me; sometimes I think the neurotransmitter faucets in my brain are stuck open or shut, not sure which, and my feelings are a chemical phenomenon. I believe that some people enjoy sunsets, period. Some people drink from wells, and some people fall in them, I guess.

Sky said...

Chan, I read this post to Megan (my daughter), and she said "He's so smart." Thought I'd pass that on.
She reminded me of the scripture I took my book title from in ... hmmm...where? Can't remember. Something about--we are all strangers living in a strange land.
I do not think anyone exists who is just wired mentally to stay happy (from looking at sunsets or whatever). I have moments of ecstatic peace from nature (mountains and temples are such great places of peace), but they're just moments--then the "longing" you speak of--the "gilt-edged discomfort" moves in quickly. In fact, it's this feeling that first sent me on my life-long search for God. I have always felt uncomfortable, like my "home" was somewhere else. Homesickness is my earthly condition. It lessoned--at times, momentarily again--when I married someone I loved, but for me it's been a constant--and I believe it's like that for most people if they got really honest about their insides. After searching most of my life, I now believe this is not our true home. Sunsets and "beauty" remind me--way back in the corner of my mind--of some place else--a place I KNOW exists and long to return to, a place I will keep all the commandments to find again. Like Wordsworth's poem, "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/...we come/
From God, who is our home...."
I agree with Megan. You write about it well--and honestly. (But, you just can't resist that joke at the end, though it was a great ending.)

Chan said...

Have you ever read the Chronicles of Narnia? There's a part in The Last Battle when they're all in Heaven. It's the same landscape, Narnia, but it's grander, more clear, more substantial. I think (it's been a while) that the characters conclude that Heaven is the real Narnia; the place they've been living in was shadow. So maybe dying is, in reference to Wordsworth, an awakening to reality and home. That would be nice.

Thanks for letting me know that your daughter thinks I'm smart. I agree, but I think my work ethic needs to catch up. Why couldn't I have grown up on a farm?