I was born in the Rocky Mountains and have lived most of my life in the shining city on a swamp that is (the area in and around) DC. But ever since my parents took us for a car trip up into the Blue Ridge Mountains — down into the Luray Caverns, high up into the twisty roads around the mountains — a large part of my soul has lived up in those most ancient of mountains. I can conjure the feeling of cloud shadows on the mountain to self-comfort whenever I need and, every morning when I meditate, I invoke meadows full of moths and trees growing out of old rocks. And when, in Wendell Berry’s words, “despair for the world grows in me/ and I wake in the night at the least sound/in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,” I literally head for the hills.
I’ve been busy of late. I’ve taken on a lot of commitments related to the Nov. 6th election; I have a big presentation to prepare for an occult group; the recent rains have left my garden too full of weeds (wood sorrel — I hate that stuff); there’s a family wedding in the offing; I have kale, and collards, and bok choy to pick and process; I’m still trying to “really” organize the family photographs; I want to have dinner with my grandson; the dark moon is this weekend. And so every day I wake up, meditate, pull weeds (but not enough), and then work, and work, and work.
But today, I lifted my spirit up into the hills.
A dear friend and I drove up, up, up — up into the lovely blue mountains. It’s said that the blue coloring , noted even by the First Peoples, is due to a chemical that the trees release. Maybe, or maybe it’s just magic. But those mountains are blue, not purple like the mountains in the West, or dry gold, or brown. Those mountains are blue and they are blue all year long, and they call to me and make me whole.
The Virginia Arboretum is at the foot of the mountains and it’s one of my most spiritual places. We all have these, right? The places we go to when we need to feed our spirits, settle our souls, reset everything back to where it should be. The entire arboretum is magical (there’s a secret place where they’re growing experimental American chestnut hybrids, and they have a herb bed that’s special, and the trees planted along the opening circle make a shadow sun dial) but, today, the magic centered on a swampy bit at the center, filled with our recent heavy rains. (There are also standing stones there where I imagine the local Druids gather, and there are community gardens there, full of dahlias, and there are, actually, lots of labeled trees there, including some that have sheltered me when I took conference calls on days when I was not in the office.)
My friend adores swamps — those liminal places between dry land and water, those factories of experimental biology where amphibians swim, seeds float, skies are reflected, land and water plants grow together. And, so, we slowed to watch and were rewarded with a giant white egret, fishing in the swamp. I love ballet and so I couldn’t help but enjoy the stately dance : step — pause — step — pause — snatch a fish (or frog, or snake, or lizard), and then, slowly, in the intense sun: step — pause — step — pause . . . . We watched for the better part of a quarter of an hour or so — long enough for me to sunburn my knee — just so honored and blessed to watch what goes on every day while we’re down in DC, fighting for our lives. I sent a blessing; I hope that lovely egret survives the winter, makes lots of babies, comes back to fish in that swamp . . . .
When it was time to leave, we went to a tiny, country place that makes the best vinegary BBQ in Virginia — no, really — and that is the food of my piplpe — and then to a tiny jewel we’ve discovered: the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
Right now, they have a beautifully-curated exhibit of Mayfield Parrish’s works. Liking Parrish is akin to liking Handel’s Water Music — all the sophisticated people know better. But I’ve long loved Handel and I’ve long loved Parrish. And this exhibit is really, as GreenMan noted, incredibly well presented and full of tiny gems. I fell in love with a screen set Parrish did for a local theatre and a giant panel of Renaissance gentlemen talking to lovely ladies in a window. You have to love this museum — they have a wooden collage of Patsy Cline just outside a great exhibit of Episcopalian Virginia furniture and they have a barn full of old tools just beside a set of windows that mirror a grain silo just across the meadow.
And, then, we drove home.
We drove down, and down, and down, watching the giant clouds, the Maxfield Parrish clouds, gathering up at the edge of the mountains and preparing to spill rain on our shining city on the swamp. We drove down into the horrific traffic (too many people, not enough planet) and back to my weed-filled herb bed.
But I came back with my spirit intact.
May it be so for you.
Photo by Greenman. If you copy, please link back.