Stories from the Field
Updated: Mar 11
Sense of Place
Written whilst Artist in Residence at SOLA ( school of living arts) in Candler North Carolina. January 2020
This morning I rambled far off the edges of trails. I was set on following a creek to its source up high into the hills. It is my third day here at SOLA, as an artist in residence. I am walking to find my sense of place here. I don’t know what that means exactly but I know how it feels when it arrives. Inspired by it's singing to me from across the valley yesterday, I made an arrangement with a brook that it would keep me company on my return. The forest was especially quiet today as I entered into its mid-winter tone.
My presence seemed particularly imposing at first. I started out walking hard and fast. Someone once described me as a greyhound being released from its trap in a race, as I entered a studio full of intention and readiness for work. I have never forgotten that description. I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or an insult but I think I could quite see the fit of it. It comes back to mind as I march out of my car into nature, stamping my way out into the wilderness, liberated from my vehicular cage. I am a rough stone dropped into the river of trees to be smoothed out, at once tumbling though the white water till I find my calm spot in the understory and can allow the place to become me.
I love to walk uphill, the pull in my legs and the thump of my heart, the drawing up. It feels purposeful. I breathe into it, fully and freely and even love the slowing down that inevitably arrives as I outdo, and then overdo myself and find my pace. Years of annual silent Zen retreats have grown me very accustomed to walking with my breath and finding my rhythm. Inhalations, exhalations, and inspirations have been going together inside me for a long time.
I almost reached the stream, and see the banks are two ribbons of mossy bright verdant greens amongst the greying lavenders and brown umber of last Fall’ s decaying leaves. I take a moment to notice the large oak leaves before reaching the stream. I kneel on the earth. Still holding their full form though crumpled some, their spines are more noticeable and transparent sections of burgundy woven thread veins are intersecting with spots of mauve and yellow ochre left behind. I look up and see the multitudinous, and exquisite tiny sculptures of impermanence surrounding me. Who said, artist ’s mature as they appreciate tertiary colors? That thought has stuck a long time too. It could have been Goethe in a Theory of Colour.
The stream beckons, as they do. I looked way up to the tree-lined ridges where the sun was yet to crown. It is biting cold in the shadows, stopping for any amount of time won't feel good today. Thinking of that warm golden globe rising up on the other side made me feel colder, I reminded myself I was well dressed for sub-zero temperatures, in multiple layers of wools. The chilliness though still managed to work its way through the cracks; my wrists and my ankles. I moved on.
I have been citified these last six years in Asheville. Petrified in the stony use of the word. Even though I city -walk and include all the hills, it is very different work for the body to be on uneven ground and having to become fluid-like, adapting to the changes. I was beginning to notice all the split-second decisions my feet were making, moving along the icy rocks and wet mossy edges of the stream.
It had been a while since I rambled off trail like this. It was invigorating. Delight was working its way, a little unexpectedly in its measure, to the center of my being. I had forgotten how this feels already. It hasn’t been that long but so easily forgotten. A smile surely crept across my face as I remembered how happy I can feel in this form. Almost at the very same time, I thought of getting lost and freezing up here and not having enough water. Citified I am, indeed.
I began to list all the off-trail rambles of this 41-year life in my mind. Back along chronologically I traversed my memories, retrieving adventures of all kinds of lands I have encountered, till I arrived into the childhood days.
l have always been a rambler. With each uneven footfall there comes relief to me. With each gasping uphill breath more alive. I feel a connectedness, grow right out of the curiosity that this brings to me. In the newness of being in a forest or a natural landscape that is not structured by the line of a path, having to climb over fallen branches or under low lying trees encrusted with fungi, clambering over rocks, finding caves and overhangs, watching my step along leaf-covered slopes, an inner skillset reawakens. In the watching there is becoming for me, I am a wide-eyed observer making first-time discoveries. Nothing is the same, of aquamarine lichens dripping from trees and velvet moss-covered trunks, leaves, happening upon surprising rock formations, streams mapping their way down the hills, fording their way, designing the land. I am as if in a painting forever being made. My hand leaning to steady me by the rough oak bark, pulling myself forward, I am eight years old again and every year of my life thus far.
Each rock’s markings here are swirled like tiny river’s tributaries took part in their making, then covered in bright Indian yellow sunbursts with powder blue dots. It is a gallery of visions. I began to feel filled like arriving home to a meal beautifully prepared for me or hearing a song on the radio for the first time as if it was written entirely for me. There is something integral that draws me to rambling this way. It takes its time and comes in softly around my edges before finding its seat inside my heart. This is a gallery-like no other where all the art can be seen or not seen. Mostly not, mostly its being is enough. That, in itself, helps me to understand far more the origin of beauty. Or, refreshes in me the well of knowledge that creativity and art are coming from a mysterious place that is entirely generous and cares little for how it is received. It is it's becoming, its being and it's diminishing that is everything and nothing at all. My body begins to relax in this kind of gallery and a freshening breeze comes between my thoughts. Then I have arrived in a sense of place. I am here, lost in the woods and present.
I found myself, saying out loud, I Love you Earth, I have missed you terribly