Saturday, April 23, 2011

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

The truly brilliant and always-grounded Athenae has up a great weekend post asking people to discuss the most transformative trips they've ever taken. What a great question!

One thing that amazes me is how, for most of her commenters, the important trips were trips into nature. Oddly, one of my most important trips, much as I always push a connection with nature, was a trip from the mountains and woods to a city.

As I answered at Athenae's blog, one of the most transformative trips that I ever took was when I was five and my family moved from rural Colorado ("my city of mountains, stay with me, stay") to Washington, D.C. For that little, impressionable Pisces, walking off of the train into a city of marble monuments and heroic statues was completely transformative. My entire conception of what the world was and could be changed when I moved from wooded mountainsides to a city full of architecture and gardens devoted to an heroic archetype of democracy. I fell madly in love (and fifty years later, I am only that much more devoted) with every carved marble wheat sheaf and arrow, every faux-Grecian column, every naked woman representing some high-minded ideal (bite me, John Ashcroft, no, really), every amazing painting calling to me from the walls of a museum. I gave myself all the way to the United States Botanical Garden, to the National Arboretum, to the fountains (Lit! At night! I'd never seen a fountain before, not to mention imagined that they could be lit up at night! Kennedy was in the WH, it was Camelot in DC, the entire city seemed, to me, full of sparkling fountains that shone all night long. And there were ladies in pillbox hats and amazingly-constructed dresses w/ princess seams, wearing 3/4 length gloves! 3/4 length!).

I still love to retreat to the mountains, although, now, for me, five decades later, it is the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains that soothe my soul. I haven't been to the Rockies for forty years. And I've been v happy during some long, long trips to the California coast. But in my dreams, I am still, most often, in a very wet city on the edge of a river, a city full of marble monuments and archetypical statues.

Just last night, I dreamed that there was a wonderful arts program inside the Capitol, run by a brilliant and energetic young woman. I was hosting a young teen-age woman interested in government and art and, finding ourselves downtown with a bit of extra time, I decided to drive her to the Capitol to check out the arts program. We drove past statues that, while they do not exist in the "mundane" D.C., most certainly do exist in the archetypical DC: statues of heras, and feminine beasts, and deep principles. My (long dead) mother and I walked our guest into the Capitol which turned out to be, as only the not-so-"mundane" Capitol really is, full of open skylights that a young woman might step through and hurt herself and large bookshelves that she could climb on and pull over on herself. And, yet, we got our guest up to the front to meet the young hera running the history and arts program and, when I awoke to put myself magically back into the dream and started to soothe over the dangers, my young guest showed up in my not-awake-not-asleep dream and said, "Please, don't. I like it better like that." She's right. So do I. I love this city best with all of its dangers and pitfalls. Especially the ones that people mean when they sneer about "inside the Beltway."

I opened up and embraced them half a century ago when I was five. One of the first dreams that I ever had of this city was when I was six and dreamed that I was swimming in a fountain at the pool of Blessed Mary's feet, just outside Union Station, looking up and watching her nod to me. (There is no such "real" place in the "mundane" city, not even at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which somehow transposed itself with Union Station in my dream.) When I was six, Mary was the only image that I had for the divine feminine. Today, I see that ancient dream as my first attempt to connect to (swim in the water of) Columbia's symbolic city. May I swim here until I die. May you dream yourself into your own most important landscape.

How would you answer Athenae?

When you bring a child to a magical place, you can't be surprised if she spends half a century or so living there, both physically and in her dreams. Where will you take the most important child in your life?

Picture found here.


Teacats said...


I lived near there for a few precious years in the early 1970s. Just wanted to hug each and every thing I saw. One of the places that I loved visiting was the old shop of Culpepers.

The British Museum.

And surrounding and astounding sights like Stonehenge (in those strange days visitors could go right up to the stones)


Never got to go to Glastonbury (sigh.) On the bucket list.

And especially to Treadwells. A place on my bucket list.

And to the Chelsea Physic Garden. Another one.

Makarios said...

I was a big city boy and had never travelled farther than the farmlands of Wisconsin. Then, when I was 14, we took a trip to Colorado--to "the Springs" (Manitou and Colorado). The natural beauty knocked me sideways.

I'm still a city boy, but one of the joys of livinig where I do now is the proximity to the Coast Mountains. Though I've been living in sight of them for years, they still have the capacity to take my breath away.