Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Epiphany You Can't Have

Something circular about my life was completed on Friday, but if I had to tell you what exactly it was that I finished I couldn't truly hold forth. There was simply a feeling of being done with something, and that I could move on.
Where it occurred was unexpected. We were headed home from Maine, the tail end of our trip to celebrate our first anniversary together still ahead of us. Thoreau's Walden Pond was on the way, and we wanted to stop and see what inspired him so much... so we pulled in, talked to the most disinterested woman in the world to get our parking pass, and headed forth.
The pond itself seems a bit of a misnomer. It would be Walden Lake were I in charge of mapping it. Perhaps some limitation of depth or width I'm unaware of stuck it within the "pond" category. But to me if you look out across a body of water and the other side of it is obscured by the mid-day haze... it's a lake.
Semantics aside, it was beautiful. The leaves were only just starting to change, so the spurts of color were rare and far between. The pines, birches and maples were no less beautiful in the bright sunlight, though, and the sounds of children playing on the makeshift beach (screaming THERE'S A SHARK IN THE WATER! followed by shrieks and splashing that signaled the hasty exit of the whole group) gave the air of familiarity to the place. It was most definitely a place embraced by the people of Concord, and from all the trail work it was evident that it was well loved and protected.
As we walked, I looked around and wondered aloud to my husband how many people came to this place hoping for their own epiphany like Thoreau had, and how many went away disappointed because it was water and trees like so many other places in parks. My husband paused a moment, then said that the people who came here didn't come for their own epiphanies. They were coming to have Thoreau's... and they would not have it, because they were not Thoreau. But perhaps they would understand better why these thoughts arose.
My husband is a wise man... I had to agree. If you were not there to treat this place as a park, you were there on some eco-pilgrimage trying to become the Eye Observing Itself in nature.
I looked around me. I looked up. I looked down. I looked at the details, and zoomed out to the big picture. It was water. And earth. And trees. And it was not the location at all, but the man that was capable of the thoughts brought about by this location. One could just as equally unlock the mysteries of the universe seated next to a dumpster as out here. I suppose I knew this, but the lack of anything hushed or sacred about the place did tip something over in my heart to run out through my feet. Disappointment, I suppose? Expectations are a bitch when they're not met.
It was the gift of Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman that originally started me on my journey as eco-warrior, that drove me to take up classes in Seattle and have a turbulent second and partial third decade of my life. I still have the books saved from that long ago Christmas, hardback editions with beautiful paper covers that held bold black and white images of the writers, seemingly serene in front of the lens. When I found these men quoted in Buddhist compilations the part of me that is still a teenager wiggled in joy and read avidly on, seeking the connection between those first words that drove me to seek and my path now.
It smelled like a lake. I couldn't get over that it SMELLED like a lake. Like the Vatican should be discovered to have a mild scent of urine about it. And then I laughed at myself for thinking that any body of water wouldn't smell like any other body of water I'd hiked around.
So there it was. The meaning is in the man. You bring with you whatever a place is going to be for you. Which I suppose I knew in the back of my mind from my Buddhist studies, but the clearness of it was like a smack to the forehead. Thoreau could come here and add his thoughts to the Transcendental movement because he was Thoreau, thinking his thoughts, basing it on his knowledge.
We stood in front of the replica of Thoreau's cottage and the statue out front in bronze that was chained to a nearby tree for some reason (these small details make my day) and I felt something close in my mind. As if the child that I was, the one that craved to be one with the nature around me, that wanted the experience of those early fathers of environmentalism, could finally understand how and why these things occurred. More importantly, why people love what they love and defend it ferociously. I walked away from the cabin somewhat quieter, feeling relieved for reasons I didn't understand yet. My husband held my hand, sensing as he does in his intuitive way that something had shifted in my skull, and I tried to tell him what was going on in my head but the words failed me. So much of my life is sensation, movement and pictures that conveying it poses problems. It was easiest just to tell him I was starting to understand why people love people, places, things... something that had always eluded me and puzzled me.
It's because you bring it with you to love something, and when you are confronted with it your heart leaps out to meet it, happy to have finally recognized it.
Walden Pond is water. It is very loved water, and a beautiful place. I took my epiphanies -that were not epiphanies at all but the resurfacing of things I had known for a while but been unable to practicably apply- brought about by staring at a reconstruction of a building that hadn't existed for decades, and got in the car and drove on towards home.

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