Teri Orr: So very close…
I was talking to a deeply connected soul friend visiting here the other night about a place we both hold dear — the red cliffs in the mountains of northern New Mexico. The burnt oranges and coral and cream and slight chocolaty brown rocks that look like sundaes melting. Those unimaginable shapes and colors that surround the land where Georgia O’Keeffe had a place called Ghost Ranch.
My friend spends a lot of time there and he said the folks who run the Presbyterian camp in the valley call the space — “a thin place.” I had an idea what he meant but I asked anyway. He said it was a place where the veil between heaven and earth was so close — it was thin.
And I knew exactly what he meant and where some of those places exist for me — the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state but just three water miles from Canada. Where old growth forests tumble into the sea and whales spout and eagles nest and the water lapping on the side of the boat creates a rhythm meant to alter time and space.
The river bed of the Escalante in the shadow of the Grand Staircase rock formation. Where one night with my son and his wife and their two teenagers we saw every single star in the constellations in the ink black sky on a clear cold Thanksgiving night.
Oliver’s Camp in Tanzania last summer where new friends were really old soul lost friends reunited and the warm days allowed us time to stare in utter and complete wonder at seeing the most magnificent creatures on the planet run and walk and swim — free of fear of poachers. And each time our vehicle stopped to observe — our previously chatty car silenced — in awe of being in the space between the space in the circle of life.
It happens here often — especially in the summer when day quietly becomes what the Scottish call — the gloaming — where twilight is creeping in and you start to make out the first stars as the veil between light and dark reveals the shapes randomly and then the patterns.
Sometimes I think I can feel the thin place when I am with dear friends. Where the laughter and heartstrings are so close the words are just extra. The wordless shoulder hug, the shared grade school giggle at an inappropriate time, the tissue for the tear.
My visiting friend shared a story I needed to hear last night at dinner. I was frustrated in the lack of progression with a work problem I was trying to solve. And he told me a story…
He had sent a new young staff member to interview an elderly donor and try to get an oral history about a deceased artist. She returned after a few hours dismayed. There had been martinis and the much, much older woman was hard to understand. After hours of conversation she had returned with only a couple of paragraphs of actual history about the subject. My friend laughed and told she done great — considering the woman she was interviewing was “105 years old and drunk.”
It is a matter sometimes of perspective.
So this week when the rains came with the wind and it blew tree branches across the yard and gravel-like drops pelted the windows and it reminded us of Seattle or a tiny coastal town near San Francisco or Boston. I sat with a dear friend together in the late afternoon and we watched rain puddles. It looked like invisible hands were skipping invisible rocks over them. And the rain made noise. It dripped on the deck railing. It bounced and pattered off the wet wooden porch. It made the tree trunks dark and strange faces emerge in the bark.
On a gray cloudy rainy day when we have to work and can’t just curl up with a book by the fire — it is a different kind of frustration and longing. Remembering that rainy time on the docked boat when there was no place to go and nothing to do but read and be rocked and be grateful for the brownie mix with nuts (!) you found in a cupboard to bake.
Yesterday too I saw green skinny shoots, in the tiny rock garden, on the edge of the yard, quite by accident. I was in the car backing out of my driveway and another car drove past — very slowly on the street — so I couldn’t do my customary peel and roll maneuver. I looked down next to my car and there they were in my tiny rock garden … if memory serves me right — the shape of crocus and tulips and hyacinth leaves starting their journey back.
And when I think about mysteries of the universe, flowers often rank right up there with the stuff Stephen Hawking tried to explain. I mean how do tulips know to pop up again with straight shoots and still produce a pink flower? Or the purple hyacinth? Or the bachelor buttons? What is the coding that tells them how to make a flower and not say — a potato or grass or a tree? And maybe there is a thin place there too — between the science and the logic and the amazing illusion of normalcy of nature that should remind mere mortals to treat each spring with the complete and utter wonder it deserves.
Renewal. Spring promises after the snow melts away the months of monochromatic whiteness all will be replaced with shouts of color. That vibrant spring green that takes naked trees and dresses them all producing leafy figures. The yellow of the columbine — the sage blue and the purple thyme ground cover. You cannot not be hopeful and joyful and amazed at spring and the hope it brings unbidden. Sometimes remembering we live in a thin place is enough to make me grateful — especially this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Columnist Amy Roberts asks whether we are so far removed from reality and the natural world that filing a police report seems like an acceptable course of action after spotting a moose in the mountains.