Saturday, June 21, 2008

Map Making

Ancient maps often labeled uncharted, unexplored regions with the simple phrase, "Where Dragons Lie."

Last night, needing to think, needing to mull over, chew on, process the events of the last few days, I sat on the deck and watched the light fade. The sun had vanished beneath the horizon and the sky was washed in the pale chic pastels of a Pottery Barn nursery. There was a breeze coming from the east and the windcatcher, a pendulum hanging from the center of the wind chimes, whirled like a dervish in a tight spiral. The high-pitched bell song echoed out into the branch, a small stone making ripples in a small pond.

Where Dragons Lie.

I had just watched, at the suggestion of a friend, a science fiction television show in which a planet was discovered on which life could be maintained only inside a dome. The air and water quality outside had been so contaminated by centuries of industrial growth that life could not be maintained there; the people living in the dome, however, were content. Outside the dome, the area beyond which their maps had been drawn, was of no consequence to them. But, unknown to them, the dome was shrinking.

Where Dragons Lie.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see a jagged streak of heat lightning, bright orange like a hazmat suit. A mockingbird glided through the carport and came to rest on the deck rail, stayed long enough to make sure that I knew he was ignoring me and flew away. I noticed that the lavender I had grown from seed was a little taller, that the zinnias were healthy, that one of the hummingbird feeders would need more food soon.

The crickets and frogs began singing and I realized that I'd not done much thinking, mulling or chewing. Realized that as the day had wound down around me, gotten slower, gotten cooler, gotten quieter that so had my thoughts. And in the quietness I realized that the answer to my dilemma lay at the edges of the map.

We are the cartographers of our own lives. We are handed a compass, a quill and a few sheets of parchment and told to, "Go."

For much of my life I carried mine around in a field jacket and spent my time navigating by the maps that other had made. I picked up those maps at school and at church, at Girl Scouts and summer camp. I tore them out of books and magazines. I picked up several pockets full from my family. And, for the most part, I had a pretty good time. I saw lots of tourist attractions, read lots of historical markers, had my picture made in front of a lot of monuments.

But one day, while stuffing yet another ticket stub into my pocket, I found the compass. Lying in the palm of my hand, its needle quivered and so did my heart. With no hesitation, I threw away the others' maps and set out.

I could have stayed. I could have continued building my dome, making it self-sufficient, brain-washing myself into believing that the curve above my head was real sky, but eventually the dome would have started shrinking and so would I.

Some people are born running toward the edge, ready to explore and excavate. Most of us aren't. Most of us believe in dragons.

I felt a bug bite of some kind and knew it was time to go inside. One more glance around the night landscape. One more deep breath of midsummer air. One more sigh of gratitude for the compass that pointed the way to where dragons lie.

Copyright 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

Layers of Blue

The water wasn't just one color of blue. It was every color of blue. It was the whole blue section of the original Crayola 64 – periwinkle and aquamarine, cornflower and blue green, green blue and turquoise blue.

And it was clear. So clear that I could see sandbars floating just beneath the surface as far as a hundred yards away. Tiny underwater islands that made me think of Atlantis.

The sensation of water on both sides of the road was unsettling and I turned my head from side to side trying to imagine how you measure the tides in such a place. The top was down and I could feel the midday sun radiating through the skin on my arms and legs. The wind snatched at my hair, tugging at random strands as though to lift me straight into the sky like a reverse image Rapunzel.

And then came the bridge. Seven miles long. Flat and straight and narrow, a seam down the middle of the channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Strait. The crayon-colored water was under our feet now, under the levitating asphalt held just out of its reach by concrete pillars. From any direction the view was the same – water stretching to the horizon and melting into sky. Layers and layers of blue.

I'd not really expected this sensual assault. The road trip to Key West was a means to an end: There, at the literal end of the continental United States, I would see my Kate for the first time in a year. I was eager and anxious and wound as tight as Dick's hatband.

Somewhere around Big Pine Key, I think, I gave in. Stopped trying to download like digital photos every image that fell on my retinas. Relaxed my shoulders and let the light and warmth swallow me up. By the time the tires hit the bridge, time didn't matter.

I spent four days in Key West. Kate was a generous and indulgent tour guide. She took me to the Hemingway House and the Robert Frost Cottage. She let me take her picture inside the Butterfly Conservatory and at the "southernmost point" monument. She took me to Mallory Square to see the sunset and ignored my obvious amazement at all the things I saw on Duval Street.

When the time for goodbyes came, I squeezed her tight, reminded her of my love and watched her drive off in the car she'd bought without any help to the job she'd gotten without any help. And I didn't cry.

I was so proud of myself.

Later, several weeks later, this morning as a matter of fact, I finally grasped what my heart had been trying to teach my head. And it wasn't, as I might have guessed, that the journey itself is at least as important as the destination.

The point of all that endless blue water and the indelible image it left on my memory was this: The magic of the journey is directly proportional to the pilgrim's passion for the destination.

I had packed my bags and loaded the car with only one end in mind: Kate, my Kate. A year's holidays had come and gone without her presence. Four times the seasons at Sandhill had changed without her seeing them. Hundreds of sunsets had followed sunrises without her opening the back door and heading to the refrigerator for a Capri Sun.

It was hunger I felt, hunger for the light of her smile, the lilt of her voice, the feel of her half-hug. It was hunger that drove me seven hundred miles. It was hunger that rubbed me sandpaper-raw and opened my eyes to the lessons and the loveliness of the road.

Copyright 2008