I know a place

by Jennifer on September 2, 2008

It was a perfect moment, one that I would have missed five minutes later. A lake in the mountains. An empty beach. The water still but for where it simmered with fish far from shore. The mountains reflected on the surface.

I drove up and parked just in time to see a blue heron stepping through the water near shore. His steps were slow and careful, and he seemed to take no notice of me. In fact, I was really the only thing that seemed out of place. No wonder the crows screamed at me. Almost overhead, turkey vultures spun through the air, circling above something that I couldn’t see, on top of a hill. By counting the shadows they cast against the face of the cliff, I could have counted the vultures without ever looking right at them.

I watched until the heron disappeared into the reeds at the edge of the water.

There was nothing to mar the moment, not another person in sight. A moment just for me, and every bit of peace I needed.

Over the weekend, I was writing some very old stories–things I would rather not think about–in the hopes that in stirring up the water I can describe what has been lying on the bottom all this time. It is said that “pain is good for art,” and that’s true. But first, pain is just pain. It’s necessary work, and will come to something when I’m done, but for a day or so, I felt like I had an emotional hangover, like I had imbibed too much on the past. I managed a hasty retreat, though, because I need my life to look better than it did from there. I’m lucky to have a choice about that, to look for the nearest exit.

Suffering chases down all of us, sooner or later–none of us makes it safely over the wall. Maybe I got more than my share back then, but now I feel pretty lucky that my sister and I are as healthy as we are, that even though we drew the short stick in one lottery, we won something substantial in the next one: the strength to pull it together and live decent lives. That’s not bad, as luck goes.

Tonight, as I was looking through some old posts, the ones that focus on my family, I came across a quote that my sister Ducky left in a comment:

Sometimes what appears to be a catastrophe over time becomes a strong foundation from which to live a good life. It’s possible to live a good life even though it isn’t an easy life.  -Rachel Naomi Remen

And then I looked at my notes for this post, where I had written: “All of our history is tamped down and firm, one day upon the last, the ground as solid as it gets.”

That sounds an awful lot like a foundation.

I wonder if I make it harder than it has to be, the way I excavate the past. The only thing I can say to that is that I know there are some valuable artifacts to be found, some things to bring to the surface, to polish and study. Or to bury again.

It’s hard, messy work.

But when I need a moment, when I need to see something beautiful, when I need to feel at peace, I know a place.

And I hear it’s not that crowded on Thursday mornings.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Louise September 2, 2008 at 3:21 am

I’m glad you have a place. A place with blue water that reflects the mountains. Everyone needs a place like that.

You wonder if you make it harder than it has to be. I don’t know. Maybe. But from my own experience, I see that sometimes I’m not doing the excavating. It’s just there. Like the rocks in Missouri soil. They just come up on their own, unbidden by anyone. They have to be picked up and removed like the rocks before them. And there will be more. The job is never easy. Sometimes it’s back-breaking. Sometimes you don’t even know they are there until you break a blade on the tiller or get a giant one jammed in the blades. Those are the worst because you didn’t even see them, and they are the most trouble to put away.
But even though they will forever come to the surface–FOREVER–it seems that if we keep them cleared out as they appear, the job gets a little easier over time, and a little less frequent. Yes, every now and then there is a giant one, but the trend is improving.

And after a day or two of getting rid of those stones, a break is in order. A break to a quiet place with water and mountains.

Louises last blog post..A Letter From the Art Teacher

RiverPoet September 2, 2008 at 4:48 am

If life were a picnic, we would be lily-livered, weak-spirited pushovers. We wouldn’t know a thing about standing up to adversity and downright evil. I know it isn’t easy, but knowing where you came from can give you a good sense of where you want to go, because you won’t want to go down that same old road ever again.

I love that you have a place to go that cleanses your soul after a particularly rough excavation. It’s good to have that…

Wonderful post, as always – D

RiverPoets last blog post..Honk on Approach

apathy lounge September 2, 2008 at 5:26 am

I would love a place like that. Really.

apathy lounges last blog post..The Calm Before

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana September 2, 2008 at 5:55 am

I wish the past was not that way, but you have harnessed it for good. Beautiful post.

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvanas last blog post..Potluck postponed due to impending holiday

Denise September 2, 2008 at 6:36 am

Wow. We’re a lot alike…you and me.

I’m so glad you used the term “emotional hangover.” That seems to put into verbal context many mornings I have. And “the way I excavate the past”. I do that all the time.

I love the quote your sister wrote. I will have to write that one down and remember it.

Denises last blog post..Every Now and Then

Emily R September 2, 2008 at 7:10 am

The idea is that suffering is good for the soul. But, I struggle with exactly what you wrote here, because I surely don’t want my own children to be strengthened the way I was… I think about it all the time.

Jenn @ Juggling Life September 2, 2008 at 7:41 am

I find it so interesting that I lived through my 20’s and 30’s without ever (or rarely) considering my past and now (in my 40’s) feel such a strong need to examine and write about it. Pain and all.

Jenn @ Juggling Lifes last blog post..A Fly In The Ointment

Madge September 2, 2008 at 7:47 am

beautiful post. i’m so glad you are going on your thursday drives…..

does that mean we are not playing scrabble on thursday? what the heck am i supposed to do all day?

Madges last blog post..He Cheated On Me

Ann September 2, 2008 at 8:48 am


This is really so wonderful, simply because it’s so profound and universal. But also because I really needed it today – I’ve been in a “place” – not exactly a funk, per se. But I’ve been dwelling on a few things from the past – and when you said “emotional hangover” – ding ding ding! That’s exactly how I feel lately – and it’s really lingering a bit; like something nagging at me and it won’t let go. And perhaps I need to stop excavating some of these things and just bury them.

I’m glad you have a place to go, where you can perhaps dispel the hangover energy that gathers from the excavation.

Anns last blog post..The Hot Mess

Daryl September 2, 2008 at 9:47 am

small steps … some forward, some to the side and occasionally a back step … but eventually the journey is begun.

Daryls last blog post..toonsday husbandisms

we_be_toys September 2, 2008 at 10:58 am

Some stuff is just plain hard to write about, but the question is whether or not you need to do it. From what I have read of your past I can see why it might not flow real effortlessly, but I applaud your effort to write about it, especially when it’s hard – that’s when it’s the most therapeutic, right?

Oh and if that lovely remote place, for reasons unknown, is full up, I know another place you can go, where the drinks are tall and the conversation is always cheeky! (See me waving?)

we_be_toyss last blog post..Mammaries, Like The corners of My Boobs

Kate September 2, 2008 at 11:21 am

You are such an eloquent writer!

jenrantsraves September 2, 2008 at 11:31 am

I am a nut job today, but honestly, reading this, I was torn between 1. sighing and marveling at your writing and your strength, and 2. being pissed off because you should be a writer -a paid one. If I am being completely honest, (which unfortunately for some, I usually am), I heard last night of another blogger getting a book deal, and even though I am happy for her, I am crazy jealous and depressed. I don’t want to chase the damn dream – I want to live it. I’m going for another interview tonight to watch OTHER people’s children, and my heart isn’t in it.

Csquaredplus3 September 2, 2008 at 12:25 pm

“…excavate the past.” I like that. I imagine there are many diamonds in the rough for you.

melissa September 2, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Y’know, in the Bible a lot of those monuments were built in quiet, deserted places. I think you’re on to something ancient and wise.

melissas last blog post..Denying summer’s end for one more day

anymommy September 2, 2008 at 1:13 pm

I’ve had moments like that. I always try to hold onto them in my mind for later, but it doesn’t work. I can come and read your gorgeous words next time I need a spot like this.

anymommys last blog post..Set in Stone

Lisa September 2, 2008 at 1:48 pm

It’s a journey–some of us complain about our feet hurting and others, like you, see the beauty of it all 🙂

Lisas last blog post..I never did drugs…

Hilary September 2, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Your words are a therapy in and of themselves. Beautifully stated. Everyone should have such a place.

And Louise’s wonderful analogy echoes your post perfectly.

Hilarys last blog post..Splashing With Benny

Reluctantfarmchik September 2, 2008 at 6:13 pm

You are an amazing writer. I’m sure the foundation of your life is part of the depth that comes through so clearly in your writing. Your gift to the world is your experience, and your expression of it. That’s why the rocks are there. I’m so sorry for the back-breaking labor that you have to endure. It is valuable. It is important. It might be bury-worthy again. But in the mean time, your process is beautiful. Thank you for your courage. And your patience. And your generosity.

manager mom September 2, 2008 at 6:38 pm

What a beautiful post. I know what you mean about how hard it is to write about painful things in the past. I recently wrote something that I never thought that I could put in words. I am still not sure if it helped me or not.

I wish you all the best on your re-discovery, and we will be here if you are eventually willing to share.

manager moms last blog post..At Least I Know What She Wanted To Buy At Target

Hatchet September 2, 2008 at 8:45 pm

Foundation work is always messy. Sometimes you need a sump pump to get any work done.

I hope you enjoyed your special place! Even your writing about not writing something you’re writing about (Hah HAH! Parse THAT!) is excellent!

Hatchets last blog post..Broken

JCK September 2, 2008 at 10:30 pm

When you are doing that digging, that tough work…you definitely need a place to resurface and catch your breath! How cool that you saw a blue heron. They are so magestic, yet mysterious, too.

Can’t wait to hear how it is going. Lovely that you can look forward and in the present and see that your luck and life has changed so.

JCKs last blog post..Would I have glimpsed their sweetness?

Crazycath September 3, 2008 at 1:42 am

And I am honoured that you share that place with us.

Amongst all the emotional pain in the world, I find peace here with you Jennifer. You bring a balance to things, a sensibility. Which is what I need since my blog’s subtitle is “no sense or sensibility”!! ;0)

(You brought some tears pricking with this post. You have come so far, endured so much. You are a testimony to each other, you and Ducky, for the lives you have now born from such a mess at times. Like a phoenix from the flames. That’s how I see you and Ducky. Credit to you both. *hugs*)

Crazycaths last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

tysdaddy September 3, 2008 at 5:29 am

“By counting the shadows they cast against the face of the cliff, I could have counted the vultures without ever looking right at them.”

I had a similar experience with shadows yesterday while walking across campus. There was the hustle and bustle, and then a bunch of geese that inhabit our campus came gliding overhead. I saw the shadows before I heard or saw the birds in the air above me. It was cool . . .

Nice post, my friend. Hope you are well . . .

tysdaddys last blog post..Goodbye

Milena September 3, 2008 at 8:01 am

Archeology of the soul, plain and simple, is what you are dedicating yourself to. To learn about the future we must explore the past. If you are doing some excavating then it is because there is some excavating that needs to get done. Just remember to take a break, put away the tools and remember in what time you are living. It seems like you already have.

Gorgeous post Jennifer. Quintessentially you. So, when do I get my scrabble rematch?

Kimberly September 3, 2008 at 10:23 am

This is a truly beautiful post. I have my own past stories – dark and troubling – that I’ve kept buried a long time. Maybe someday I’ll excavate. But first, I need to find a place like you’ve found where I can go when it becomes too much.

Kimberlys last blog post..Wordless Wednesday: The importance of exercise

Deb September 3, 2008 at 10:52 am

Hello ~ I often try to bury the past and I am always surprised when the past decides to rear its ugly head and overwhelm me. Our past is part of who we are and I believe that we need to recognize that BUT we can not let the past dictate the present or the future. Sounds as if you are controlling the past and it is not controlling you! Enjoy each moment!

Debs last blog post..Seagull talk

Mark Salinas September 3, 2008 at 11:53 am

Wow! Very nice indeed! 🙂

Suzanne September 3, 2008 at 12:54 pm

The good news about excavation is that it provides foder for great essays like this one, it is also incredibly healing. And as you and Ducky mentioned, if you can look at it from the perspective of where you are now, you can be filled with gratitude of not only having survived it all, but having created a much better life for yourself and your children.

Suzannes last blog post..Sarah Palin – Our First Female VP ?

Midlife Mama September 3, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Beautiful . . . . juat beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

the mama bird diaries September 3, 2008 at 8:26 pm

i think if we don’t explore our pasts, then we can never truly live the future. feelings must be felt and then we move on.

the mama bird diariess last blog post..in defense of sarah palin

Sandy (Momisodes) September 3, 2008 at 8:39 pm

It sounds lovely there. I love finding moments and places like that. You almost wish there were someone else to witness it, but then you’d have to share.

Sandy (Momisodes)s last blog post..Sibling Rivalry: Revenge

Rhea September 4, 2008 at 9:40 am

Gorgeous photo and word painting as well. I could see the heron in the stillness of the scenery.

Your sister was right. So right.

Rheas last blog post..War & Peace…in the carpool line

sizzle September 6, 2008 at 4:02 pm

What a great post. I saw it as a shared item in my Google Reader. So glad that Neilochka shared it!

sizzles last blog post..A New Opportunity

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