“The setting is enchanting enough to charm cobras out of baskets.” – Pat ConroyIs it the languidity? Or the lack of straight lines? Perhaps it is the hanging moss, the massive twisting tree trunks, the winding creeks. The birdsong. Or the soothing sound of the wind, or of ocean?
I am a journal keeper. I credit the extraordinary Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way, and my favorite, Vein of Gold, with getting me hooked on ‘morning pages’. My dedication to morning pages gave birth to this blog, and opened up a world of expression for me I did not know I needed.
So, periodically, I go back now and read old journals. What struck me recently is how unmoored I was before I found my sense of place. My rootedness is in the land now. It is a place that is not only beautiful, but quite alive with ancestral connection and energy that feeds my spirit. The Gullah people understand this, and I am fairly certain their African religious heritage, which always included reverence for the ancestors, contributed much to whiter Southerners glorification of their ancestors, too, in their more historical way. For anyone with Lowcountry roots, our history has had a profound influence.But, as John Berger writes, in Ways of Seeing, a book about looking at art, “History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past. “Consequently,” he says, “fear of the present leads to mystification of the past.” How do we see history in fresh ways? “The past is not for living in, ” he continues, ” It is a well of conclusions from which we draw in order to act.” Fortunately, Charleston is now thriving with a new identity, one of artistic expression. The Spoleto and the Piccolo Festivals arrive in weeks in Charleston, bringing fresh ideas rooted in our rich historical and literary past.
Our literary heritage is drenched in place and family. “One place comprehended can make us understand other places better”, Eudora Welty said. “A sense of place is the necessary compass that people carry within themselves, a compass that enables them to find the universal in the particular. A sense of place gives equilibrium. It is by knowing where you stand that you grow able to judge where you are.”
I think of Claude Monet, in France, painting the same place over and over just to watch the light change. The moonrise in the early evening sky here, or daybreak, is the same, yet different everyday. Monet expected that same place to reveal new colors and new insight to him every single day. Oh, indeed, what surprises are in store if one is looking.