Thursday, December 10, 2009

Through thick and thin

The idea of place has been on my mind since my walk Tuesday with Professor Ives' Buddhist Ethics class. We didn't talk much about Buddhism, or ethics, because I don't know much about the former, and would be reluctant to pronounce on the latter, so we gathered at the plank bridge in a chilly afternoon sun and let the stillness of the place envelop us. I tried to evoke the spirit of Frederick Law Olmsted, the great landscape architect who laid out this property a hundred years ago -- landscape as spiritual nourishment. His talent thickened the place; otherwise our plank bridge, our meandering brook and our blackwater pond might be just any other bridge, brook and pond -- except that we were honoring them by being there. And paying attention.

I quoted Scott Russell Sanders: "There are no privileged locations. If you stay put, your place may become a holy center, not because it gives you special access to the divine, but because in your stillness you hear what might be heard anywhere. All there is to see can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look."

And Rick Nelson: "As time went by, I realized that the particular place I'd chosen was less important than the fact that I'd chosen a place and focused my life around it. What makes a place special is the way it buries itself inside the heart, not whether it's flat or rugged, rich or austere, wet or arid, gentle or harsh, warm or cold, wild or tame. Every place, like every person, is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it, and by the way in which its bounty is received."

And Ann Michaels: "If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another."

No need to go gallivanting off across the planet looking for "thin places," those supposed locations where the veil separating us from the divine can be easily brushed aside. Give me instead any place -- my place, your place -- and let it be thick enough to dig and delve for a lifetime without exhausting its bounty. Attention and knowledge. Reliable scientific knowledge of the world thickens any place, opens a door into cosmic space and time, sings us into the dance of the DNA, rubs our noses in the sacred here and now.