The first one was a raspberry thicket across the street from my house, or maybe the turn-of-the-century staircase that wound down the hill my cousin lived on...
Then, as I gained more and more independence, the empty lot next to the building I took ballet at, the all-but abandoned observatory on a hill, an old yew tree behind my mother's workplace, the cemetery with the old-growth pines and tombstones from the civil war...
I smoked my first cigarette in the woods behind the power-plant two streets down from my house. I spent most of the miserable summer and fall between sixth and seventh grade reading and staring into space in the crook of that yew tree. In the cemetery I smoked many more cigarettes and picked out odd, old-fashioned names from the headstones. (For most of my life before I moved here, I'd lived shockingly close to one cemetery or another. That's probably a whole post in an of itself...)
You could see the whole town from the concrete steps of that observatory, where once, many years before, when I was just a little girl, an astronomer boyfriend of one of my mom's friends showed us Halley's comet on the telescope.
My closest friends and I would sit on the concrete steps in the eternal twilight of summer and talk about how badly we wanted to leave that Podunk shit-hole of a town behind. We'd plan our whole lives out, drinking disgusting, sweet wine. We ran through the scraggly meadow behind it, tipsy with the possibility of the future as much as the alcohol, making flower head-wreaths and taking photos*. In August, when the nights began to get dark, we'd watch the vague orange glow of the town trying to overpower the all-encompassing darkness of the far North. We'd close our eyes and listen to the crickets in the field, our backs pressed against the warm concrete, and imagine ourselves in some more exotic location, on the edge of some jungle in South America...
What these places, and many that came after them, have in common, is that they are all places I use to go to at a particular time in my life to be alone, or at peace, to dream, or to get away.
Most of them did not have clearly marked entrances, nor were they riddled with paths and deer trails, but they weren't exactly secret either. Hidden in plain sight, unloved by others maybe, but certainly not exclusively mine.
These days I'm less likely to hang out in cemeteries and empty lots, but as scenic as beloved places and beaches known to but a few, may be, their purpose is the same, to disappear, to dream of different things, to focus, to direct attention inward and outward at the same time...
This is the same windy cliffside C. and I took our meeting to a couple weeks ago. Right now its our go-to place, because he hasn't been able to hike very far at all these days.
Since we moved down here, it has become a special destination for us.
On any given day in the winter, we usually don't run into another living soul on our walk, save for the birds of pray in the sky.
It's been foggy here for the last week, a kind of San Francisco fog that burns out in the afternoon.
There's a quiet that comes with foggy weather, the muffling of all sounds and a stillness that seems a little other-worldly.
The droplets of water cling to everything without braking delicate structures the way rain does. On foggy days, there are suddenly gray cobwebs clinging to every shrub, exposed and visible.
Maybe this place is not so much a place, but a state of mind one enters. Just like that observatory, the cemetery, the abandoned lot, this point is somewhere we go to waste time, rather than spend it, a respite, a space to be present without an agenda. Somewhere to be your real self.
If the observatory was a gateway to the stars, the pivot point of my dreams for my future, or the cemetery was a place where my child's mind could connect to the past, to the then unimaginable idea that someday I'd no longer exist on this planet, this place is a wild place. A piece of the wild universe that we sometimes need to remember to tap into amidst our busy lives as humans.
The most important thing each of these "hidden" places has done for me, is to inspire new ideas; answer questions I didn't even know I had.
To go them is always to come back with something I didn't exactly expect to find.
Do you have a "hidden" place?
ps. Thank you so much for all your amazing comments to my last post. I will be replying to all of them in the next few days.
*(Interesting. Zero visual evolution in twenty-odd years.)