Monday, January 27, 2014

The Hidden Place


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.)

32 comments:

  1. Not exactly a "hidden" place but a happy place, which I wrote about last month:
    http://mondoagogo.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/the-happy-place/
    I also like big museums for the same kind of reason, I can get lost in looking at something outside myself and finding treasure that is usually overlooked by most people. (and then later, sometimes, I like to share my discoveries with others)

    I'm still mulling your last post as it touched on a number of things I've been trying to find headspace to blog about for a while, too, but sometimes my brain is just too slow (I have CFS and get brainfog quite a lot!). But hopefully this week. :)

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    1. That's interesting about brainfog, I hope you get a clear head soon. I'm excited to check out your "happy" place. I really do think that they can be hidden in just how you view them differently from others. Feel better, dear.

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    2. Thank you -- yes, it can be very frustrating! I think at the moment I just have TOO MANY THOUGHTS about too many things and they won't settle so I keep getting lost on tangents (to be honest, this has actually always happened, but brainfog makes it harder to focus...) Gah, like right now there was something pertinent I was going to add that wasn't all about me, and now I can't remember what it was! So annoying. Well if I remember it I'll come back... :)

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  2. That place looks so nice, and calm and quiet.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. It is calm and quiet. And sometimes wild and crazy.

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  3. We all need our wild, secret, hidden places. and yes, it IS a state of mind as much as a physical location.
    My hidden place is miles and miles from my current location. When I enter that space, my life, my world is transformed. Not a soul around, silence, nature, history. When I return to my present location, the hidden place remains in my mind and my soul, nurturing me and reminding me of what truly is beyond the everyday.

    Great post, Milla. Took me right back to my own hidden place!

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    1. Thank you! That's a great way to put what these places mean. Interestingly too, I feel like I can draw comfort from just thinking of all of those places.

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  4. I used to have a few spots when I lived in Ottawa, since my apartment was near the river and green spaces. My favourite was tucked away inside shrubs, this tiny little path that I'm pretty certain was made by homeless people who wanted to go lay near a hot exhaust grate - yikes right? - but in the summer it was secluded and green and quiet and nobody ever went. I'd bring a blanket and a book and a snack and enjoy my private river place. My home backs onto a little forest now but unfortunately it's so dense it's impossible to walk through, but I'm hoping this year I can find a place and make it mine.

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    1. I hope you find a really good, special spot. I love hidden places in cities, they feel that much more special.

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  5. what a beautiful corner of the world.

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  6. When I was younger I had places like that, but I don't anymore. I think I need to find one now.

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    1. Oh man, you need one. I bet it's just waiting for you, wondering when you're gonna show up ;D

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  7. Oh Milla, this beautiful post speaks to my heart! Your current refuge is wonderfully evoked here, in all its welcoming stillness, subtle light, and intricate details. It reminds me of an island that was familiar to me ever since I was 7 or 8, even if we only went there for a few weeks in the summer - as it was a small, safe island, we were allowed to bike everywhere on our own, and I would spend hours reading, writing and drawing in a secluded cove, lulled to a deep happiness by the reflections on the water and the waves hissing back and forth on the coarse, golden sand, until sunset - or, on windy days, I would go to a certain cliffy area and let the wind pummel me to utter joy.

    For three years, when I was a teenager, our house was on a hill in the South of France, and I discovered a wide, flat rock on a small plateau surrounded by young oaks and various shrubs, where I could watch the sky, the rabbits, the birds and the lizards without being bothered by anyone. My other favourite place at the time was the top of a loving white pine with very fine and soft needles, who was as ecstatic as me when the wind was blowing, warm and wild, from the Pyrénées.

    There were the few places where, as you say, I could be completely myself.

    In Montréal, my secret place is in a cemetery :o) - it is, again, a small plateau on a hill, where I can see all around without (most of the time) being seen, particularly if I am wearing muted colours (for this very purpose). Even wild animals go by without noticing, unless I get up (or they stumble on me). Marmots, Racoons, Foxes, my beloved Chickadees, and this Spring - oh wonder ! - a couple of Bluebirds feeding their young in a bird box close by.

    I go there less often during the winter, partly because I can't bike to the Mont-Royal in the snow - it's an hour and a half walk to reach the hill from my place -, partly because the deep cold doesn't allow for the same immersion. The light is bright and the hill is white, but trees and animals are asleep.

    So thank you for sharing your gentle haven today :o)


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    1. P.s. I forgot to say how many things I love in these pictures - the lichens, the silvery cobwebs, C.'s beautiful portrait, both your cups and the striped rucksack (I carry my own Barnacle Bags grey rucksack everywhere :o) and this incredible urchin (is it ?) looking strikingly, with its bird's head shaped hole, like something created by Andy Goldsworthy, except that it's the other way round, of course. What a perfect take-off for your readers to start drifting away :o)

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    2. I think we might have much to talk about hanging out in cemeteries, I think it's a certain kind of personality. I love how you write about the place from your teens, you have such a gift with words. Thank you for sharing that.

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    3. Count me in as a cemetery lover too :)

      I agree, this comment was a lovely little piece of writing.

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  8. kaupungista on mieluiten päästävä pois,kun oikein ahdistaa,mutta täältäkin onneksi löytyy.
    Suonenlinnassa on eräs tietty kohta vähän poissa ruuhkaisimmilta reiteiltä,josta käyn hakemassa nokkosia ja hengittämässä mieluiten vähän tyrskyävää meri ilmaa.
    Kaisaniemen kasvitieteellinen puutarha on ihan henkireikäni ja kutsunkin sitä vain tuttavallisesti puutarhaksi. Heti kun pääsen portista sisään lihakset rentoutuvat ja huomaan kuinka rypyt oikenevat otsalta.Ja Hertta saa touhuta ja tutkia aivan vapaasti.
    Maalla on myös tietty pieni puronvarsilehto,jossa kasvaa mm.vanha pihlaja.

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    1. Oi Suokki! Ja...oi pihlaja! Niita kaipaan taalla kaukana kovastikin. Kuulostaapa aika ihanalta tuo lehto. Mulle Stadissa tarkeita olivat erityisesti Rikhardinkadun kirjaston ylin kerros, tietyt kalliot Linnunlaulussa, ja ne joutomaat assalta Linnunlauluun, Hietsun hautuumaa ja mielisairaalan puutarha ja...oho tulipas yllattava ikava Helsinkia...

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    2. Rikhardinkadun kirjasto on kyllä munkin lempparini.

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  9. Hello Milla, I can't believe I only just found your blog! You seem to be living on the same island Lissa (of Barnacle Bags) does. I only had time to read your about page and this post with my morning cup of tea before I really have to start working, but I'm very excited to spend the evening reading your older posts! From what I've read so far you seem like a kindred spirit and those beautiful images make me miss the time I spent on Vancouver Island last year. I'm following along from now on!
    - Inge

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    1. As it turns out I also already follow you and favorited your shop on Etsy! Small world...

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    2. Haha! Hi, it's funny since I follow you on etsy too! I love your shop! Hi! And welcome! Yep! Lissa and I are neighbors. We can practically see Vancouver Island from here, it's totally the same bio-region. Where did you go there?

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    1. Thank you. Glad I can share it with you.

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful, peaceful, hidden part of your life. I am just coming to grips with carving out my own secret places and realising that visiting them with no agenda is truly the only way for me to meet my real self and remain sane through the humdrum of 'normal' life. I hope one day to live more of my life in hidden places. But then, if they became the norm, I imagine I would find other places,even more hidden to give me an even deeper kind of respite...

    That's the dream anyway :)

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    1. Hello, thank you for visiting. That's a really great way to put the appeal of those places. And yes, I think you're right, there are always other places. Waiting to be unhid ;)

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  12. Beautiful, enticing photographs that give me a definite craving for the outdoors, thanks for such a breath of fresh air!
    Katie

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. The outdoors await. I can't wait to go to them tomorrow morning myself. Have fun!

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  13. My special placed is about movement. Going from A to B to C to D to M to R all the way to Z. These are NYC subway lines and they are my retreat; where I go to be away. I'll go to a major station such as Times Square and board the first train to come along, settle back, if I get a seat, and just go. My mind will wander and suddenly I might be up in Van Cortland Park or looking at the Atlantic Ocean. I might walk up to the street and be amidst people all speaking Korean, or Hindi, or Russian. Store signs, restaurants, even dress belies I am still in New York.
    All the baggage that accumulates with everyday life is left somewhere on my journey. It may be a respite of a couple of hours or an entire day that I'm in that special place. Nothing more than a face in the crowd, mesmerized by all the other faces who may be going about there quotidian lives or perhaps on the same journey I'm on. I change trains, not wanting to know where I'm going but usually enthralled by what I find myself in when I climb to the street from the underground or descend to it from the elevated tracks. It may be somewhere I've been before or a stop I never made but it is a special place.

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  14. Are you paying more than $5 / pack of cigs? I buy high quality cigs over at Duty Free Depot and I'm saving over 50%.

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