Monday, June 18, 2012

immensity taps at your life



It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose

That great calm being,
This clutter of soup pots and books--

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Jane Hirshfield
St. Helena's Island, South Carolina low country.  The chapel was built in 1740 so the local white workers didn't have to travel into Beaufort for service. Slaves worked the farm land until after the Civil War when an experimental (The Penn School) was set up to educate the "freed" Africans or Gullah.


A friend told of poisonous snakes gliding silently off of tree limbs while paddling the local waters. In sandals and a summer dress, I kept an eye out and wished rubber boots to protect my toes. At first...
 Layers and levels of looking up into a new kind of atmosphere.

The walls, more white in life, made of local oyster shell, lime and local sand over scaffolding--a construction called Tabby.
Slaves probably slurped these, wet and salty. The water (though surrounded by marshy savannah/grass inlets) must have been so clean of pollution in 1740.

The small children's cemetery wall self-planted a fern atop its tabby. Or maybe the ghosts planted it. Is Time a ghost decaying.
A soldier's crypt. The door's absence seems a (ghost) legend from the first days of burial. I didn't get too close.
Imagined voodoo dolls in the old iron work, loops of rusty thread.

The light meter had trouble calculating so much dappled info.
The silence here, the layered branches draped with moss, gave sense of an even greater chapel roof stretched over everything below. Me and my littleness. I could feel my heart beat, listening for all the lives that had lived on this island, died here. Slaves lay buried in unmarked graves; war had entered here, voices of love and hate; worship, song, an end of slavery; babies cried, hurricanes, droughts, and a forest fire in 1886 took the roof of this bone-white chapel shell of oyster shells.
The year 1740 seemed to reach through me with all its 270 years since. In a moment it felt I, small flesh, I was the one crumbling--and an oyster shell suddenly seemed strong-wisdom, respectable. Ancient. Bone of my bone.
The sea incarnate.

Compared to me.

Yes. The light was watching through everything, breathing through the moss, offering itself as living luminous prayer among the thriving, throbbing green.
Peace to all who enter here.


Kimberly said...

Those photos do seem to be exhaling stories. What a different landscape from what surrounds me here in the north.
Beautiful photos and words. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Imagine a building of seashells! They had it back then. We live in a disposable age and it is sad. I enjoyed this. Thanks

ArtPropelled said...

M it must have been quite an experience being in this place. Layered branches... layered silence ... layered souls. Thank you so much for sharing.

Judy Shreve said...

Oh Mansuetude - you have depicted this island perfectly. It is a place steeped in a history you can feel. I have been there and just love your words and images.

Diane AZ said...

Beautiful place with the moss hanging from the trees and rusty iron fence. Interesting to learn about tabby oyster shell and lime building material, reminds me of the adobe (clay, sand and straw) used here.

Caterina Giglio said...

oh my, oh my... oh my... I kept saying .. as I read your words and looked at each photo...
the light, like a prayer... filled me up... xx

Betty Manousos said...

what a super awesome blog you have!!

looks like such a beautiful (must-see) place, so are your photos!

i really enjoyed your post!

have a great day!

Annie said...

what a beautiful and timeless place. Nature, the building materials, time - all havea conspired to create something almost unearthly.

Donna Iona Drozda said...

I felt the silence and the solitude and your words brought the simmering summer story to life...hauntingly mystical...growing back into the earth.

lynne h said...

i am like the light meter - trouble calculating so much dappled info...

but the tabby. oh my.

and the photos M... magical (as always).


Thérèse said...

By your words and by your pictures it looks like a quite place ready to welcome anyone interested in souls, history and transmission. Past and present, oyster shells, moss and light.
You spread the message in a beautiful way.

Kathleen Botsford said...

O Lord I've missed you. Didn't know how much til now. Just what I needed this evening. Thank you.

layers said...

the layers of moss falling from the 'ceiling'.. like a sacred cathedral of whispered stories.. you must of felt like you were in a sacred place.

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful place - I want to know where it is?
Especially love the oyster shells, they speak volumes.

Marjojo said...

I felt I was turning into something else while reading here. Noticed suddenly I'd stopped breathing, entangled in the stories/histories, your words, those beautiful photographs, my heart getting heavy and light enough to fly off at the same time. Those colours, the whites and greys and greens, and the (invisible) colours of skin that determined life so much. The pain of that. Still. Again.

rivergardenstudio said...

When I clicked on your blog I was joyous to find a new post by you.
And then I became transported in this world of vines and stones and bricks... through your writing I smelled and felt the dirt beneath my feet... And especially what has me spellbound here is the history, the sadness and the triumphs and all the feelings left behind deep in the trees and those beautiful walls.

layers said...

p.s. you left a wonderful comment at my blog post on procrastination.. and the 6 words.. very poetic

Kathy Van Kleeck said...

absolutely magical ... transported. That landscape has been calling to me, strong and low and insistent. Thinking I need to watch Daughters of the Dust again.
Thank you for this exquisite visual journal and for your thoughts along the way.

Lynn said...

Eerily haunting . . . the minds image of you respectfully wearing a sundress and sandals to document this sacred place speaks volumes in itself.

Sharmon Davidson said...

I have been there- my father-in-law is buried in Beaufort. Your exquisite words and photos brought it back to me, as if I were there in the present moment. It is a different world, a place like no other. Thank you for taking me there.

Judy Martin said...

Oh my, oh my.
Such wonderful words and heart lifting photographs. I have been in a cemetery in northern Florida that this post recalled for me.

I admire the way that you can write about your own littleness and all of a sudden, I understand everything.