By Sam Larson
Everyone has a place they call their own. A refuge, a secret spot, or just a favorite place to visit. Edward Abbey had the wind-sculpted sandstone canyons and spires of Moab. Aldo Leopold clung to the banks of the Wisconsin River. John Muir dwelt spiritually and personally along the pine-tree topped ridges of California’s Sierras. My places are not so epic. A winding stream, and a narrow foot path that fades in and out among the heather and scrub oak. A room at the Met and snow falling outside the window across Central Park.
Do you have a place? A place for all seasons and for all reasons, a place that resonates in joy and sadness. Is it alone and lost at the edges of human experience, or in the sun of Dolores Park with the noise, dirt, and drunks of the Mission surrounding you? Any place will do if it is truly your place. There is no price of entry to finding such a location. No base level of fitness or required gear. Your place doesn’t need to be isolated, difficult to get to, or utterly unique. It can be indoors or out, urban or wild, high or low. But it needs to be a place that centers you, that resounds within you, and when you leave it you should feel armed and armored against the petty weathering of life.
I have several places. In the first, pieces of orange tape, once bright neon but faded in the sun and the wind, hang from bushes and stumps. They mark the path cut by wildland firefighters when they followed the creek to a burn three mountains back. Barbed wire left by previous tenants and homesteaders still lies buried in the brush. I know where most of it is but I get surprised every summer. I walk looking ahead and scanning side-to-side, trying to spot fallen lines of fence posts before I step across their tangled skeins of steel wire, tearing clothes and skin. Open range defines the mountain west and cattle, startling in their ability to crash towards you through the brush like a bear or a moose, part the willow and tamarisk to stare with long-lashed eyes, placid despite the noise they create.
In another place I sit on a bench in the Met across from the layered spatters of Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). I first saw it at nineteen on a solo spring break trip to Manhattan, but I could be any age now. Outside, through the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Central Park, snow is falling, damp and slushy, settling into the budding green of early springs leaves or melting on the sidewalks and streets below. People, endless trickles of people, walk through the far door and stop, stagger and stare at the painting. It’s big, far bigger than I would have thought when I first collected a postcard of it to tack on my bedroom wall. It dominates the room, broadcasting depth and a particularly seasonal New York energy. Yellow cabs and manhole cover steam mix with paint and canvas and always there’s the guests, stilled and shocked when confronted with Pollock’s painting.
The first place brings me back to myself. On the banks of Silver Creek I feel connected to something grander than myself. I have seen that valley in all seasons and when I see it again in fall or spring it fills me with a sense of continuity, a feeling that, despite all the things that drive people like me to the mountains, each season here revolves like clockwork. That it has been so since well before I or anyone I know was born, and will hopefully continue to do long after we’ve all shuffled off. The second place connects me to a shared sense of humanity. We, humans all, each utterly fallible, are similarly overwhelmed by something so simple as paint on cloth. Did it start in the caves of Lascaux? Is that where we first learned to be transported by the story potential in images or has it always been a part of the human blueprint? Strangers and passersby, we are all brought together by a painting that rocks us back on our heels.
Where is your place? What brings you there? Do you need a desert canyon where you can shout at the rocks and lose your voice in the wind, or a seat in the park? Kerouac saw oblivion in The Dharma Bums, unprepared, cold and altitude sick, with the tip of Matterhorn Peak hanging inversely above him, the dropping off point into a well of limitless space where a single step from the pinnacle led to an infinite fall upwards into the darkness. Is that what you seek? Or is it resolution and communion, fellow feeling among hikers and the communal awe you share before something like Delicate Arch, “a weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature” said Edward Abbey, that reminds us all that out there “is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours”. Find your place and go there frequently. The exact spot is unimportant except to you, what you bring there, and what you leave with. Go with worry and leave with hope, go alone and leave with communion, go any way you can but simply go.