For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Monday, 12 September 2011

Nearly Heaven

God is at home; it's we who have gone out for a walk. MEISTER ECKHART

If you do not pause upon the bridge and look over the parapet, you will not see the row of cairns bisecting the river Irthing. Who built this progression of tiny ziggurats, this ley-line of stone stupas? Down the adjacent green lane you wander, seeking an answer, following Ariadne's thread. Then stop, amazed, at an airy threshold. On your right, a heap of stones coalesces into faces, cats' eyes, flowers. A sign says Nearly Heaven. You hesitate, then softly step from the sunken hawthorn track into the sanctuary.

On your left, even more artfully arranged stones suggest a dog, a buddha, a Spanish nobleman - whatever you may imagine. A child's swing, knifed from a rubber tyre, dangles. A comfy chair and sofa are draped in blue plastic against the rain. Semi-circular voodoo heads, roughly hewn from wood, with knapweed seed for hair, swing from a central tree. Behind the tree a dead mouse floats in a rain-filled bucket. A streaked and autographed mural dominates this stage set. It's like a painting by Joan Miró. On it passers-by have scrawled names, dates, messages.

Who lives here, who has lived here, who's passed through? What is this place, this surreal haven just a stone's throw from Hadrian's Wall's rational alignments? A hippie lair or artists' colony? A New Age traveller or gypsy camp? A children's den? A pilgrim resting place? The peat-brown stream rushes round the curve on its stony bed, giving little away. Across the water lies the stub of a ramshackle, do-it-yourself bridge made of wooden packing cases. And beyond this there's a shelter, a big tarp strung below the boughs of thick-set trees. It seems uninhabited.

Signs and markers. Signs and markers. You construct a simple cairn right at the end of the line, at the spot where the row of cairns hits the stony shore. You choose differently sized stones - large ones at the bottom, smaller ones on top - varying the colours, contrasting this smooth red sandstone with that olive-green rock, this black and white striated pebble with that speckled conglomerate.

What does it all mean? Does it have to mean anything? You sigh, happy to bathe in the mystery. Then walk back from this liminal space into the shadowed lane. Perhaps you'll now tease out a myriad meanings for evermore? That's fine. For within the mystery lies the meaning; and within the meaning lies the mystery.

(Click here and here for the responses of Dominic and George to Nearly [Almost] Heaven.)

5 comments:

George said...

What a beautifully written piece, Robert! No photos are needed here. Through words alone, you have captured all of the nuances of this mysterious place, the memory of which continues to intrigue me. We are now part of that mystery, wayfarers who stopped for a moment. made their marks, and quietly moved on, like so many who have passed this way before.

The Solitary Walker said...

No photos needed, George, and no photos available ... as my camera had run out of battery! Thanks for your appreciation of this piece.

Ruth said...

No photos needed. But then I'd already seen George's. :|

This scene and mystery remind me of a Charlie Kaufman film. Or the Twilight Zone. There aren't any answers to the questions, and just being there is all that's needed, in some sort of awareness. The cairn is perfect in response.

pilgrimpace said...

There was a really ephemeral grafitto here last winter made from snow on the side of some flats

"snow is a peace of heaven"

Anna-Marie said...

That's beautiful ... and makes me want to get out walking again. It sounds like the kind of place you rarely notice if you're travelling quickly.