on the Feldspar
an undergraduate, I came across an English course titled ďThe
Spirit of Place,Ē and I thoughtóYES. Place always meant
so much to me (though I didnít yet know what that meant, since
all I wanted then was to get out of the place I was in).
I discovered that the professor teaching this totally YES
course was a Scot from Glasgow or Strathclyde or somewhere
where the accent is so seductive Iíd probably hop into bed
with the Scottish equivalent of a Christian fundamentalist.
(I like to think this is an untrue statement. At least, I
know that a Scottish Christian fundamentalist would likely
not be looking to hop into bed. I think, anyway.)
Fast-forwarding more years than I want to believe or admit,
I find myself in a place Iíve always loved as a vacation spot,
as well as a place where so many important moments in my life
as a mother took place: Cape Ann, again. Only this time Iím
here for an extended period, and my children are grown, with
their own commitments. And my commitment while here is to
write. Write. You know, do nothing but write. Because thatís
what I want to do. Thatís what Iím here to do. Because thatís
the right thing to do. See? I can even make bad puns about
And Iím doing it. To the best of my ability. But I am being
tested. I am being distracted. I am being bewitched by the
Spirit of Place.
I know, what a problem . . . but Iím not complaining. Iím
learning to love this strange dance between wanting to be
outside, to be living outside myself, to be consciously living
in a Place outside myself, while, simultaneously, trying to
heed the call that takes me inside to unnamed places, unforeseen
places, places where I canít just go sit with a coffee and
a croissant, but have to plumb like a half-assed miner afraid
of the dark, the depth and the possible, final lack of oxygen.
Spirit of PlaceĒ versus ďThe Place of the SpiritĒ? Oh, I know,
itís a bit too facile. But maybe it will do.
For example, I just finished reading Elyssa Eastís book Dogtown:
Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town.
Iím a little leery of all thatís made of Dogtown, that
big patch of wetlands and an old colonial settlement that
people on Cape Ann are quick to honor, protect and take somewhat
casually. But it belongs to them, after all, and thatís their
prerogative. They donít make light of its mythological pull
but they donít confuse mythology with history, either.
does Elyssa Eastís book do that. It almost debunks the myth,
preserving Dogtown as a private place, as well as a place
that does take hold in oneís spirit. At least it does sometimes,
for some people. In other words, itís pretty sacred to those
who live near it. Itís not a tourist site. But itís okay to
discover what is there to discover, particularly if you travel
with no agenda.
I havenít ever gone to Dogtown, yet. Not even after 15 years
of coming to Cape Ann. Iím a little afraid to. Iím a little
afraid of most things, though, so my fear of Dogtown doesnít
really mean very much.
On the other hand, walking down Bearskin Neck a few weeks
ago, I happened upon a painter who reminded me of a visual-artist
version of a poet I dated in college: ďSpeilerĒ was his last
name, which, I think, means ďgame-makerĒ in German. The painter
had bushy hair, a beret and a tendency to quote Yeats.
We chatted, referenced dope, the Fuggs and daughters graduating
from college. In other words, weíd shown our age, passions
and distractions. I figured that was that. But a few nights
ago, walking down Bearskin Neck, our paths crossed again.
This time there was spontaneous chatting, a shared glass of
wine, more shared notes: Cape Ann has many earnest transplants
who have come here to make art, music, write poetry or novels
or, at the least, live a storied life.
Do some places induce this kind of mania for creativity? Is
there any ontological or mineralogical basis for it? Think
of D.H. Lawrence in Taos (and everybody who followed him there).
Think of Provincetown and all its artists. Or simply think
of the Chelsea Hotel.
Is there any truth to the notion of the Spirit of Place?
Maybe. I donít know. Iíll report back. But meanwhile, the
bushy-haired painter mentions laconically, ďIím told that
Rockport is built on a huge bed of feldspar. Feldspar is supposed
to be all about creativity.Ē He lifts his glass. ďBut who
Certainly, I donít. But Iíve decided to build on the feldspar.