|Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City, Oregon/Photo credit: Lori Benton|
I've had a few reoccurring dreams since childhood. One of the most vivid involves a visit to a well-loved park near my home in southern Maryland, where I lived until my mid-twenties. In the dream everything familiar is at once recognizable and astonishingly altered. The duck pond has become a sprawling lake. The little streams leading into and out of it are rivers rushing through boulder-strewn gorges. The wooded ridges are higher, steeper, the trails traversing them inviting me into a wilderness drenched in adventure.
Whether this transformation is magic, or I've been given new eyes to see the wild and wondrous place this park has always been, I don't know. All I know is that this grand wild place is what I've always longed for. Delighted and free, I go exploring.
It's a dream I've held onto for decades, one I've seen become a reality in many ways since my husband and I moved to Oregon in 1993. This place--the whole western United States, for that matter--is the embodiment of what I was longing for as a child growing up outside the Washington DC Beltway with a few parks and little plots of woods to play out my heart's longing for mountains and wilderness adventures. The Pacific Northwest contains so much vast, spectacular landscape to explore. Upon arriving that snowy late winter day in 1993 I felt as if I'd come home, but only recently have I come to realize there's a very specific reason why I have this longing for wilderness, why the natural world speaks profoundly to my soul.
In Chapter 10 of his deeply soul-enriching book, All Things New, Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love, author John Eldredge quotes Wallace Stegner:
"Unless everything in man's memory of childhood is misleading, there is a time somewhere between the ages of five and twelve that corresponds to the phase ethologist have isolated in the development of birds, when an impression lasting only a few seconds may be imprinted on the young bird for life.... I still sometimes dream, occasionally in the most intense and brilliant shades of green, of a jungly dead bend of the Whitemud River below Martin's Dam. Each time I am haunted, on awakening, by a sense of meaning just withheld, and by a profound nostalgic melancholy. Yet why should this dead loop of river, known only for a few years, be so charged with potency in my unconscious? Why should there be around it so many other images that constantly recur in dreams or in the phrases I bring up off the typewriter onto the page? They live in me like underground water; every well I put down taps them."
Putting aside for future meditation what that mind-blowing sentence "They live in me like underground water; every well I put down taps them" speaks to me as a writer who cannot shake certain themes in my writing no matter what story I set out to tell, I want to share what John Eldredge--who describes details of a similar childhood experience with a beloved setting, a certain bridge, in this same chapter--writes in connection with Stegner's quote above: "I now understand, some fifty years later, that the bridge under the cottonwoods was filled with "a sense of meanings" and "charged with potency" because the promise was coming to me through that place."
What promise is he talking about?
"Some sort of promise," Eldredge writes in Chapter 1 of All Things New, "seems to be woven into the tapestry of life. It comes to us through golden moments, through beauty that takes our breath away... It comes especially through the earth itself. That promise fits perfectly with the deepest longings of our hearts--the longing for life to come together as we somehow know it was always meant to. The whispers of this promise touch a wild hope deep within our hearts, a hope we hardly dare to name."
That promise refers to the kingdom God will establish on a new-made earth, spoken of throughout scripture. Different experiences, places, pursuits, or hobbies speak to each of us of this promise. I most often glimpse it in the natural world, one of the reasons I'm so obsessed with wandering the Pacific Northwest with my camera. I also glimpse this promise in stories (something I share with Eldredge, and I bet most of you). No doubt that's why I've written them since the age of nine.
For you it may be something else entirely that draws your soul and speaks to a hope in your spirit. But it's there, because, as Eldredge also writes, "Your heart is made for the kingdom of God. This might be the most important thing anyone will ever tell you about yourself: your heart only thrives in one habitat, and that safe place is called the kingdom of God."
You know those questions that start with, "If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one...." If the choice of that one thing offered was a book, then aside from the Bible my choice would be All Things New.
Find All Things New, Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love by John Eldredge at Amazon (I recommend the MP3 Audio CD version)
* * *
I post landscape photos from my travels, wanderings, and hikes most days on Instagram, most often with a very brief caption, but lately I've been desiring to delve a little more deeply with them, and so have begun what will be an occasional (weekly, maybe?) series of posts here, simply titled Photo Journey. I'll snag my favorite posted landscape photo from the previous week (or however long it's been) and write a little more about it, or on something inspired by it. This week's photo was taken last month on the Oregon coast, at a favorite beach/headland, Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. There is a seriously humongous sand dune here (not pictured) that's a challenge to climb, but offers the most magnificent views of the coastline and the cape's sculpted red sandstone formations, one of which is pictured here.