Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thin Places

I wrote this in late April of 2009.

This evening I went for a walk in my thin place. It's a badly paved country road swooping along a slight incline with stretches of meadow on either side. I approach it by a wooded side road that cuts over from where Main Street has just turned into Refuge Road. When I come into this place I move into this thinness, this twilight mind. Red winged blackbirds call and fly and gather in a tree snaked in winter with dry strands of encroaching brown kudzu. The kudzu is green and dense in summer but I always remember it as winter brown when I think of this place. Before I come to the meadow I notice by the roadside several spirals of thick treebranch gone to vine, dangling out into air like suspensions of forestborn walking stick. I have one of these in an old clay churn at home. My mother brought it back from the woods because she liked its shape. I might have too, I guess. I see foxes here often, sometimes darting pale and fast into weeds and once trotting dark and bold along the upper road from town. That was a bright summer day and I called out to the fox, thinking it was a little dog. It came on with its feral trot, curious and fleet. I felt a pang of fear for a moment, as there had been a very determined rabid raccoon attacking car tires at the single red light over in nearby Talking Rock a couple of days earlier. But the fox turned at an angle and slipped into some weeds. No fox sightings tonight except for a black and white decal on the back window of a big truck parked in front of a house on the way back to town. Tonight too I find a movie ticket stub from 2005 in the ditch grass. (A rather bad comedy. Child and senior.) A tallish conifer has fallen in the yard of the little gray hermit house that sits across from the lower, wilder meadow. This house never shows any sign of life aside from the garbage bin out front and the array of planters and gardening tools on the porch. The tree is split just below its lowest branches, doubtless by Friday's wild tornadic storm. There is a little statue in front of the house. Just a small gray girl, I think. There is an enigmatic stillness there, like that I imagine a witch's cottage in the woods might have. A wildness in the order. Neat brown stacks of firewood in the yard. An old push mower just inside a little shed. A man must live there, I think, but there is a feminine sensibility to the place too, evident in the gray stone girl and the queue of windchimes that hangs from the porch rafters.
I see a groundhog in the thick wild grass up on the hill near the abandoned shacks. It scurries and stops, a wedge of fat tawny fur hurrying and then ducking down fast. Further on there is the still brown marshy water by the wild meadow. My friend and I are talking of ceremonies of acknowledgment and passage and my mother's childhood in this town and hermetic revelations of goddesses. Sun setting like water, liquid silver in clouds. A parting of that heavier air so that vision is freed up? I remember the phantom blues music of late last night, something that was subtle like the tinny buzz of a distant radio but persistent. I had wondered if my friend was listening to music downstairs but he told me later he had not been.
I feel that old restlessness here tonight. Lots of fallen branches in the road, both large thick ones and small ones more like big twigs. I remember the previous Friday's small tornado and how it came on quickly, the air turning green and little limbs beginning to snap and fly. We didn't see it but the next day as I was out walking in town I saw the horizontal trunks of many tall uprooted trees in people's yards and then one in the ravine behind my house. I thought too of yesterday morning's wild violent Monday morning dreams, of sunny Easter and the hinge of absence into presence. As we walked tonight I talked to my friend about a Hallowe'en party I had been to several years ago and how my small-town lawyer cousin had surprised me by referring to the occasion as Samhain. Pronouncing it right too. These things have been with me quite a bit lately. The notion of thinness, of places where worlds shift into each other and thresholds open. Portals. Passage. I think about how I want to extrapolate something coherent and concrete and definitive about what this place means to me. How it holds liminality. The space of running foxes, walkers between worlds. The quick flush of fat tail and narrow vulpine body into underbrush. What is not quite seen but felt. The need to flush it out and know it. A nod to an imagined reconciliation between that need to see and letting that animal hide. Letting it be known some other way.
Brownness of barbed wire fence and blackberry bushes not budded yet. Thorn tree dark and fractalled against pale sky. The creak of its dangling storm-damaged branch, not quite fallen but not connected. This is a reminder for me of the scrapey rasp of that big pine that day at the ballground pond last month. That last pond day before a leavetaking. That other tree was growing bare and dying, its red blond inner wood moaning like the rafters of a house in wind: a tree not house yet but still tree, still with itself all of a piece despite the rift. I sat under it and looked up, listening. Seeing. Pocks and holes of missing wood where woodpeckers (?) had been. Termites, too?
What do I want to take away from this walk along the meadow road? That Robert Duncan poem I found in the battered old Norton anthology one day reminds me of this space. Often I am permitted to return to a meadow. I always want to pull everything I feel here into my arms. Even the trash, the detritus, the ugliness of shed paper and plastic by the side of the road. Of course I want it gone but my heart does not completely shut it out. The cars rush down through this place so fast. I always have to walk in damp red roadside mud when they come by. Once I ran into a couple of slow walking Latino boys, two teenagers with low hanging jeans and slouches. They smiled and nodded, silent, courteous. Their faces shadowed. Sometimes there is a big yellow shaggy dog capering in the meadow, a chow or collie mix I think. It doesn't bark but watches. In summer there are thistles everywhere, a density of white pinwheels of thistlefuzz and those thick-faced thistle blossoms, some bright pink and some a paleness almost white, some striated green and cream and bloody red. The air is full. In winter there is a mammoth made of kudzu rearing to greet what could be another mammoth but might also not be. A heron sometimes hangs out in the funky smelling marshy part of the creek but I haven't seen it in awhile. I miss its angly lift of leg and wing. Red-winged blackbirds call and perch and gather in that bare tree up on the hill. Doves make noises like we say grief sounds. They perch on the powerline beyond the marsh, plump clich├ęs of benedictory witness.
I kissed a man I loved here one night in late November a couple of years ago, just before Thanksgiving. Somebody called down the hill from that big ugly new brick house to ask if we needed anything. A warning, really. I had been taking pictures of us and the flash gave us away. The man I was with, Ron, played at emerging from the spectral autumn kudzu on the walk back. He was wearing an orange plaid thrift store flannel shirt I had given him and we laughed. I remember a small herd of deer playing in the wilder meadow last May when I walked there with him. The air was pale and full of things emerging but I sagged with a paradoxical restlessness.
And I remember this past October on this road. Samhain. Bright and sunny, night moving in slow. I waved to a neighborhood woman, a kind-faced African-American lady who sat dressed as a black-hatted witch on the porch of an old house up on Refuge Road. I felt peaceful and strong but shadowed too. The light was turning a tall dead pine a sort of flaming auburn on the road just above. Its spiky branches stood out at angles with dead needles catching the sunset. A hang glider moved along slow just above that tree and I took a picture. It seemed to pause when I did.
In solitude it is best here. I go far inside and yet am turned all outside in as well. I remember a Bob Holroyd song I listened to here, running, the song dense and alive with percussion and the throaty thrum of didgeridoo. Awakening the spirits, or reawakening them. A trance state, really. Moving along faster than usual and noticing so much but not naming it.
Not tonight but many other times there has been a big bull standing up in the tamer meadow on the hill. I seem to see his horns first, their length and tapering sharpness. They hold a wedge of big twilight sky in the cup of their curve. A wide meadow gate leads into the field and just beyond it are several rather singular trees that sometimes shelter the bull and cows as well. There are also some stumps in the grass there on the way back towards town that always seem like small ground mammals to me, about to move towards or away from me. Suspended in motion, creatures of burrow and tunnel.
The first time I drove along this road was in 2003 and I was listening to a Joe Henry song, Go with God. I told a friend about it in an email later. It seemed odd to mention it then. The bull was there that first time through, his big horns turned towards the road. Standing still and solemn. The sun was going down and the field seemed rapt with its brassy light.
I have walked out into the wilder meadow along that little road a few times, till I felt the woods beyond get closer and my knees were in the grass. It always feels as if I'm walking out into the spread of something holy, a ceremonial plain or something wilder than a table but somehow rather like one.
Tonight the air smells like snakes and I remember a song with those words in it. The grainy flush of dusk comes on and the shapes of things go silent as I walk up the hill towards Refuge Road.

--copyright Laura Sorrells
all rights reserved 2009


  1. Brilliant writing!!!

    As if we were walking by your side and through symbiosis experiencing the sames things.

    1. Thank you, Rich. I hope you're doing all right after all the bitter cold.


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Georgia, United States
I live at the edge of the forest in a little town in the north Georgia mountains. I teach sixth grade Language Arts and am writing a memoir of sorts about family, spirituality, and narrative. I am also exploring a possible writing project having to do with contemporary lay contemplative experience and how it might be informed by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity. I am a relatively recent convert to Roman Catholicism and an admirer of Pope Francis, Leonardo Boff, Joan Chittister, and Richard Rohr. I'm a Lay Associate of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. I am interested in indigenous cultures, narratives, and spirituality, especially how these can inform my spirituality as a lay contemplative. I write, read, take pictures, play around with creating ephemera from paper and cloth and other organic things. I cook, hike, watch wildlife, and collect random bits of interesting oddness, both tangible and abstract. I am a seer of smallness and a caretaker of ridiculous minutiae. If you want, e-mail me at or