Where Do I Go To Escape?
We all have those places we run to, the places we retreat to, in the recesses of our minds, in the dark corners, under the covers or out in a sunlit field.
I asked myself, as I ask you, where is your space? What do you claim as your calm, your quiet, your escape? Where is that safe space in time that holds you tight like the womb, where you can unfold and be you, in all your glory, wrapped in lessons and memories held by skin and days or months or years. Where do you go?
I asked myself several years ago where I would rest if I died. I know, not in a box, not in that sense, but a place. If we were supposed to choose our ideal spot, the one special place that had become the landscape of our heart. My answer was a series of questions.
Nowhere and everywhere.
Did it really matter?
There was no specific place.
Instead, there were many places; in time, in memory or emotion, in imagination or longing of traveling to places I’ve never been.
Sometimes, I close my eyes and find myself in corners of empty rooms, brightly lit. I see myself curled tightly, chin resting upon my knees, like steady, solid guards protecting me.
There are times I need complete solitude and space, where the walls are pale, pale yellow or cream or orange, and the paint is chipped or peeling, little fragments scattered on the floor, which is warped wood full of scratches and dusted footprints.
The space is abandoned, overgrown with broken panes of windows where nature creeps in, tracks from small animals and stray feathers from birds, dead leaves create sparse blankets or nests, and in this forgotten space, there is still constant and deliberate growth. A familiar oddity. Sometimes I go here. I take and leave nothing.
I never even speak.
Other times, with my eyes open wide, I leave sidewalks and traffic lights, sirens and stop signs, neon lights, barking dogs, the sound of skateboards hitting the pavement and engines humming. I trade them for carpets created by conifers, for the way that the underside of birch bark slides like silk across your skin
Traffic lights become crickets, and neon a form of firefly. The modern disappears, and it is just the forest and I.
This is home. This is the place my feet know. This is why my soles are calloused and rough and shaped by earth, because walking barefoot through the wild is important to me. Because my feet need to feel earth. They need to touch stick and stone and be comforted by moss, challenged by thorns and ice cold rivers.
This is why I leave shoes behind in the summer, why I tell my son to do the same. So he can know the feel of soil and sap and acorn caps and various textures of lichen and mud between his toes and speak its language. My home is the forest, but home is not always where we need to be.
When I need escape, when I need to lose my skin and become light to shed layers and feel golden and ancient and connected with time, I arrive in places I have only seen in dreams, where maps and globes and pages in books pull me.
Here my sternum is lapis and my crown is moonstone, my eyes are boulder opal, and lips of garnet. I walk through walls and time. I walk among stars, and gravity loses its hold on me. I belong in parts of the planet I’ve never been. Here I am a different self, a version that cannot exist anywhere else.
When I need wisdom, raw truth where there is no filter, and I can hear myself clearly, I travel back to Tucson, Arizona (in my memory) to the Saguaro desert.
I remember seeing it for the first time in daylight, how there was no canopy between me and the sky — nowhere to hide, and the arms of the cacti twisted and stretched through the swirling waves of the heat.
Where Earth was raw earth. Bare rock and bones.
The heat held me tightly while I stared at the long forgotten, dried and deadened sea that lay cracked before me, too hot for even my calloused feet to conquer. Forcing salted drops of sweat on my skin. Raw, like placing yourself in the middle of the sun’s territory and surrendering.
This desert tore me apart. It stripped me bare, and then filled me with life when I least expected it. The desert birthed me as a mother, as I birthed in it my son. It holds truths I’d rather forget, but can’t, and memories so beautiful I want them running like an endless filmstrip in my mind.
I often revisit that beauty of raw pain and joy.
The beauty of the naked truth.
Courtney Quinlan is an artist dabbling in writing prose and poetry, making jewelry, and an ever evolving photographer, who likes getting crafty with nature and loves to get some paint on brushes and let them do the talking. She lives in Vermont as a single parent to a boy on the autism spectrum. She loves being in the woods, has a serious affinity for swamps and bogs, and would eat Thai food every day for the rest of her life if it was possible. She can often be found lost in thought, advocating for disability rights or gardening. Her mantra is: Live out loud, unfiltered, eyes full of wonder, love as hard as you can. Repeat.