The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. It can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. This week, we’re humming to layers of souls.
Once a week, as my two boys make music behind closed studio doors, I go walking on an ancient burial ground. Just a block from the music store where they take their lessons is a Native American burial mound, built around 250-150 B.C., by a people archaeologists have named the Adena.
The mound is the center of a municipal park—the city hosts gatherings here: craft shows, festivals, dedications. I’ve been here many times, trudging up and down this hill with my boys. Once we saw a group of teenagers trying to ride a skimboard down its grassy slope. They took turns balancing precariously on the slippery surface of the board before tumbling in a heap midway down. Yes, I’ve been here many times. But sometimes inspiration comes when I change the way I see.
Today I walk up the cobbled steps.
It’s unusual to be alone on the grassy knoll so I savor the slow wind around and up. The mound is 175 feet in diameter at its base and 35 feet high. I notice wild violets growing through the cracks in the stone—purple and white. For some reason, the white ones make me think about the thirteen skeletons that were excavated from this dirt in 1883-84. The People Who Know say there is evidence some of the thirteen were still alive when buried.
I stoop and pluck a white violet.
The top of the mound is flat now. It used to be more conical but was leveled off in 1840. Residents needed a place to put a judge’s stand for the horses they raced around the base. I sit on the edge of the grassy hill and look down at the colorful shops and restaurants below. I close my eyes and try to imagine horses running flank to flank while, just feet away, the thirteen sleep embedded in soil. I listen for the thundering hooves, breathe deep to catch their horsey scent mingled with crushed grass. But all I smell is the heavy scent of Moo Goo Gai Pan and fried noodles from the Main Tin.
I read somewhere that the Adena were a “broad-faced people” whose custom was to reshape and flatten the head through the use of a cradle board during infancy. The city rushes by below me and I can almost feel my skull begin to flatten—changing shape, I am part of this mound beneath me.
I rub the velvety petals of a white violet and Frederick Buechner’s words come to me—those words from The Alphabet of Grace that have haunted me for a while now.
Beneath the face I am a family plot. All the people I have ever been are buried there—the bouncing boy, his mother’s pride; the pimply boy and secret sensualist, the reluctant infantryman; the beholder at dawn through hospital plate-glass of his first-born child. All these selves I was I am no longer, not even the bodies they wore are my body any longer, and although when I try, I can remember scraps and pieces about them, I can no longer remember what it felt like to live inside their skin. Yet they live inside my skin to this day, they are buried in me somewhere, ghosts that certain songs, tastes, smells, sights, tricks of weather can raise…
I sit atop an empty tomb and think about all the people I have been. How some dying parts have struggled against the layers of soil the years pile on—still breathing. Buried alive.
I am a family plot.
Souls in want of grieving.
Humming now, I slide back onto the grass and reach my arms up to a fading sky. There’s only time for one song.
I pick myself up, leave that white violet in the center of the grassy knoll and head down the hill.
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