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. On this date, we explore a state capitol and see what its history can tell us.
My steps fall silently on earth softened by recent showers. A quiet breeze stirs the trees and the air is thick with the clean scent of more rain to come. The legislative session must have ended, I think, because nary a soul but me ghosts through the yard’s rich shade.
I wander the grounds of the capitol plaza for an hour, running my hands over the rough bark of deciduous sentinels and studying the way the light falls through a canopy of leaves. Buff limestone peers at me through that chiaroscuro—a stony face with so many windowed eyes. I squint at the gold of the capitol rotunda and feel a pull to stare up into its domed belly from the inside. So I find the steps that ascend the portico and count them as I go: forty-seven.
“West Virginia is the child of divorce, ” Mrs. Young told us in eighth grade history class. “When the Civil War tore the nation apart, eastern and western Virginia decided it best to part ways.”
I remember how I sat in the front row and swallowed hard—the ink on my parents’ divorce papers still fresh. As my teacher spoke of the “impenetrable barrier” of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains between eastern and western Virginia, the barriers separating my family loomed large.
A child of divorce. This is what I’ve always named myself.
Now, I sit high on the capitol steps and look out over the Kanawha River and wonder about emancipation and cultural divides and the isolation that a rugged terrain bestows upon a people. Is this how it feels to be rootbound? Is it possible to get so tangled in our beginnings that we fail to reach wide and deep enough to break into the nourishing soilbed?
The capitol complex hums with anticipation and when I slip in through the heavy wooden doors I see why. This summer West Virginia celebrates 150 years of statehood. Elegant signs on prominent display invite the public to the sesquicentennial party: one hundred fifty years. How much time does it take to carve out a new identity?
I search through halls with high-domed ceilings for any clue to the making of me. I find my grandfather’s story there; feel his hands sculpt my future with a coal pick. Between those marbled corridors I can hear the song of the earth—the voices of generations of farmers who tilled the land. These roots tendril deep into my soul and I see how they feed.
I wonder about this place called Appalachia. How a place born in contention can grow into something so singular—so beautiful. I lean against cool marble and stare up. The very center of the rotunda is a blue so deep it feels like midnight. From the center of the dome on a fifty-four-foot gold chain hangs a four thousand pound chandelier made of beveled crystal.
I carry that image of light in the center of darkness with me back outside under the quick-disappearing blue. The clouds roll in fast as I descend the portico steps. On the plaza below I find Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight—a casting of the original sculpture inspired by the Vachel Lindsay poem of the same name. Abe and I gaze at the Kanawha River as a tug struggles upstream with a barge heavy-laden with coal.
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