Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Giving Directions

There's tremendous power in simply giving directions in writing. The experience of deep trust, being instructed kindly, gently by a trustworthy narrator, is quiet but powerful.

Lately I have been noticing student preference for writing that is dense, what I call "jungle writing" - super thick with images, almost impossible to track because of the lyricism. But there are many kinds of writing. The style of the writing in this piece, which is "raw and fresh and unedited" from a recent class reflects the solitude and quietness of the subject itself. It would be inaccurate to use hyper dense language for describing such a spacious, intimate location.

Richard, the student, has written "about" Dyer Pond before, but never actually taken us there like this. The process of writing this was very satisfying for him, and satisfying for us to listen to. At the end, he says: "At some point it is time to go back, because you always have to return. So you do." I find this line deliciously ambiguous - because you always have to return to your life, because you always have to return to the pond and you can't return to it if you don't leave it. I feel implicated, in the best possible way, impelled to go again and again until I, too, would know my way in the dark.


The path begins at Zoheth Smith Road, a private road off Cahoon Hollow Road,
which is off Route 6, just south of Wellfleet. Zoheth Smith is a recently built road, a loop
that goes nowhere, and it is dotted with vacation houses. It is always quiet, unless there is
construction. You enter the road, veer to the right, and walk for several minutes, and then
there is a narrow footpath to your right. It’s not at all obvious; you have to know it’s
there, and I’m pleased that I do know. The path winds slowly downhill between two
houses. The land is sandy and scrubby. You come out into the open and there is sun.
Low, wild blueberry bushes with small pale blueberries in season. And then there is an
open stretch perpendicular to the path, a wide but very long corridor with tall electrical
cable towers that appear slightly menacing on the open sand, like marching metallic
giants. Now you step into the woods, and it is more shaded. You turn right briefly, then
left, and you are in more of the scrubby woods that make up most of wild Cape Cod. The
path is obvious and easy to follow. It’s sandy and soft, but not too soft. The trees are
gnarled and there is no great high canopy, but a more open, scrubby aspect, and in some
places, long slender green grasses. Some oak trees and others I couldn’t name. Usually
you will not meet anyone on this path, but if you do, it will probably be a little group of
people in bathing suits with towels wrapped around their necks. Eventually you come to
a place where a wider dirt road cuts in from the right, and there is someone’s house on
the left. You go straight, more or less, and then the path forks and you go to the left. It is
narrow now, and soon you will see the water of Dyer Pond. Sometimes it is absolutely
silent because there is no one there at all. Oh, probably there are bird calls, or splashes, or
wings flapping, but no human sounds. You cut down to the left again just before a fence
begins that protects some of the fragile land above the shore of the pond. You wind
around and arrive at a narrow, sloping strand of beach, sandy, and just wide enough to lie
down on, your body angled toward the water. Depending on the time of day, you might
be in the sun. If so, the pond will sparkle. It sparkles and sparkles and sparkles. If you
move, the reflected sparkles seem to move with you, denser in a wide path, then tapering
off at the edges. The pond is quiet and still. Here in Wisconsin, we would probably call it
a lake, because it is small lake-sized. But on Cape Cod, it is a pond. Dyer Pond. You face
the closer shore, but it would still be a bit of a swim to get across. There are a couple of
scrubby trees right at the water’s edge where you can hang a towel or a shirt. Stepping
into the water, you discover that it is soft. It is cool, but not icy cold. The water is clean
and clear. The whole experience is like whispering; it’s like church, only better. There is
a radiance on the land, on the planet, and inside human beings, and you feel a little bit of
that as you ease your whole body into the water, which is a shock, and then you move
within its silkiness. You swim, you float, you paddle, whatever you like to do for
however long. If other people show up, that is okay too. Usually it is families, and
children might be noisy, but that is fine. Adults tend to be quiet here, to speak in hushed

Eventually you come out of the water. Maybe you stand right at the edge, feet still
in the shallows, and drip dry in the sun. Maybe you rub vigorously with your towel.
Maybe you lie in the sand for a while, eyes open or closed, the clouds moving lazily
above you. At some point it is time to go back, because you always have to return. So
you do.

-Richard Ely

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