… memory and place …

I never thought I would live in one place for 23 years, and tend a garden. Its visiting creatures provide inspiration and amusement. I cast tendrils of attachment to secret corners, the changing patches of colours and textures. I observe the cherry and apple blossoms turning into carpets on the lawn, the tulips, blue bells and peonies bursting open in spring, wild strawberries, the abundance of clematis, roses and geraniums during summer, or phlox and fruits in autumn. The space is breathed through by the seasons’ moods and muses. On rare and perfect summer days, when the sun plays through the branches, I love spending time in my hammock, reading and editing, or share the space with friends – bliss.

Yet I can count such days on the fingers of my hands. And not just because of the UK weather.

This paradise is surrounded on four sides by hedgerows, has 5 mature fruit trees and a shed and studio smothered by ivy. Those of you who have gardens with sizable plants will understand the dedication it takes to merely keep annual growth under control.

Is the effort worth it?

Twice a year I need assistance. After the heavy rain and excessive growth we had during spring and summer, my neighbour recently helped transporting two transit vans stuffed full with cuttings to the recycling dump. The excess jungle weighs on my mind each year, but once trimmed and sculpted, the cleared shapes feel like newly decorated living rooms. 

What is it about places we care for? How come we spend so much time and energy looking after them? What we experience through our senses can be fleeting, but where repetition is involves, it becomes fixed and saturated in our imagination. There is nothing as deeply impressive as living in one place through cycles of seasons. We call it home.

In these tumultuous times, a great number of people around the world are forced to leave their homes. Either they have no say in the matter, or they must leave for sheer survival, escaping adverse weather conditions or politics that undermine human dignity. But wherever we land, we inherit the history of a room, a house, a plot, a community, and in turn we leave traces, an influence.

The place survives us. Do we bless it?

Do our personal experiences – including those associated with ambivalent feelings about places and people – survive beyond the brain’s switchboard activity that ties associations into a framework of meaning and memory? My intuition tells me yes, there are spaces in many dimension, floating as in a kind of hologram, which can live on through a strong memory laid down in our imagination, like the next chapter of a story.

In the way of habituation, these subtle forms must remain in some way in the collective psyche, accessible to minds and hearts who tune into their feeling pattern. This could happen via a kind of grid of finer matter (see Eccles: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Carew_Eccles) that interact with the denser neural network of our brains.

There are these unanswered questions: is consciousness an emergent phenomenon of matter, or is matter an emergent phenomenon of some finer, spiritual substance?

Either way, if one were to assume that we create the world hereafter by the repetitive strength of our experience, be it with places, people or the passion for a sport, craft, art, music, science,  it bears us well to find something we can love, care for, and empower with our imagination.


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12 responses to “… memory and place …

  1. A lovely thoughtful post which echoed many of my own thoughts and beliefs about the places that we touch and that touch us. The pictures of the garden are beautiful, our own place looks very sad at the moment due to such an incredibly dry season but there are still things to enjoy and the rain will come in time bringing with it that wonderful smell of wet, warm earth.


  2. Oh, how the garden pictures remind me of my grandmother’s yard growing up! I always thought Grandma recreated her image of a beautiful English garden which is rather special here in Canada, being ‘a colony’. I have pictures of it but, although they are in black and white, my imagination can still infuse the photo with the colours of my memories. Once the property was sold, I’ve never gone back to see if the new owners preserved it or whether they just tore out everything or let it go to seed. I want to preserve my childhood memories. 🙂


    • Bless your grandmother. Though this may sound strange and cause raised brows, so don’t quote me 🙂 I reckon that strong repetitive impressions continue in the world of the imagination, and at instances create a more deeply real experience than they could in reality.


  3. A thought-provoking post. I have never lived more than seven years anywhere. I only ever buy furniture can can be carried easily. I long for somewhere to grow roots.


    • I don’t think it’s so much the length of time in one place, Katia, but more the intensity or quality of the attention we bring to our experiences, and the manner in which we process these. It’s like writing a novel that creates an absorbing world that lives on for a while, whereas the bulk of slush-piles is quickly reabsorbed in the collective pool.


  4. Lehana

    Hi Ashen, Your post was very timely. I am packing up, sorting through 35 years of stuff. Amazed how many years have passed. Saying goodbye to our house of 17 years, which is so impregnated with our family memories and our energies. I have kept the garden and acreage up, almost 3 hours each day of work to tend the many flowers, bushes, trees and large veggie garden, surrounded by forest. Have help come in twice a month. A labor of love, it fills my soul and is a magical place, especially at dusk. It has been a long, bizarre year. I am not ready to move, but have to accept the changes. I will move to Talent, 40 miles south of here, and temporarily live near Roshan, and also maybe rent a place here in Grants Pass, to stay close to friends, my son and new granddaughter, and my part time work. I am letting the universe fall into place, trying to stay in the moment and allowing life to unfold. Thank you for your stories. I always enjoy. Love & blessings, Lehana


  5. Hi Lehana, I didn’t know you were reading my posts, it warms my heart. Thanks for sharing how you’re coping with the changed geometry of your life. The process of leaving a place one tamed and cared for, the sifting through the belongings accumulated over a long time, is particular poignant when every favourite spot and each object reminds one of a loved one who is no longer there. A process of integration and adjustment, pain that lingers, yet also brings truth, unexpected open space and grace. Sending you loving thoughts, and wishing you many well-lived moments.


  6. “There are these unanswered questions: is consciousness an emergent phenomenon of matter, or is matter an emergent phenomenon of some finer, spiritual substance?” Who knows what is consciousness? That blissful moment you described here and elsewhere – the experience of a foreign or alien or isolated or alienated or other consciousness. What Sack’s called Altered States: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/08/27/altered-states-3 But how do we know what’s altered if we don’t know the first layout?


    • The first layout, an interesting notion. I think something like a first layout partly derives from our experiences during childhood, as a functional way of dealing with one’s reality, though the childlike curiosity is often smothered, maybe by parents or a culture obsessed with control and security. I always admired Oliver Sacks for his fearless explorations.
      This sparks another post … thanks.


  7. Pingback: … dreams … | Course of Mirrors

  8. Pingback: … patina – beauty of use & age – wabi-sabi … | Course of Mirrors

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