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Sacred Places: Real, or Do We Make Them Up?

In the first phase of my life my “Jerusalem” was a pond. It lay along the golf course in Clifton Knolls, a development near which I grew up. (It was in the town of Clifton Park, New York. You can see the pond here down on the left.)

For the wild bunch I hung out with in my teens, the golf course was a haven—at night. The cops—though their cars roamed the streets of the development assiduously, the bright beams splitting the night—almost never bothered with the golf course. You could get drunk out there under the stars, feeling the world was yours, spacious, endless.

That wasn’t, though, what made the pond a sacred place. That happened later at night—past midnight, when the silence out there was total except a sound a frog made like a bass string being slowly, pensively plucked. This was something even more clandestine than the drinking with the buddies; it involved sneaking out of a bedroom window, a tryst at a street corner, and making our way in the darkness to the “place by the water” (a paraphrase).

This went on for a few weeks during one of the summers. In an adolescence bedeviled by shyness and frustration, I had somehow found someone to go there with, alone. The magnificence, for me, of the intimacy; the beauty of the setting—breezes rustling the leaves along the pond—all this was overwhelming. The girl went away; I never understood why, until e-contact with her—over the past couple of years—provided some clues.

But the memories did not go away. A sort of religion of the pond—of itself, without my prompting—formed in my mind: the deep, ineffable tranquility, the sense of a different dimension, secluded, peaceful, and final. In the coming years I would drift back to it often.