This body of mine, in all its seeming dense and static corporeality; in all its seeming distinct and separate nature, is a mere interim expression of time and place. Like an animated ghost it moves through space, pervious to air and liquid, bacterium and virus, quark and neutrino. All but the most mundane and structured matter (itself a mere temporary arrangement) passes through me, interacts with me, affects me. I breathe the air, I drink the water, I am infected and then shot-through a trillion times over by the natives of its sub-atomic jungle. Except in mind and myopia, Place and “I” are near the same.
Despite frequent admonitions to the contrary (Tennessee Williams: “I can write anywhere…”), a writer is an animated eating breathing thinking shitting expression of place. Beyond the obvious examples such as Joyce’s Dublin, Hemingway’s Paris, Lee’s Alabama, the “where” of a writer’s work is always there, present in the soul of it like some chemical isotope breathed in and metabolized, primed and ready for analysis. Dublin, Paris, Alabama—they don’t necessarily need to be the settings of stories, the birthplaces of characters, the scenes of birth and destruction, either. If Joyce had chosen to write about Maycomb instead, his Dublin would have been there still, changing the accents, flavoring the beer.
Consciousness of place is vital to my own writing. Even when I’m warm and comfortable sitting in my almost-urban office, I am aware of formative places, special places, places where the seeds of ideas were sown. The GAIAD is infused with “place.” The original premise (The earth is more than we think it is) came to me while hiking a canyon in Southern Utah one evening in late autumn. The imagery, the energy for the epilogue of the novel and a referenced, earlier scene were re-creations for me of this important place. I wrote a substantial portion of the “Past” section of the book, including the Wisent Jump sequence while camping in an RV in a forest on a mountainside outside of Crested Butte, Colorado for a few weeks. This sequence, in which men fall and become something other than they were, become something separate from their own places and times, was a critical point on which the plot of the larger story pivots. I feel sometimes (and this is an admission that I’m very hesitant to make) that this section is built on some of my best writing.
Looking back now, I’m aware (as I was then, even) that the mountain peaks which greeted me glowing golden in the light of a morning’s sun, the fields of hip-high grasses and wildflowers where deer and elk ate and watched me lazily in the evenings, the too-bright-clear visions of the Milky Way at night—these things are in those words, that text describing the exhilaration of a paleolithic hunt, the natural glory of ancient lives and deaths and the horrific fall from grace of a people once-perfect.
William Butler Yeats believed in something he called “spiritus mundi,” the mind of the world. He thought that we, people, could tap into this and perhaps channel it on our better days. I’m not sure, but this makes sense to me. It also makes sense to me that those special places, those places where in our dreams we still dwell at night, are somehow already “tapped-into,” and infused with the spirit of the world. All we have to do is remember them, put ourselves there in our minds, walking again through their forests, looking up into their clear skies and through us then comes LOGOS (as the Greeks said), words and speech.
Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.
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