This morning I harvested rosemary. The attention and care it took for this project gave me a good feeling of place.
I remember one of the first times I had this feeling of connection to the land. I was sixteen, staying with my maternal grandparents at the Bodensee, the lake that creates 3 borders, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. As part of the research for From Ashes into Light, my daughter and I traveled to Europe, and I very much looked forward to seeing the Bodensee again.
From New York, we landed at the Czechoslovakian airport to the sight of heavily armed soldiers. Memories were triggered. I struggled to regain a sense of balance.My daughter’s confidence, curiosity and competence broadcast practical needs of the moment, reminding me to let go of the past. I experienced a strong connection to several places in Prague–especially the synagogue, as well as the Jewish cemetery. After more than 3 decades, I had come to the continent of my birth with mixed feelings of fear and release, which surprised me. The humility and sincerity of the people we met reminded me of cultural differences I had forgotten. There were tastes, smells and sounds that triggered many visceral memories.
In Prague, we attended a transpersonal conference where we spent a number of days listening to speakers in a building that looked like it doubled as a Renaissance style, ornate opera house. Towards the end of the conference, we danced with Olantunde on the streets. The music had a powerful trance-like rhythm. The night was clear and temperate. Even though there were more than a hundred people who joined the dance, I experienced a sense of close-knit community that transcended historical adversity.
We took the train from Czechoslovakia to the former East Germany. The fare was so inexpensive, I decided to go first class. It seemed as if there was no one else on the train but the two of us and several porters who frequently wanted to know if we needed anything. It was a long, pleasant ride dedicated to watching country landscapes along the Elbe River.
I remember practicing my German with a gentleman who was traveling to buy a new car and bring it home. He was retired and very relaxed about it, at ease with himself. His benefits were secure, and the knowledge of this seemed to permeate his being.
We came to visit my Aunt, and my mother’s closest sister in age. She welcomed us so warmly, I felt I had truly come home. She lived very close to one of the last Russian internment camps our family had endured.
We next visited one of my mother’s brothers, the chiropractor, who hired a chauffeur to pick us up at the station. I had last seen him when he was newly engaged, and now his daughter was grown up just as mine was.
Eventually, we came to the Bodensee, where I had spent 2 summers during my teenage years with my maternal grandparents, my mother and her youngest sister with her first-born son. Those summers I learned to appreciate the healing power of nature. Along the lake, in the woods and the community gardens, I sought solitude, healing and transformation.
However, my return to the Bodensee was different than what I had held dear in my memory. My grandparents were no longer alive. There was a hole in the fabric of the family.
My aunt and uncle took us on many excursions along the Bodensee, which were welcome diversions–from old cobblestone harbor towns to craggy heights of the Alps. There were moments when these places impacted me with a healing sense of finding my roots–a deep familiarity that had been nearly forgotten.