One Mile Radius
By Laura Martier –
What can you find within a one-mile radius of your home?
I asked myself this question as I thought about what kind of creative treasure might be hiding in my Southern Shores neighborhood. Every day I get in my car, pull out of my driveway and head down Dogwood Trail to work, to the store or out of town. Every day I see the same houses and scenery, often the same people walking and biking.
For many years I made assumptions about living on the Outer Banks, while focusing my intention and desire to be living anywhere but here. It was a time of taking care of children and family, working to make ends meet, struggling to live my dreams, trying to take care of myself—not really sure of who I was much less my purpose in life. I felt unstimulated and resentful that I was not living in a city, New York City to be exact, where my best friend had successfully escaped after leaving a marriage and life here. My relationship with this community is like any other relationship in my life; there are stages, growth periods, set-backs and calm. There are times of utter frustration and breathtaking awe.
Years ago, when my personal life suffered a crisis, I found myself looking at everything through a new lens. Soon after, I found myself riding down the bike path on S. Dogwood Trail on a sunny day. I’ll never forget the warm breeze on my face, the Dogwood Trees in bloom forming an uninterrupted archway over the road. I live here, I thought.
My assumptions were changing; I could no longer defend them. With those changes came a new perspective about my life here on the Outer Banks. I was feeling a sense of wonder and curiosity. Before suffering an injury from a re-called artificial hip device last year, I used to run four miles daily though the paths that weave in and out of the woods and hills of my neighborhood. Sometimes I would catalogue things that I saw, the birds, deer, a persimmon tree, fox. I started noticing the hand painted signs on houses and artfully arranged yards. I found secret cut-throughs, wooded sanctuaries and sound front lookouts. My neighborhood amazed me every single day.
When I was a young girl, one of my favorite books was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I liked to imagine I was the heroine of this book and for awhile I pretended I was her. I fashioned a “spy” belt complete with notebook, pen, flashlight and pocketknife. I canvassed my suburban Milwaukee neighborhood looking for interesting subject matter, sometimes sneaking into a neighbor’s home, just like Harriet did, to record conversations into my notebook. My exploring revealed undreamed of delights even for a girl with an imagination as vivid as my own.
There was Mr. Lutz, an eighty-year old German bachelor with an endless candy supply and a secret garden in his postage stamp sized yard behind his tiny house brimming with fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetable plants for my sisters and I to feast on. There was Everett, Mr. Tape Recorder Man, a friend of Mr. Lutz, who used to record us singing and doing radio shows on his tape recorder and Mr. Duffy, an elderly landlord who cared for a four story apartment building on a corner at the far end of our block with a basement that had separate cellars with gigantic machinery and scary, damp hiding places.
To further cultivate a sense of curiosity about my surroundings here, I began listening more intently to the people around me. Conversations often centered on our sense of place, experiences and relationships to the people and spaces around us. I learned about other people’s gardens and what they were growing, what they did for fun, where they traveled, what their children did. I discovered things about my neighborhood that I never knew.
If you turn onto Pintail Trail off of S. Dogwood Trail across from Kitty Hawk Elementary School and follow it all the way down, Pintail comes to an end, with the road continuing to the right and All Saints Episcopal Church on the left. If you look ahead to the left, you will see a simple wooden arbor with two single benches. The words inscribed on the top of the arbor—“This is Holy Ground”—invite you in.
I parked my car in the parking lot and approached slowly. I heard the sound of birds singing, a woodpecker drilling, the breeze whispering through the grasses growing beneath and between a forest of trees. Just inside the arbor is a clearing and in the clearing is a labyrinth. Labyrinths were a feature of many medieval cathedrals—on of the best remaining examples is found in Chartres Cathedral in northern France.
Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is only one path—there are no dead ends. People walk the labyrinth slowly, as an aid to contemplative prayer and reflection, as a spiritual exercise, or as a form of pilgrimage.
This labyrinth is made out of white stones and is quite large with benches for sitting and resting arranged in a circle around it. I walked around the perimeter looking at the inscriptions on the benches, the span of woods behind and around the clearing and at the labyrinth itself. It looked like a circle with a big clover inside of it with one entrance leading in and out.
I approached the entrance, took a breath and began walking. At first my mind wandered and chattered, questioning if I had the time to be doing this, traveling away from the present. Then as I settled into the slow methodical walking required to stay within the boundaries of the labyrinth, my mind quieted and cleared.
A labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. As I walked, I thought about my daughter Lucy and the time she and her classmates walked a similar labyrinth on the beach in Ocracoke during a week-long trip her senior year in high school. Their teacher awoke before dawn to construct a simple labyrinth out of materials scavenged on the beach, and the twelve students walked the labyrinth one by one as the sun rose, the rest of us standing in a circle around them.
Emotions rose within me as I visualized this bittersweet memory. I inhaled, exhaled and continued on, the twists and turns eventually leading me into the center where I stopped for a moment taking in the scenery around me, raising my face to meet the warm morning sun filtering through the canopy of trees. After resting in the center for a few minutes, I made my way out of the center and out of the labyrinth.
I thought that this small journey on this warm summer morning is like my life, with twists and turns that hopefully lead to some kind of knowing, inspiration and grace. Traveling “outward” on the path ahead would take me back to my world, one step at a time, hopefully a bit more centered and a little more inspired, ready to share my experience with my neighbor and ready to seek other paths.