Beginnings: Journey into "Journey In Place"

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Beginnings:  Journey into "Journey In Place"

The original meaning of the word “journey” is rooted in Old French journee, which meant “a day’s length; day’s work or travel.” Farther back in time, “journey” arose from the Latin diurnus “of one day.”

Journey these days means going someplace. This can be an outer physical place, or an inner emotional place, or a spiritual place which can be a combination of the two, one or the other, or a realm that only you access. A journey can consist of all of these elements at once, each separately, or together in various combinations.

I like to think of journey in the context of a day’s travel. A day is a microcosm for the turn of a year, or even a season. A day can be a miniature whole lifetime, as can the segments we humans have hacked time up into.

The word “Journey” caught my eye in a visit to author, naturalist and activist Janisse Ray’s website. Journeys fire my attention. Last year I had read her book Wild Spectacle. The book captured my attention at a local bookstore for several reasons. To begin with, the words at the top of the cover were inviting. “Seeking Wonders in a World Beyond Humans.” I was intrigued. Then, the title, “Wild Spectacle” lifted my hand to snatch the book off the shelf. The background on the cover, sky blue with cottony floating clouds was itself a backdrop for a flock of birds with black and yellow wings who flew over and through the orangey-red script of the title. The cover was like lying on the earth looking up. A spring sun shone daffodil yellow warmth and my stretched out body soaked it in; the smell of new-year soil, last year’s leaves and grasses, the linger of winter’s chill yet; and view of the sky, clouds, and birds as they swooped and glided were childhood memories and joy. What a jolt when the image fled, to find myself standing in the bookstore. The book went home with me.

Now, on her website, Janisse Ray commanded my attention. An invitation to an offering for Journey In Place, guided by her. A whole year to explore, to journey to place. No, In Place. Place as where I am, in relation to the land. This has always been paramount for me. I do my best to learn the land, and for it to learn me. My meaning of land is the land and everything upon her, above her and below her. I call her collectively the ‘scapes, as in landscape.

A move to the high desert of central Oregon a few years ago stretched my life-long Montana tap root about as far as it could without breaking. I struggle daily to connect to Oregon. Journey In Place is a shining opportunity to explore Place with a master-ess of place. I know this of Janisse Ray from cozy, pewter predawn hours of reading Wild Spectacle.

I sign up. Janisse Ray’s suggestions for the course are simple: a journal and writing instrument, preferably pencils, our presence and a small amount of time each week. She mentions colored pencils. Colored pencils! I’ve not used colored pencils in years. But I have some. A quick rummage in our storage room brought the colored pencils (made in Germany) to light, as well as a tin of curious, stubby, somewhat plump watercolor pencils called Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Aquarelle, Swiss made. No idea who had given them to me, or how long ago. I have European marking tools for North American work. Not only are my ancestors immigrants to this land, so are my writing and (tentative) art making supplies. To my Journey In Place hoard, I add a blank journal, whose chocolate brown leather cover and off-white pages with slight texture are my favorite. Then, I unearth a small, teal colored duffle bag-like conveyance for my supplies, with a tapestry scene of three horses galloping across the desert on each side. How fitting. Horses are the embodiment of Place. Oh, a purple hand held pencil sharpener, and woolen, light blue fingerless mittens for writing and drawing in my journal in the cold months, when out on the land herself. Everything is low tech. Perfect. I am ready.

Three who know Place

I take myself out for a walk on the land. I am lucky in that I can walk from my house to an expanse of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land. This land is dry. Remember, this is the high desert of Oregon. There are scattered juniper trees, grasses, sage brush, juniper tree skeletons from a past fire, jumbles of lava rock and miles to walk.

I bring my Journey In Place supplies with me, in a backpack. Best to get used to bringing them along. Fog is lifting into clouds. Is there a difference, really? The air is white and sharp. I hear a chickadee. The only bird I hear in two hours. The low clouds seem to deaden the birds’ song as much as it does the air, and flattens my spirits.

But, wait. I have my Journey In Place supplies. Their warm glow of suggestion and experiences to be and places yet to happen leach out of the backpack and surround me like candlelight. Maybe they want to come out and have a look around. I stop at the mossy hillside I am sure fairies dance upon from time to time. The mosses, trees and lichens feel like the otherworld. I bet my supplies will like it here.

My small shawl joins the supplies. Several years ago I knit it from merino wool. Knitting is one way I connect deeply to the land. The wool from a living sheep, the aged-old movements of knitting, the making of each stitch on and on, by hand is grounding. I chose the colors because they remind me of wild skies, which I love.

I think my supplies like it in this fairy visited place. After all, the staid German colored pencils landed in somewhat of a disarray, forgetting themselves. Placing them back in their holder was somewhat of a chore. Once my supplies have a good look around, I bundle them away and walk on.

Curves in trails are irresistible. They are like the curves in question marks themselves. What’s next?

Back home, I recheck Janisse Ray’s Journey In Place page. It is still there. It still beckons. The presence of the land I just walked lingers with me. A small tug makes itself known on the periphery of my awareness. “Are you ready?” the small tug inquires.

All photos © Jenny Wright. I request they are not copied, unless permission is granted.

  1. Dear Jenny.

    Finding your email sounded like a “yes…now I can become calmer.”

    I have been working hard on collaborating with a friend on a book Doing so, rather than being, creates a wildness that I need to shake off to recenter. Your images and land connected words are welcomed at such times. I also checked out the recommended website and am thinking to sign up for that same course. It’s just the right amount of time for writing that will land my soul. Thank you Jenny.

    1. Ingeborg,
      Thank you for your heartwarming words. That my words bring you calm and a way back to yourself means much. These words you wrote…”land my soul” are profound and deep. It is as if the land and soul are one. Maybe they are. It would be wonderful if you signed up for the course. One reason: it would be lovely to be part of a group with you again, even if separated by distance. I hope you do. From time to time I think of you and the dolphins and the sea.

  2. I too have read Janisse Ray’s book and loved it. I also adore colored pencils but haven’t used them in too long. Your piece stirs up much interest, and I find myself seeing my “place” in new ways – even in just the last few minutes. Thank you for these insights and for inspiring me, Jenny.

    1. You are welcome, Sara. When we really look at our place, with intention and mindfulness, we do see more. Good for you! Getting some colored pencils out might be fun!

  3. 🩷❤️🧡💛💚
    I just feel like colouring now! I’ll also check out that website! Thank you Jenny!

    1. Thank you, dear Isabelle! The colored pencils have been a ton of fun. What a great suggestion they are and a way to reconnect with a forgotten joy.❤️

  4. I love these photographs! The color and composition are beautiful. The green is so magical! I’ve been so inspired by Janisse as well. I bought myself art supplies, too, and remembering my love of drawing has been a revelation.

    1. Thank you, Monica! Janisse is a balm to the writing soul, and great inspirations as well. That you are revisiting your drawing is also inspiring, and delving into it opens many other doors of creativity and life.

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