Sunday, August 2, 2020

Are We Really Here?

Cottage, Colored Pencil
I was staying in the beach house belonging to the mother of a friend. The stilted house was in Waveland, Mississippi and I was staying for a week to work  on a book I have been trying to make progress on for two years. 

I had just woken up from a nap laced with residue of the present COVID reality and the temporal vertigo that can come form writing about the past. I woke like a child, overheated, confused. It was bright and hot outside and I walked away from the water and turned down a street, feeling small near the large houses that stood at strange heights, heights to avoid the storm surge of the next gigantic hurricane. Without the storm surge, with a transplant's enduring estrangement in a culture and landscape shaped by tropical storms (I was raised near woods and hills) the effect of the houses floating over the flat land made me Alice-like in Wonderland. There were no people around. Where were all the people? 

There was a main street with a row of brand new buildings, new since the last gigantic storm. There was no one when I turned on Main Street. Then, on the playground, on the merry-go-round, the most obsolete and poetic of all playground equipment, were two children. I do not have a habit of sentimentalizing children, but these two were quiet and smiled quietly at me. An adult (their father I assumed) sat on one of the benches playing an acoustic guitar. I do not have a habit of sentimentalizing people playing guitars but I could hear a deep and pretty sound and I could feel it vibrating in my ribs. As if that wasn’t already too much, I recognized the song. 

In high school, my friends and I used gather in Ali’s basement and play pool and listen to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti over and over. The song Bron-Y-Aur, played on the acoustic guitar and without vocals, may not be recognizable to some as Led Zeppelin. I have always loved this song because of the way it creates an ache for something I cannot (and could never) name, like longing, like a question about belonging.

 In 1970 Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant spent time composing songs and walking in the woods near a cottage named Bron-Y-Aur, which was nestled by a hillside in Wales. Like mine, it was a kind of self-made retreat. There was no running water or electricity in the cottage but their time on retreat there was reportedly inspiring and generated many songs or parts of songs. I was also getting a lot done and had been working on a passage of my narrative that addresses high school. In the strange quiet of that afternoon, the notes of this song, some remembered rock trivia acquired by my teenage self, and the already dreamy day, I felt connected to multiple times and places, like I was here and not here. 

I listened to the man play the end of the song, including the slide, the last notes, the last chord strummed reluctantly and I waited until the sound was gone and then waited another moment. Excuse me. Hi. Was that Bron-Y-Aur? What I really wanted to ask was, Is this a dream? Are we really here? As I walked away I turned around several times to confirm that I had not imagined this scene. The man was no longer playing the guitar but had joined his children near the merry-go-round. Confirming that he was there though did not seem to answer my question. Then, I made my way back to the beach house to write.

Google Maps Street View of Road near Bron Y Aur in |Wales

Main Street, Waveland

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