Thursday, January 11, 2007


In the dream we were in Woodstock, Virginia, at the bottom of a mountain. An inhabited mountain, there were paved streets and shallow wooden houses, two stories; homes leaning with the curve of the mountain, which is to say all different directions, none of them plumb with any other. There were people around, families, but not well-behaved ones. Not mother walking down the sidewalk with two little ones cooing instructions, not father pitching a baseball to the son in a yard. No, just big-boned families milling around the streets, taking up space. Fathers with bushy, unkempt beards and no good ideas. Dark hair, dark eyes, an unlikely ethnicity for the region: maybe Portuguese or French Canadian. Large litters of children. Some mothers, but more fathers. Perhaps the mothers were inside houses indulging in naps.

“The region”: Woodstock is in the Shennandoah Valley, in between the Blue Ridge mountains and the Appalachians. It really wasn’t a mountain, but a steep hill on one side, and a steep hill on the other. We were at the bottom of a hollow, a crowded hollow.

Suddenly the landscape was a map. Suddenly the other half of we was no longer my beau but my father. I often dream of maps. We grew up with all kinds of maps: National Geographic books with maps of the continental U.S. or of the world, Triple-A maps for family visits or vacations, maps my father would bring out to illustrate a story, brochure maps that were free at rest stops on interstates, treasure maps in children’s books, and three-dimensional topographical maps that hung on the wall. Above the old schooldesk where the gerbil cage sat, back when we had gerbils. A topographical map of a section of Virginia. Maybe that map was indeed of Woodstock and the Blue Ridge.

My father was showing me that right behind us, where I wasn’t looking (now we were above everything, looking down at the map) was a lake. I was trying to wrap my mind around what the scale of this map was, since I realized that I had been existing in a very limited space for quite some time. My father wasn’t answering my (silent) questions directly, but the things he was saying started filling in some gaps. The map was two-dimensional. The lake was huge, I thought I heard my father say it was thirty miles across. I realized that I had no idea what were the measurements of the Great Lakes. My father was interested in the mountains. He was translating the map’s language for me, showing me that there were mountains of a much higher altitude surrounding the lake, he could tell by the closeness of the lines.

The dream ended with the word SHELDRAKE. I repeated the word over and over all morning, the whole bus ride to work, whispering it inside my cranium. I was so proud of myself. I was sure that it had to do with my parents’ life in Woodstock, the year my brother was born. It’s very hard to remember language from dreams. If you’ve ever tried it, you know. It’s next to impossible to lure something that concrete from one realm to the other. From dream life through waking. Usually it washes down the drain right then.

By the time I thought of writing it down, it was mid-day at work. And my mind blanked. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I’d been so proud of myself, and then gambled with my lucky word by not recording it. It was the triumph of the trickster dream gods: “You can recall it, but not long enough to write it down!....” The closest I could get to it was the word SHALIMAR, and I knew that wasn’t it. I sat in my office, alone and dejected. The plant, the slant of the light outside, the possibility of seeing the wild turkeys again, they meant nothing to me.

Later it came back to me when I wasn’t looking for it. SHELDRAKE. I haven’t asked my parents yet what it means to them, but I did hear that there’s a “Loch Sheldrake” in Upstate New York.


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