Friday, August 19, 2011

Sleeping on the Ground and the Persistence of Memory

What do Salvador Dali and Mary Oliver have in common?  Very little, I would suppose, but one never knows. I'm going to forge ahead anyway, because they both popped into my noggin about the same time. We'll see where this thing takes us.

It actually started with an allusion to Pablo Picasso I'd read yesterday and I wasn't sure exactly when these two gentleman's lives might have converged so I looked up their dates. As I suspected, Pablo arrived on the scene shortly before Dali. One set the bar as the King of Quirky and the next one raised it. None of that has much to do with my subject which, believe it or not, is camping, sleeping on the ground to be a bit more specific. Dali's painting, "The Persistence of Memory," got me thinking about memory and in popped the homemade tents my sister and I made in the yard a whole lot of summers ago.

These tents were made of blankets, as many as we could abscond with from the house. We would string some clothesline between two trees, tie it off and throw the blankets over it using clothespins to secure them and rocks to hold down the corners. It was quite a makeshift camp we had. The payoff was sleeping on the ground, feeling the earth beneath us, and being able to open the end blanket to look up at the stars overhead any time we felt like it. Which was fairly often.

On more than one summer night, a breeze would blow, the night would grow cold, and we'd find ourselves trudging back to the house in the middle of the night. On the nights this didn't happen, we would almost always find ourselves sleeping under the night sky at some point, with the blankets fallen down around us. We'd scrunch down inside them a bit more and wait it out 'til morning. Some mornings we'd wake up only to discover it had happened unbeknownst to us, we'd slept right through it and the morning sun was shining on our faces.

I've done a lot more camping in my life, with a real tent. Some of it has been up on the north shore of Lake Superior with its spectacular scenery, some of it at state parks elsewhere in Minnesota, a whole lot of it in southern Utah. There's a campground on the banks of the San Juan River, a few miles outside of Bluff, that has some nice sites and Deer Flat Road up on Cedar Mesa has a particularly nice spot to set up a base camp from which to explore the nearby canyons. Watching a full moon come up over the rocks and pinons had such a surreal feeling one night I thought I'd stepped out of a dream and into a painting, Rene Magritte this time, but that's all the further I'll take that as this is already occupied by some pretty surreal fellows. Well, maybe one image won't hurt.

There's something about sleeping on the ground, or pretty close to it, that has an almost primordial feeling to it. Close my eyes up there on the mesa and all sorts of lives float through. It's not at all difficult to imagine being inside an alcove, tucked into a canyon wall, my children softly sleeping next to me, or lying up on a rock ledge behind walls made of mud and juniper with a dog at my feet. It feels good. It feels natural.

These days I sleep on a queen size plush top mattress and that feels pretty good, too, but it's the nights inside those homemade tents made of blankets and clothespins that still call out to me across the years and make me wish for just one more night, to sleep under the stars with the full moon on my face.

A while back, I'd written down in a notebook a poem by Ms. Oliver I thought I'd like to share at some point. I guess that point is now.

"Sleeping in the Forest"

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

~ Mary Oliver

Paintings by Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, and Jules Breton


  1. Hi there. Good post. Sometimes I'm inclined to think the difference between sleeping on the ground and in a bed indoors isn't unlike the difference between eating a tomato bought off the produce counter in a store, and eating one fresh picked from a plant you nurtured from a seed.

    The virtue of Picasso to some degree's contained in the fact he wasn't scared of baggy pants. I never thought of that until I heard Guy Clarks, Picasso's Violin, but Clark was right.

    Thanks for sharing the post. Enjoyable read.

  2. Hi Old Jules, I like your earthy analogy.

    I just checked out Guy Clark and his Picasso's Mandolin. Knocked my socks off. Great song. Cool video. Thanks for that.

    And Thanks for stopping.

  3. Hmm. Mary Oliver and Rumi and Hafiz? Interesting. Not many even know who they are, do they?

  4. Good evening, Michael, Well, if they didn't before, maybe they do now. They all seem more than worthy of being introduced to anyone who might be interested, and I'm happy to do it.

  5. Your "thin thread" connected so much - I think you referenced a poem by Mary Oliver earlier in the year (or was it later in last year?) I hadn't given her much thought until you opened my eyes - it's nice to see the trees in the forest. Thank you!

  6. Hi Kittie, Yes, more than once. I am such a big fan of her and her poetry. Thanks.

  7. I was given a slim little volume of Mary Oliver poems long ago by a dear friend, and ever since I have realized her genius. This poem is a new one to me, and it's so beautiful and soulful. I too have spent many a night under the stars in a tent in the Colorado Rockies, mostly. You brought those nights back to me in this post. Thank you for that. :-)

  8. DJan, You're most welcome. Camping creates some pretty nice memories.

  9. Hello Teresa:
    What an enchanting post this is. And, if we had not tried it for ourselves, reading this most romantic account of sleeping on the earth under the stars might well persuade us that tonight we should do just that. Alas, we must confess that we dislike camping intensely. Perhaps we have just been unlucky, but all our experiences to date with tents, fields, mattresses that deflated in the night, cold showers and inadequate lavatories have convinced us that the great outdoors is not for us, well, in terms of sleeping at any rate!!

    Nevertheless, you have written so beautifully here and yes, we are firm believers that a thin thread connects us all.......eventually!

  10. Lovely thoughts this evoked.We made a lot of these tents and had a lot of fun playing in them. This last full moon woke me during its waning and waxing, brightening up my world inside of my tent when it was directly overhead.

  11. Oh, I like Dali
    Salvador did it for me,

  12. Beautiful, beautiful post.
    Your writings introduced me to Mary Oliver. She grows on me more and more. Thank you Teresa.

  13. Hi Jane and Lance, Location, location, location. That's what makes it all worthwhile for me. I can withstand a lot for a big adventure. I do, however, prefer hot showers whenever possible.

  14. Steve, This last full moon fell in my window and woke me up. It was a beauty.

  15. Penny, I love being introduced to new poets, so I'm so glad to have done this for you and Mary Oliver. And thank you for your comments. I'm glad you liked this.

  16. I slept in a tent on the beach twice in my lifetime. Adventurous and fun, yeah! But, brother, did my back ache the next day. No fun sleeping on sand.

  17. You help me to see things so clearly through words and art, especially as it all relates to the natural world. I loved both the poem and painting and never would have connected the two without your view of both.

    Thank you so much. This was a real treat!

  18. Your post reminds me of how carefree and fear free we were as kids lying on the ground watching the clouds, camping and sleeping on the ground watching the moon, and exploring simply everything. It actually makes me rather ashamed to think of how fearful I've grown over the last few years to where I freak out if a scorpion or lizard comes to visit. Such is life you know, and to be afraid of what lurks in the dark is no way to live. You've given me much to think about Teresa. Thank you.

    btw, nice photo!

  19. Hi gigi, I think sand sort of hardens as we lay on it, and so I can imagine it was fun until it wasn't. :) Thanks for visiting.

  20. Bill, Your words mean a lot to me, as you have such a wonderful way of expressing yourself about the natural world you live in and what you've learned from it. So, I thank you It's fun for me to see the connections and find the personal context therein.

  21. Linda, I have to remind myself from time to time to not be afraid of the dark outdoors. My biggest fear so far, the centipede crawling over my foot in the dark kitchen, happened inside!

    Thanks. :)

  22. Thanks Terasa ,Mary Oliver Is A new name to me.She is right, the earth does remember us!Hey, I didn't know Americans had noggins!I always thought that a Yorkshire saying.

  23. Hi Tony, I had no idea noggin has a history in Yorkshire. I have no idea where I picked it up, except it sounds like something my father might have said. Maybe I was British some time back, life is weird. :)

  24. We used to go camping years ago....we slept in a tent until one Memorial Day weekend we woke up to a rain storm that left us laying in a puddle of water. After that we bought a camper truck...and it never was quite the same again.
    This really was a beautiful post.

  25. I'm always intrigued to spot connections - our minds work unconsciously to make them, in dreams. Thanks for this thought provoking post.

  26. Karena, Camper trucks have their qualities, but I know what you mean, it's not the same. Thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate it very much.

    Jenny, It's something I've been looking at all my life, what is our connection to each other. It makes my world go round.

  27. I've camped many a day on the ground in Baja Mexico for three months, the Sierras, and many southwestern states, then we took to tents, then motorhomes, on a recent trip I slept in the back of my car on an old foam mattress I covered for camping years ago and my old bones nearly turned crippled after one night, I may make another one, I think that one over 25 years old, even with it's washable canvas cover, has lost it's usefullness. I do love commmuning with nature. The poem reminds me of the stars in the desert skies of so many trips, wonderful.

  28. Hej Teresa. It's a lovely poem by Mary Oliver.

    "The Persistence of Memory" fits so well, at least to many things every day for me. There is so much each day which wakes up my memory!

    It was so funny to sleep in tent when we were children. We were not out in the wild, we were on grandmother's lawn close to the house. No dangers! Except that I was bitten in the ear by an insect, and I always claimed that it was an earwig, because we believed it would crawl into our ears! The bottom of the tent was often wet and cold, and then we just gave up like sissies. My friends to their parents in a farm across the road and me up to grandmother in my own warm bed. So wild were we then! I was worse later!
    Thank you for the good post and the poem.
    Grethe `)

  29. I love the connection you have woven here. And love all the beautiful artwork.
    My sisters and I used to make tents out of blankets, memories. Now my granddaughters make tents out of blankets in the living room : )

  30. Linda, I knew you were a camping kind of gal. Yes, those stars in the desert are so fine.

    Grethe, A fellow childhood camper. I love the image of you going to your warm bed at your grandmothers. Lovely. Thank you for that.

    LadyCat, It's nice to know children still love making tents out of whatever material is at hand. It seems universal.
    Thank you.

  31. that and a little imagination to use as glue.

    I love being outdoors, day or night, but sleeping outdoors has never been that great for me. And I never had anyone to do it with. (What a deprived childhood I had compared to kids with siblings, I've never felt it as much as since I've become a blogger and read other people's accounts of the things they got up to as children.)

    Nowadays the thought of camping makes me shudder, I want a shower and a bed and no creepy-crawlies in it.

  32. Friko, I've never been very good with glue. It sticks to my fingers and then everything sticks to that....

    You were an only child, I take it? It has its own rewards. :)

    I'm not big on creepie-crawlies either. Fortunately, I never had any Inside a tent.

  33. Your memories are so well written, I've really enjoyed reading through with you about joining clubs and fashion shows and radish flavoured kisses ;) You make sleeping outside on the earth sound like something even I might like.

    It's a sign of the times though that we daren't let our children sleep alone in the garden under canvas anymore, that's awfully sad by the sound of your story they're missing out alot!

  34. Hi Jane, Thank you. Sleeping on the ground now would not be a regular thing. But, I'd like to do so again. I think it would be very grounding. :)

    We do seem to live in times that make it more difficult. What a shame. I think children need nature and what it offers. I cannot imagine life without the opportunity to be there, and often.

  35. Love this Oliver poem. A new one for me. "All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing round me".

    Waking outdoors washed clean by the nights fresh air was my favorite part of camping, as a child and later. But oh those childhood tents you have rebuilt for us here. I can feel them again. Thank you for this wonderful rekindling of the camping memory fires. That image of you and your sister under the fallen tent blankets tickles me. I'm awfully grateful to have grown up in the days of little worry over outdoor sleeps. It was freeing.

    You and Mary Oliver have much in common.

  36. Chris, that waking to the morning fresh and clean from the night is the best part. I wish all children could grow up in such circumstances....

    Your comment about Mary and our common ground is one of the best things anyone has ever said to me. Thank you.