Sunday, March 31, 2019

familiar places

“In the clefts of the rock
I delight to be.
In the covert of the precipice
You would find me.”

~ Song of Solomon, 2:14

Spring returns in much the same way as it happens when visiting with a former colleague after a long absence. There is as much to recognize and recount, as there is the air of the strange and somewhat out of touch. When chatting with an old friend for the first time in a year, care must be taken not to imply too much mutual understanding so as to sound rude. The oddly unfamiliar will re-familiarize, and the past impressions and inside jokes will return. We adapt and find ways to take the remarkable for granted. As winter becomes spring, temperatures in the forties, iceless sidewalks, and light clothing are suspiciously novel. In a short time today, I drove from sleet into coastal fog, rolling the windows down and savouring the swirl of spring air, I stopped along the road at a coffeehouse I like to frequent.

Journal-writing became something permanent and quite natural for me, just as I began my graduate studies. There were fits and starts through earlier schooling, stiffly answering compulsory assignments. Journaling reached a continuous trail for me, as writing developed into an unprovoked stream of thought processes. Accompanying writing and advanced studies, the effects of environment upon creativity were at once obvious to me. There are times for solitude, and there are times for the buzzing of a bustling café. Writing, as with athletics, is kept buoyant with momentum. Scraps of paper are at the ready, when a running start’s worth of thoughts come to me.

As for the cafés, when there is time, I have favorite places for writing and reading. For many years (until they were gentrified out), I referred to a café in the Old Port district of Portland as The Familiar Perch. Numerous journal entries include “F.P.” to indicate where I was writing. With changes in my home town, as well as travels- and similar currents in the various places of my frequency- there are multiple familiar perches of mine. I also have many favorite outdoor perches, too- especially spots that allow me to look up from my books to ocean views. Kettle Cove, in Cape Elizabeth, is one such familiar perch, beloved to me for at least thirty years. The large and angular crags provide for plenty of seating furniture. Where exactly to perch in places like this depends very much upon tidal movement. If the tide is ascending while I’m writing, I have to pay attention! Inevitably, being aperch in the wafts of words is to be nestled in safe clefts in the weatherbeaten ledges of this world. Indeed, a familiar perch can be anywhere, as long as it is a cherished and consoling place. For a cherished place to be familiar to you, a helpful ingredient is to build a positive history with the place- wherever and whatever it is, be it a destination point or a way-station. Among my familiar perches are favorite parks, hiking trails, libraries, restaurants, and even monasteries. I’ll occasionally visit my homework bench, near the University of Southern Maine; it still suits me just fine. A familiar perch can be a recollection point, somehow holding and rekindling memories for us.

A familiar perch as a consoling place serves as a cleft in the rock, a shelter; a place of pause. At the prospect of uncertain exodus, Moses pleaded with God to be certain of the Divine presence that would protect him and the people under his responsibility. As any person- even the strongest among us- he needed to be solidly convinced; he wanted assurance. God actually replied to Moses, and said, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” The sight would have been overwhelming and devastating for a human, like staring straight into the sun at close proximity. As it is understandably human to doubt, it is equally human to want to be convinced of imminent consolation. It would be good to know that desolations are short-lived, even by human standards. The cleft in the rock reminds us of concealing refuge.

Admittedly far humbler than the grandeur of the ancient Exodus, notebooks can be tiny clefts among shifting mountains and barricading boulders. Journals are my portable hiding places, little tents I can set up, write in, and re-fold as time and duty force me to continue moving. These written words are at once fixtures and fluid, yet safe and ready places for thoughts. While the ubiquitous electronically-lit screens are deterrents to musing, handwriting in small notebooks has an immediate physical sense of context. By this, I mean being clearly aware of place and time while writing, with an inherent patience to await the formulation of thoughts. Journal writing as a cleft in the rock is a cherished and consoling circumstance; it becomes its own consistently familiar perch. If writing is a “place,” then it is a communing encampment that moves with the individual writer. And like the biblical sheltering crevice, the written refuge is both the hiding-place and the conduit of discovery.

Above: Kettle Cove, Maine.
Below: Weston Priory, Vermont.


"graphite today: this place of writing is a portable hideout. it has no address and it moves around. it can be folded and hidden, as needed."


  1. Those are some beautiful places. Your essay reminded me of many of my favorite perches. They are scattered along the Eastern States From Massachusetts to Florida and West to Montana. Now I will be exploring the Great Lakes. One day I hope to visit Maine. Your posts makes me more and more want to visit Maine.

  2. What color of blue ink do you use? It looks lovely.

  3. So many wonderful places to find words and put them on paper.