Listening Point

10351654_10152078610425974_8486627470265517360_n.jpgIn the young years that I lived in Minnesota and the Dakotas. I’d return again and again to the end of a dock to stare up, or take a hillpath to a lookout, my listening point. The main thing I wanted was to be free of others and to look out… I was meditating toward the north and west, where I would see the night sky arrayed out there endlessly above the icy sweeps. I didn’t even want to call it the Rockies or the Arctic - I felt strangely nourished by that mystery. 

I loved my listening point in the winter when the north wind made the evergreens give off that soft whistling sound. I could imagine the big forest cats, the wolves and their full moons and the great white owls. They were my fabulous gatekeepers to another world. I knew that if I traveled far enough into this vast space that the thousands of rules that were being assembled for my young life would disappear. The measurements, like “millions of miles” would become useless. All human shouts died on the edge of the crushing silent music that swept up to space. 

I believe my listening points offered me an invitation to work free of the culture being forced on me. I could glance in that northerly direction while sitting with my workbook in school. At twelve years old that was Mellette School in Watertown, South Dakota. The schoolyard was turned away from the prairie that disappeared into the ice and stars, but I could sense its presence and feel better ….and be better prepared to cast a cold eye on the education I was getting. The story of history taught in school was like a loud shirt with a missing sleeve; my beloved unknown land became the Northwest Passage, or the last scene in Dr. Strangelove, or - constantly – sentimental versions of the natives. But I was confident of my escape. I knew that I could point myself northwest after school and I would hear an incoming counter-story. 

Now as an older person I watch the arctic melting. The unknowable top of the world has been meddled with. As a life-long hunter of new culture, I’ve had to move my listening point to increasingly unprecedented scenic views. Now I must find my howling wind in a cubic inch of soil, or a rare bird a thousand miles off its range, or an orgasmic flash of nature in our bed. The northern lights show up in my life on the sly, a gift of intuition, a surprise from an unknown artist, like catching Charley Parker or Jackson Pollock before they got famous. I still believe that my cultural night sky is hiding somewhere, but the escape to freedom is through a shell-game of dazzling space junk. 

The unknowable beasts who once saw human beings as wandering loners in the far distance, tramping through the snow with their guns on their backs – these animals are in flight now like we all are. A few weeks ago, in early May, a roaming female wolf was shot by a farmer in Iowa. The newspapers marveled that the lone wolf got so far south. I wondered if she was searching for her listening point.