Monday, May 23, 2011

History and mystery

The weight of age is palpable in some places in the world.

I have felt it in the jungles of Guatemala where the very air pulses with life that has inhaled and exhaled for millennia -- where the pyramids of the ancient Mayans rise out of the tangle of vines and trees that alone carry the secret of a culture that disappeared without explanation.

I have felt it in the ancient ruins of Rome where marble and granite columns still stand that were witness to the birth of modern governmental systems -- where civilization centered itself for centuries.

I have felt it in coastal fortresses of Ireland and Northern Ireland where wild waves relate savage stories of prehistoric conquests to the rugged rocks of the untamed shore -- where some of the earliest legends originated.

I have felt it in the tombs of pharaohs in Egypt's Nile Valley where the deep silence sealed into the chambers creeps along the walls and ceilings giving one the feeling that the characters in the paintings on the walls are pausing in the middle of a breath until the intrusion of the living passes.

And most recently, I felt it in the mountain forest of Svaneti here in Georgia where mystery hangs in the mists and mixes with the history that flows in the rivers to the sea.

Years and history have a way of leaving traces behind that are perceptible to the sensitive and observant -- those willing to listen to the silent stories and absorb the residual presence left over from bygone eras and ancient times. These are places where inspiration takes hold and magic feels possible.

Georgia has remnants of ancient civilizations that can be dated back to the Stone Age. In museums in Kutaisi and Sighnaghi, I saw artifacts from 2,000 BC from these ancient settlements -- farming implements, weapons, kitchen utensils, pots, glass and stone beads, and wine-making instruments.

Age also marks the names of Georgia. The capital of Georgia lies in a region called "Kartli" -- the Georgian language is "Qartuli," and the name of the country (in Georgian), "Saqartvelo." These words all derive from the name of one of Noah's great-grandsons, Karthlos, from whom the Georgians claim to be descendants. (Yes, Noah from the Bible -- as in Noah and the Ark -- Mt. Ararat is not too far south in Armenia or Turkey, depending on who you ask....)

Legend and myth have grown out of the ancient civilizations of Georgia -- Jason and the Argonauts sailed to Colchis to look for the Golden Fleece, according to classical legend. The area of Georgia that lies along the coast of the Black Sea was called "Colchis" from 900 BC until 65 BC when Pompey pulled it into the Roman Empire after the Third Mithridatic War. It was to this region that the Greek prince, Jason came in search of the fabled Golden Fleece. The golden fleece was an actual occurrence in the mountains in Georgia. People used to put sheepskins in the fast-flowing rivers to catch the particles of gold washing down out of the mountains. It is said that some sheepskins became so full of gold, they looked like the fleece was shorn from a solid gold sheep.

Enough of the history lesson -- back to the point of this post....

While hiking in the forest in the Svan mountains, I again experienced the sense of being in a very old place. It reminded me of scenes in The Lord of the Rings movies -- I know that they were filmed in New Zealand and that Middle Earth is fictitious, but the vast, untamed expanse of forest and mountains made me feel like I was hiking back in another time and another world where extraordinary creatures lived. I could envision hobbits, wizards, dwarves, elves, and ents making their homes in a place like that. A presence I sensed in the air may have been the bears that Zaza and I were looking for -- or maybe the woods really is inhabited by elves and sprites. The trees -- especially the old ones, gave off an aura of..... I don't know what to call it.... not quite consciousness -- but maybe awareness -- knowing -- of having seen myriad sunrises and Winters and rains and sunsets and meteor-showers and storms with lightening-strikes and earthquakes and Springs and heat waves and floods and insignificant passages of man and beast. Sentient beings that impassively observe each change and season as the eons creep past.

It is a place where the magical is believable and the impossible probable.

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