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The Girl on the Outcrop

by Frances Roberts 

Posted: 27 June 2006
Word Count: 920
Summary: Whence comes the genises of an artist? In this story a 14-year old girl ponders that question.

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The story of life begins somewhere, at some particular point we happen to remember. When we think of the earth continually shifting, moving and reconfiguring as new land rises and falls; oceans become mountains; rivers and lakes dry up; islands flourish and cease to exist: it must be true that life is invisible, hidden in the crystalline stone that is the bedrock of our existence. It’s the inner experiences that resonate with the natural changes in the substrata of existence -- experiences that carve out and engrave themselves upon the inner landscape, simultaneously, shaped and formed out of the fiery magma that worked upon the stone until it crystallized.

As if happenstance, once in a while, one of these crystalline veins protrudes towards the surface of the earth. As if, like an ocean wave, some feeling of euphoria has surged towards the wide-open sky creating a sea change that expresses itself as one’s exterior life. Once deeply buried in the eons of time, on the surface this outcrop, as it’s called, enters another time. Visible, and so calculable and measurable.

And soon with human contact a mimesis occurs. One day an ancient ancestor out hunting takes shelter underneath the outcrop. That night, he dreams of a great fiery bull. Upon awakening, so taken with the power of his dream, immediately perceives within the contours of the fiery crystals ions, something ineffable, illuminating the image of the beast. He screams in awe. And so, art is born in that cry. Or, is it religion that is born? For now the ancient ancestor is bound by his imagination to call this place sacred and eternal, Because some supernatural power has intruded to transfigure this commonplace outcrop into an altar for the ritual of placating those divine powers that control human destiny.

A sudden flash of a camera flashbulb disturbs my silence. No, not so much disturbs as it cracks open my silence, sending me across time between past and present. The flash engraves its imprint upon my retina. A brilliant purple aura surrounds the object of my vision – a small outcrop in the Welsh mountainside. I reflect as I stare at the faded and blue photograph in my hand; is the colour blue because in midlife, I am touching into the lament of my soul? It is 45 years since I stood on that outcrop. Here I am at 14, my innocence still untainted, standing triumphantly upon an outcrop in the Welsh mountains, the birthplace of my ancestors. I am, newly awakening to life.

But the photo is also a visual joke – an exercise in slapstick, tripping the eye into believing this mere outcrop is a mountaintop. You see, I am posing for someone else, for someone else’s image of my identity. Upon the outcrop, I appear to have stature and worth through the accomplishment of successfully climbing to a great height that the mountain represents. Some conceit in me wants to believe this fable that I am performing to the gods of fame and time as some caricature of success. “Such an inflation” I say as I look into my 14-year-old eyes, and “such spirit in the girl!” A girl, who as a woman, makes bright and splendid the objects of first-hand experience in clay, paint and poetry. Here at 14, standing at the place where her faith, dreams and hopes in the journey of life lay before her at her feet.

But what of her heart and the invisible life that beat within her? It’s one thing to take the humiliation of a practical joke. For just at the moment as the camera’s shutter clicked, a double decker bus appeared and passed by on the wet pavement. The young woman on the outcrop was now reduced and diminished – a mere child. What was given was suddenly taken away by that cruel teacher – the Trickster, our father, for whom life is a harsh teacher and taskmaster. Tricking was meant as a valuable lesson in life.

Yet as I looked at the girl on the outcrop, I saw a searching look in her eyes and an open chest. Clearly the necessary pain of adult life did not yet harden her heart for her heart was beating in the search for love.

Because love transforms, this outcrop is now a metaphor. A metaphor for what is possible and the possibility that anything can emerge from the inner life. No one, least of all me would have guessed at the questions going through her mind as she stood windswept and raw, her face stinging with the light needling rain. I certainly did not appreciate the depth of sadness in her heart until now. So I released her from the photo that captured her 45 years ago by asking a question: ‘what is your photo of yourself on that day you climbed the outcrop?’

A motion begins. Turning very slowly in a circle I see a shape emerging of other stones, many stones standing as a circle, a circle of stones. I hear the soft sounds of a drum beating a steady rhythm, softly yet insistently. My eyes are tearing and I don’t know why I’m crying. Are these tears from a soul lamenting? In the silence of the gentle rain, softly beneath her breath with her heart open, the girl has asked a question: “where do I belong?” And answering is a distant cry echoing across the hills and valleys is the call of an ancient ancestor resonating across time.

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