Emily Dickinson put it succinctly: There's no frigate like a book to take us lands away. . . How frugal is the chariot that bears a human soul.
The first thing I recall for as a small child was Emily's frigate, a book.
Oh, I had the things any girl has -- dolls, teddy bears, and doll carriages to put them in -- but what I wanted was a book. I was all of three years old and that's how it happened that Peter Pan and Wendy taught me to read, and so set me on my own yellow brick road to a personal Oz -- just to mix up a few books.
PP and W turned out only to be the first of a long series of fictional friends who joined me through school days and ended up taking over my room adn my time. I would rather read than do anything else.
I discovered archaeology through C. W. ceram's "Gods, Graves, and Scholars," the whole gamut of antiques opened up by a paperback picked up one day from a barrow in London. It had a Chinese jade carving on its cover that proved prophetic. For Chinese art linked jewelry and antiques in my "lands away." My interest and enthusiasm grew for Chinese rugs, jades, porcelains, carvings, and, by osmosis, I picked up an affection for the Japanese export became my familiars and my surroundings took on a slight Oriental ambience.
The first bloom of this interest came when i grabbed a paintbrush and some cans of paint and used Chinese red (that evocative, slightly orange-hued blush) and cloudless- sky blue on the woodwork of my room. My parents looked, gulped -- and said nothing.
Years later that yen for things Oriental still persists. Amethystine small rugs, rich in Chinese design, speak of serenity. The spare patterns, so different from busy "Persian" ones, quiet even a troubled mind. They are a wonderful background for book reading, poetry, or essay writting. . . And they are backed themselves now by Oriental bowls and small Chinese bibelots.
Later I came across some books on minerals and felt that I had found something I had not known I was seeking. For rocks linked childhood and the present. My vacations as a younger and teen-ager had been spent in Cornwall where I quickly discovered that every known mineral (even if only in small quantity) could be found. Tin and copper mines and a granite subsoil are rich in nature's supreme art works.
My stepfather, who had been a teacher in the Cornish school system, gave me small rarities his students got from their miner fathers. One looked like a tiny mosque of pure tin and it had minute minarets on its four corners. Of course it owed its odd formation to the incalculable earth forces that shape the rocks and minerals.
On the windowsills of Cadgwith cottages i would see large oval geodes cut open to expose lining of amethyst crystals. The occasional passer-by admired, but did not touch. That was a simpler age. Today those oversized pebbles have vanished, no doubt bought by exploring tourists. But they taught me the earth was largely made up of rocks. Soon, on walks to the ocean I sought possible outcroppings of interesting stones.
Books that came after "Gods, Graves, and Scholars" led to an interest in the world's ancient peoples, and to the animals, birds, and water-dwellers that once roamed our planet.
By a stream-of-consciousness process -- if that was the past, what will the future hold? -- the ancient world sparked curiosity about realms beyond the earth's atmosphere. It all became a circle in my thought, as round as Earth and the cosmos itself are reputed to be. Is there a connection?
It all became part of that constant mental journey that takes us "lands away, " as Emily Dickinson discovered in her remote Amherst home, to an awareness and enjoyment of the various realms of thought we can explore no matter how isolated we may be -- and to an abiding interest and curiosity about subjects, places, and times whether they be across the seas or beyond the skies, or back beyond time. What does such interest, in turn, lead to?
No matter how humdrum the day's activities, how much alone the evening, the books are waiting, beckoning, saying "Here's your 'frigate' so full of a number of things. Your 'lands away' are here once you crack the covers."
There's a small mineral collection on a bookshelf now, and a few antiques scattered around. There's even a preColumbian relic tucked in among the rocks. But it's still those books that foster the wider vision, that speak of realms beyond the known horizon. Emily's "lands away."
And now mine.