Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Without a Map

“It’s not down on any map—the true places never are.”
(Herman Melville, Moby Dick)

A job offer in Minneapolis kept me busy this weekend, scouring ads for a new apartment and packing up the old. But in the midst of the whirlwind such a transition kicks up, I paused preparations for a final pilgrimage in Boston.

My destination was not marked on any map that I could find, and in the end I left my apartment on foot with a backpack of picnic snacks, a pen and notebook, but no map. I was determined to find the base of what I call my “fairy tower,” a mysterious white spire topped with a sea green turret that chases me on my walks to work and dodges and dances on the horizon each evening when I return home. I have seen that tower from every point in this city, but have never found it.

As I left my apartment in Jamaica Plain, I peered anxiously at the horizon, waiting for my goal to appear in front of me. Usually it would show up, slightly to the right of Stop n’ Shop, hovering over the Jackson Square T station. Today it was gone.

“When the rainbow disappears, the leprechauns still remain,” my husband, companion for the trek, mystifyingly assured me.

And he was right. We followed the Southwest Corridor Parkway around the corner of Jackson
Station, and there was the tower, perched high on an embankment of houses and autumn-tinted trees, with no clear path leading to the top.

Keeping our goal in sight, we crossed the traffic of Columbus and came to a stop: a Y in the road. We chose to go left, though soon we were cutting right on a series of labyrinthine switchbacks that led us up the hill, past haunting mansions in decrepit states of disrepair, and a life-size, slightly creepy statue of Christ perched on a large rock at the corner of an empty lot, hands outstretched as if to bless our pilgrimage.

As we climbed higher, now and then I would catch views of the city and surrounding neighborhoods: the Prudential and John Hancock buildings marking downtown, the white blight of the Vet’s hospital I pass every day on my way to Brookline, the dome of the abandoned church down the street from my apartment. The monuments of my life in Boston were beginning to shift behind me, uprooting from their chronological anchors in my habitual every day to move on the tides of elusive memory.

Soon after we passed Jesus, the tower appeared around a bend, first its bleached trunk with winking slits of windows, then its whole, but we still had to climb a steep bank of sharp rocks to reach our goal, finally firmly rooted in the center of a green square.

As I circled the tower I craned my neck, trying to see into the dark windows beneath its peak. A seagull flew by, perhaps with a message for a captive princess in its beak, but the windows kept their secrets, reflecting only the cloud-dappled sky. We sat down to our picnic fare beneath a weeping willow crying the golden tears of autumn. I knew I had come to say goodbye.

In life there are no maps, only the ever-shifting unknowable future. But that future is anchored in place, in destinations which we can come to know and love for the moment that we inhabit them—or is it that they inhabit us, because even as I set out on my next journey, I feel this place inside of me; Boston now a captive of my memory.

And because you still need maps to most places, we’ll still have a vibrant travel section at Booksmith to help you get to your next destination. My co-worker Natasha, who has been buying back your books in the Used Book Seller, will be managing our travel section in my absence. A veteran traveler, newly returned from Tokyo, and queen of two geography bees, in 4th and 8th grade, she’ll be there to guide you on your next journey. Safe travels.

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