Patterns and the Landscape


My favorite book is called A Pattern Language: Towns Buildings Construction.   Published in 1977 by Oxford University press, for architects and designers, it argues a Western version of Feng Shui.  What is around us matters.  If a house has a window seat in it, that will matter to the psychology, spirituality and freedom of the inhabitants.  If a room has windows on more than one side, energy will flow through it.  If a room has only one window, energy will get stuck there.  My friend just said she’d rather have an office with a window than a raise. I understood.  She inhabits her office, and inhabitant is a wonderful word.  She is the one who dwells there.  She is the one who habits there.  She wants the energy to flow.  She wants to be comfortable there.


Many us have become patterned to discomfort.   We imagine the commute will be rough.  Traffic, we say, what else is new?  We imagine that there will be a Starbucks and a Subway on every corner, and guess what, there is.  I often wonder what has happened to our sensibilities so stoned are they by similarity.  I wonder what happens to stuck energy in a cubicle where the air can’t find a place to inhabit or circulate.


A drive through my beloved South Carolina long ago patterned me profoundly. I went to pick up my deceased father's car and to deliver it to my son in Connecticut.  I was practically in tears the whole time; the tears were not just for my father. I had been so looking forward to getting the car.  The year was 1997.  I took the train down and was going to drive the car slowly back North.  I was on a sentimental journey, and I intended to inhabit it. I wanted something like an energy exchange, as well as a car exchange.  I wanted to inhabit the grief of losing my father, through his car, with windows on all sides.  I wanted to inhabit the way life goes on by driving South to North to give my son my father’s car.


The car still had the red soil of the red clay on it.  There was something living about my father and his last car.  For moments I could sense his smell in it.  But then as I drove up 301 and gave myself the gift of the back way, I realized I couldn't really tell where I was.  Everything was the same, even back then in 1997.  Every corner.  Every traffic light.  Every strip mall.  My eyes began to hurt.  My heart hurt.  There were no watermelon stands.  There were no silly signs, advertising "home cookin'."  The landscape had become another pattern.  It was McDonald’s, Burger King, Hess Oil, Seven-Eleven, and “Comfort” Inn, stripped into malls, stripped into mall after mall of franchises.  They frightened me.


I know many of these "fast food" places and "fast sleeping" motels are franchised.  They aren't completely owned by the Great Discomforter.  I want to try to like them.  I certainly don't want nostalgia, for my father, his car, the red clay, to get in my way of being a MODERN person.


On the other hand, I need help.  I need a window seat on the future.  I need to be comforted by the land and its pattern.  When blight blights our spirits as well as our roads, and our energy gets stuck in cubicles stripped of energy, forced into conformity, that wonderful word that means ONE FORM, something happens.  It is not good for us or for the land or for the great energy in the land.


What could be different?  We could insist on different food at each exit, in each “service” “center.”  Spanish at Exit 17, Lithuanian at Exit 18, Brazilian at Exit 19.  We could have hostels and hotels, B and B’s and camping sites.  All overnight lodging need not be in the same box or serve the same waffles.  And if we can’t find these patterns patterning us to wholeness on the main highway, we’re just going to have to go deeper into the back roads and sleep overnight in our father’s cars, while hoping for a better life for our sons.