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The International Writers Magazine
: First Chapters: Non-Fiction

Ghost Continents: Stories of Maps & Legends
Jessica Schneider

The Myth and the Mountain -
The Peaks and Valleys of a Man-Made Map

“Both our tones flow from the older fountain,” the poet Robinson Jeffers said, at the end of his poem, Continent’s End. And so this is what I am left with: the image of the continent, and all it contains, and feet pressing upon it, a solid earth all its own, only to arrive at its own end- the ocean. And it is this ocean that is large enough to be called a body- a collective term implying something that is both large and vast, yet also containing its own systems. Large and vast, is the ocean when set beside this continent, yet equal in viability to that of land.

As a child, I’d wonder, then- what holds the land up from sea, preventing it from faltering below its bed, holding it up despite torrents and rain pounding at the rocky edges of all this continent contains? On the dresser holds a sample of the earth- it is a round glimpse of everything I will ever see at once when thinking of the earth and all that fills it- and even then, I am only able to see one side at a time. Perhaps this is what it feels like to be the sun? This question breezes through, and instead I run my fingers upon the globe. They find South America and brush the tips of the Andes- slightly pointed upward and visible, this is a place where planes have crashed against snow. And now those unmoving parts are buried there, under something and some reason I’ll never understand. I travel upward and find the Rockies in North America. These mountains feel the same. Glazing over Texas, the globe is smooth and flat. But in Colorado it is not. Turning over, spinning on its side, the globe skips twelve hours of light, if I pretend that my face is the sun. And so the opposite side shows me blue- a few islands and lagoons, but this is blue, The Great Pacific- the thing on maps that hoards the most space, invading the continental browns with its many miles of condensation and salt.

But what is it that allows the continents to float? Are they really lighter than water, leftover grains of granite and eroded planes, tired of being pushed apart by drift theories and rain? It is easy to measure the movement of water, and the movement of species crawling out of the sea, but … the land? What we are left with are pieces that seemingly fit in one large clump, calling it Pangaea. But had the pieces not drifted, and decided to remain the same- Pangaea pressed in hardness, what creatures would have competed with the migration of birds to locate sanded shores- those spaces where the ground goes seemingly soft? Here is where the ocean and land enter to form compromise- a beach settling the rolling over of waves upon eroded pebbles and grit, and the gift of jellyfish and loose kelp to fill the fever of each sandy grain. My feet find them, and the coarseness of shells, where below the kelp, small crabs loosen and startle.

It is easy to imagine rain finding a place, falling from an atmosphere the globe cannot represent, for it is clear and candid, and contains in every drop an ocean all its own, waiting to find land to invade- be it a grain of seed, soil or drift of sand. A single drop is enough to trap an ant within the crevice of some sidewalk, or even hydrate a solitary strand of grass, poking through with green life. Sifting my fingers over the mountains yet again, this time they find themselves in Europe, coaxing these bumps where the atmosphere is supposedly thinner and more wearing upon the lungs, filling them with stingy levels of oxygen and clouds that are just too heavy. And certainly the climber finds thistaxing- dredging upward at 14,000 feet above sea level, he is one with the drive to find what patterns dwell at the top. It is the same patters that live in the abysmal zones, and the steep craters of some far off moon that welcomes life. It is the same patters that exist in the bowels of some Utah canyon, hardened by age and the firmament of passings. They are the endless boundaries that are endless not because they are infinite boundaries, but because they are composed of infinite patterns found everywhere and in everything, making them all that of everywhere and everything.

In the mountain, one can find patterns, but not answers to those patterns. The climber fills his sack, and pulls upward with rope, using a small chisel shaped like an ax to passage through snow. His feet find a stone to use for a step, and so he pulls- for hours of ecstasy, till his eyes can no longer find his starting point. Brushed by cloud, he has disappeared from those who matter, and those who don’t. They have all fallen away, a long way, and are no longer with him in his travails to witness what lives at the top. Although he hasn’t totally forgotten them, for the moment he has, realizing that they no longer exist, and never have existed anywhere among such elevation.
I am back, and have returned to the globe. My fingertips find the same spots this climber has, although my efforts in reaching them are a lot simpler than his. Somewhere in a globe this person exists, infinitely climbing each peak that only feel like bumps to me. But my fingers are kind, and don’t press down. Who knew the world could be kept in such small a place, as that upon a desk or shelf? This is the myth I crawl out of: the canyon, the sea, realizing now that size doesn’t matter. I want to find this place for patterns, composing all around me- the spaces they live no matter how small or vast or far, they live to live- to hold up life the way land is held in the cradled body of the sea.
To know more about maps go to Cosmoetica

© Jessica Schneider - March 2005 -
The Best in Poetica seeks great poems & essays!

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