What Remains

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We descended a long, rutted track, overgrown with ti-tree, into a valley at the base of a towering escarpment. Nestled amongst the underbrush on the banks of a burbling creek, the little handcrafted stone cottage stood askew – abandoned – bereft.

Vines scrambled over tumbling stone walls, rendering the attached water wheel motionless. The air made thick with insect buzz and chiming bird song. Humidity settled damply on my skin.

Ghosts murmured softly, and I turned expecting to see somebody. No one was there. But I could feel their memories like a soft mantle on my consciousness, just beyond reach. We crossed the threshold, into a dimmed hush, compelling me to whisper. Somehow, I felt we were trespassing, treading on the past, stumbling over someone else’s dreams.

Jewelled parrots sat bathing in light spilling through a window at the end of the room, fooling me for a moment. A stained-glass window remained miraculously intact amid the rubble of a partially collapsed roof.

A closer look around revealed a living space more recently used for storage – old car parts, machinery, building materials. It seemed sacrilegious. Others before me have violated the dreams this place once held.

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How tenuous are human aspirations, indeed how tenuous are human lives. The things we leave behind are not just material artifacts but vessels for memories and dreams once held. They tell those who come after, stories of who we were, who we aspired to be. Is it the whole story though?

I took my ten and eight year old grandies to the brilliantly curated Egyptian Mummies exhibition at The Queensland Museum these school holidays. Advanced technology allowed us to see through the swathes of linen wrappings and even desiccated tissue and muscle to their skeletal frames which gave some clues to how they lived, and in some cases, even how they died. Some from arteriosclerosis, some from accidents. The amulets, canopic jars holding organs, and other artifacts that accompanied the bodies, told stories of the social roles they held, what their culture deemed important.

I applied the stone cottage experience to the Egyptian mummies and realised the enormity of what was missing. In fact, it’s the very essence of those who have passed.

You see, I knew the builder of the stone cottage. How he laboured to gather river stones and cut timber to build his dream. I knew the tragic details of his life and the subsequent impact it had on who he was. By that I mean, I was witness to the impact of events on his life, but not necessarily the meanings he attributed to them nor how he made sense of them in the greater scheme of things. How could I know? He left no written records that I know of.

While the scribes of ancient Egypt left records in the form of hieroglyphs or “godly writings”, many are still undecipherable. Those writings on the tomb walls were thought to be accounts of deeds and accomplishments which would ensure the passage of their subjects into the afterlife. Since it was thought only scribes and priests could write, and only those of elevated status could pay them to do so, it’s unlikely we will ever know the inner thoughts of ordinary Egyptian folk.

For all we think we know of those who have passed, their possessions – personal information, social status, official records, even diaries – what they leave us is an imperfect record, it can never be the whole story.

Our essence, our innermost self is largely unknown territory, unknown to most – including ourselves – a quest through time.

There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.

Benjamin Franklin

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77 responses to “What Remains

  1. Such a moving post. You told a lovely story. I often wish I could go back in time to see who lived on this land I live on now. We occasionally get a tantalising glimpse, but will never really know their day-to-day reality.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I have thought about this idea a lot: “unknown territory, unknown to most – including ourselves.” Thanks, Robyn, for the push back there again– by way of far away times and that recently left-behind cottage. It is especially moving that you knew the builder, and maybe his dreams.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for taking time to comment Albert. You always make me think. I just loved the juxtaposition of this idea in the two contexts. It is a reminder that dreams and aspirations are ethereal things, subject to human hubris and interpretation. It reminds me of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46565/ozymandias
      The idea that we can know the whole story about anyone, especially ourselves is a vanity.

      The cottage builder left behind some evidence of his dreams. It seemed sad that like the statue in that ‘antique land’ they didn’t survive time. I can speculate, and interpret the evidence, but still will never know the whole story.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What an atmosphere you summon. Your writing changed my mood. One special sentence stays with me: “But I could feel their memories like a soft mantle on my consciousness, just beyond reach.” Thank you, Robyn.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. What a beautiful cottage, even I’m its disrepair! Now I do want to know the backstory of the magnificent little structure. What a lovely tribute to it, and its owner, Robyn.😍

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I always though I was different for feeling like I belong in forgotten places. Most people feel they don’t belong in them, but they were a part of my life since the beginning; growing up between the Wild West and the developed West. It seemed like I could feel the history and even go so far as to imagine the human life that once existed there. Now, when I visit these forgotten places as an adult, I can see that my observations as a child were missing one important account of the total experiences… that life does continue. Life swarms in every crevice; in the walls, in the dust on broken shelves, in the vegetation and overgrowth, on the somewhat indecipherable trail that leads to the front doors and backdoors and windows from when curious folks discovered these places with that fear of not belonging and so only peeking through a window felt necessary. This was a lovely story and one that reminded me of the experiences that took me to a different place, in my mind, in my imagination, as a curious child with so many questions about our human lives. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for visiting Jess. Your response really resonated with me: ‘life swarms in every crevice …’ I too, can feel those echoes, those left over trails of energy perhaps? I’m not sure just what it is. I love the connection that sharing these experiences gives. Again, thank you for taking time to share your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh me too. It appears it was constructed without the correct development permits and being right on the creek bank, probably vulnerable to flood. Sadly it seems unlikely it would ever be habitable again. The serenity of the place almost makes up for the sadness of this little cottage. Thank you for your kind words, Valerie.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So evocative, and sad. It made me feel nostalgic for a time I didn’t even know- being young and strong, determinedly building my own home out of rocks, despite having no permission to do so… how fleeting is Life, no matter how hard we work and sweat at it… a beautiful post, and well-deserved of Discover, G

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you! He was young and strong then, but damaged. Went to sea at a very early age, saw and did things beyond my ken. In his last hours he was a changed man. He wished me a good life. I felt glad for him that he transcended all the hurts and wrongs.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I love your blog name! It speaks to me. This story is so beautiful. Having endured the loss of four loved ones, I wonder often about their stories, and everyday, I am trying to make sense of mine. The lovely glass pane with the parrots seem to hold secrets….of hope.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jenni what a lovely idea. Birds are ethereal creatures. I will look at these parrots in future and think of them holding hope. I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for visiting and contributing to my post. I appreciate your thoughts.

      Like

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  9. This is so beautiful. The way you have described the place and your experience is amazing. It’s impeccable. It is so true that even the non livings things what we leave behind holds lot of living memories. Loved it. 😊😅

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love this phrase.” Our essence, our innermost self is largely unknown territory, unknown to most – including ourselves – a quest through time”
    I do believe we all have an essence uniquely ours. Some may call it spirit. I also like to imagine the lives of those who walked the path before us. Enjoyed this post very much. Thanks Lindi

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. I loved this post. It was beautifully written and moving. It made me start thinking about my own life and the story my possessions would tell if I were gone tomorrow–I’m not sure I like the story so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Our time is fleeting and the marks we leave are made in hope that they’ll be recognized and remembered. It’s a sad fate that befell this cabin and your friend, but you retold it beautifully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Will and I agree. Perhaps the stories of us need to be written down. By us. For they’re true for that moment in time and are the not left to others who unwittingly may appropriate their meaning.

      Liked by 1 person

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  15. Yes I totally agree with you. This place does reach the soul even through the images I wish I could feel what you felt in that place.
    I love the way you helped me teleport myself to this place through yours words……

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I’m currently reading “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” and giving some thought to helping my parents start the process. We accumulate so much in our lives….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting Deahh. I’ve never heard of Swedish death cleaning but will research the subject now after reading your comment. You’re so right. We accumulate far too much over a life. We over consume during our lives as well. These possessions say much about our interests and values.

      Like

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  18. I love the way you wrote this! I have to agree with Rachel McAlpine that the sentence “ But I could feel their memories like a soft mantle on my consciousness, just beyond reach,” really painted an image in my head and it just flowed nicely. Awesome work!

    Liked by 1 person

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