Eons ago, when I was an avid Enid Blyton fan, I’d go play in the field behind our house. It had a hole in the ground that to me was huge. Not quite as big as meteor crater, but to my little mind, it was big enough to map. To explore. To get lost in. Me and my neighbour would spend hours there. She always got to be Julian because she was the oldest. I got to be Dick. Neither of us was much interested in being Ann or George and we didn’t have Timmy the dog or bottles of ginger beer. But we had fun.
A few years back, on a whim, I climbed through the ditch at the back of the field and went looking for my crater. It was tiny. So small that I couldn’t really believe I’d ever thought it to be so huge. Memory does that to us. Time does it, too. As does distance. We tend to make things bigger and better than they ever were. Old relationships become sadly perfect. Events become grander. Holidays become more amazing. Few, if any, memories, ever stay true to what actually happened, each one coloured by the prism of the experiences and perspectives that followed.
I’m like that with places. It had been about 20 years since I’d turned a corner in Sedona, Arizona, and been gobsmacked by the redness of it all. The rocks, standing tall and magnificent, daring anyone and everyone to do their damnedest to move them or get past them. And in the midst of the barren landscape, tiny shrubs taking root, as if in challenge. The opening lines of John Donne’s No man is an island came to mind.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main
Mile after mile of red rock bespeckled with the occasional daub of green stretched before us. Just outside the city limits of Sedona, the world was as I had remembered it. As awesome and as beautiful as it was 20 years ago.
The average age hasn’t changed much. With 10 000 year-round inhabitants, the means still stands at 50. But the diversity comes from the millions of tourists who visit every year. I knew it would be too much to hope that the town itself had remained unchanged – that it still had the one main street with a hodge-podge of artisan shops, a hand or two of tarot readers and the faint purple glow of some new age auras. But still, I hoped.