Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cognitive Maps

I remember discussion of cognitive maps, the maps we hold in us as surely as our breath and sinew.  Maps of childhood, of the places we’ve inhabited, the places that have been our own, that we could walk with eyes closed, years and continents away.  Maps that bear no real resemblance, perhaps, to any printed road map or those contour maps I used to love to draw, plotting numbers, elevation.  They mark the territory that is ours alone, perhaps with lively monsters in the margins which were there for old-time mariners—their fears given fantastic and picturesque forms.

I’m thinking of the map that is my Santa Fe.  It’s outer limits are the canyon where our low-roofed schoolrooms were (the art room with geraniums in coffee cans), the hill above which I would climb at noon with apples for a sway-backed horse; the operahouse off the road to Tesuque; the rodeo grounds where my mother also took me to horse shows (one year our hearts both given to a gorgeous bay jumper named Tapatia); the mountains where the thunderstorms lived, at times bruised the color of cloudy-skinned purple/blue plums.

Earlier, closer-in limits were the back wall (cinder blocks in those days) just behind the clothesline; the front sidewalk; the spruce tree to the north (or rarely, in winter, the top of Sombrio Drive, where we would drag our sleds—my little Flexible Flyer with red runners); and to the south, the neighbors’ porch where I was often given iced tea (always delicious Lipton, which I’ve never been able to replicate), and one door down, the garage with its treasure of glass marbles in another coffee can.

It’s all covered with trees—cottonwoods with their spring fuzz drifting through the air; the elms with their winged seeds; the water birch with tiny cones—and with lilacs.

The signs are in three languages—English, Spanish, Native American.  Abeyta, Water, Pojoaque, Manhattan, Don Diego, Acequia Madre.

Mine is a nostalgic map, a map drawn in old inks, turquoise, adobe-brown, chamisa yellow.  It is as romantic in its way as that Michael Ondaatje draws here, in The English Patient 
"We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.
     I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.”

image: land case map D-972, Calisphere


  1. you have done what you do best in these last two posts.
    you have made your beloved santa fe come alive.
    the color the people the history... your history!
    the very air is here for the taking.

    1. Thank you so much for visiting me here. It is a special place.