hejira: friday harbor laboratories

I woke up early yesterday and stared for a long time through the screen at my new chimes.

Phil gave them to me for my birthday, which is actually today, but we celebrated over the weekend, since I would be away on the day. They’re flat shells, something like razorback clam shells, about 5 inches in diameter–everyone is a marine biologist here, I should ask someone. Watching them turn in the early morning light I  wondered for a little while why I felt the need to go away when it was just right where I was.

The drive ahead looked long, but by the time I had reached Elk Heights, between Ellensburg and Cle Elum, I was happy to be on the road. The beauty of the Stuart Range is staggering. They’re volcanic, crenulated, sharp and rough. It’s like looking at the Ko’olaus covered in snow. I wanted to stop and take a photo. I sometimes forget how spectacular the state of Washington can be. I read something recently. I can’t remember where, or who it was. She said she had lived in America for 18 years, but the place still felt alien to her. I feel that way about Yakima. Except for my back yard. I love my back yard. But I couldn’t stop. I had a ferry to catch.

I arrived in Anacortes around 11. Stopped for gas and bought cherries at a stand on the side of the road, picked yesterday in Wenatchee, she told me. The line of cars at the dock wasn’t long. I pulled into Lane 4 and walked around, waiting for the ferry to arrive.

It was so good to see water again. In the distance, Mount Rainier to the south, Mount Baker to the north.

The back of my nano, which I bought just before I took a trip to Vancouver a couple of years ago, I guess it was four years ago, is inscribed, water anon. I miss the Pacific Ocean. I miss the cold water blue of the Sound.

The one-hour journey was not uneventful. I climbed the stairs to the top deck and stood at the railing as we departed. It was very cold. Most everyone went back inside to watch through the windows. I like the bracing wind, the smell of kelp, the water swirling in front of the bow. And then came the announcement over the loudspeaker. “Will the person,” and he described my car, “please return to your vehicle and turn off your motion detector alarm. We are a moving vessel, and your car senses it.”  So I watched the islands and the boats passing by from the 2nd deck, ate my sandwich, drank water, took photos.

Just before I left home, the lyrics to an old Joni Mitchell song I used to like, “Black Crow” entered my mind:

I took a ferry to the highway
Then I drove to a pontoon plane
I took a plane to a taxi
And a taxi to a train

So it was nice to see this little yellow plane lifting off the water as the Elwha entered Friday Harbor.

Thinking about it later, I remembered that the song was from her album Hejira, which is oddly coincidental because I’ve been transcribing notes from a journal I kept on a trip I took to visit my parents in Iran in December 1974. I was eighteen.  The album was released two years later. That Joni Mitchell was familiar with the word hejira in 1976 made her seem deep. 

I wrote the album while traveling cross-country by myself, and there is this restless feeling throughout it… The sweet loneliness of solitary travel.

I wish I had access to the OED again. I know the word refers to Muhammad’s emigration from Mecca to Medina, but there must be more to its translation than flight, than escape.

Several months ago I read a many-layered essay in the London Review of Books called “In the Time of Not Yet: Marina Warner on the Imaginary of Edward Said” in which she examines and elucidates Said’s interest in Goethe’s interest in the Persian poet Hafiz:

Said had long been interested in the historic entanglements of East with West. He always felt himself to be ‘out of place’ (this was the title of his autobiography), and was strongly attracted by displacements that brought one culture in contact with another. He evolved from that sense of dislocation his theory of ‘contrapuntal’ reading, put forward in his essay ‘Reflections on Exile’:

Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that—to borrow a phrase from music—is contrapuntal. For an exile, habits of life, expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment.

Goethe, she continues, quoting Said, “was a believer in omens. [. . .] His Oriental studies were ‘a kind of Hejira, one flees from the present into distant times and regions where one expects something [. . .].’ (He called an opening poem in the West-Eastern Divan ‘Hejira.’). As for Hafiz, and Goethe’s interest in Hafiz, she says this:

In spite of all the roses, moonlight and nightingales, Hafiz also makes rough music not so much in the sound of his poetry as its effects: shaking up received ideas, breaking through borders. In keeping with his spirit, Goethe’s songs change their mood and bristle with anti-worldly scorn.

The Helen Riaboff Whiteley Center at Friday Harbor Laboratories is a marine science research and education center located north of Puget Sound, Washington, but it also provides a refuge for scholars and artists to study, write, create, and interact in a peaceful and quiet environment. It is a phrontistery–a space for focused study, thought, creativity, and productivity.

After being handed the keys to my cottage and making my way down the wrong trail, I opened the door and walked across the room to the sliding glass door that opens onto the deck overlooking the harbor. This was who I saw.


This entry was posted in place names. Bookmark the permalink.