It's raining hard as I pull into Roanoke from Blacksburg. Under the guise of chasing down the now-defunct Eclectic Bookstore, GPS as following-my-nose has brought me right into downtown. On my second pass through the bustling farmers market district, a red car pulls out of a parking space, exactly where I need one. I pull in, thinking I am bound for the coffee shop, but as soon as I get out of the car, I know the bead store is where I'm going. Interesting. I wonder what this will be about.
As I walk in, the word dark arises. OK, I accept that dark is what's drawing me here. Dark as in fertile, grounded, known through the heart, and not the thinking mind or the eyes. Dark as in Reggie Ray's dark retreat practice. I say hello to a striking blonde woman with kohled eyes, who is helping a customer build herself a bracelet, and wander slowly among hundreds of little glass bowls, looking at dark tourmaline chips, a black crystal heart, and some grey pearls. Nope, nope, and nope. I recognize that am in Psyche's granary, with the seed-sorting task already complete. I keep moving back in the high, long, narrow space, and then, furthest back, I see what has been calling me:
Actually, I see two very beautiful Japanese woodblock prints hanging side by side:
Shabby piles of paper, dark wood, half-closed office door. He seems surprised to see me. I introduce myself and ask what he might know about the print: where did it come from & who made it? It's clear he doesn't have many answers for me, but I notice his love of beautiful things, and the sensitive, tactile way he reads the image. We talk a little bit, and I offer him $60 instead of the $85 he's asking. He says no way, but $65 would be OK.
Something shifts. Hey, he says suddenly. You actually seem pretty smart. I tell you what. If you can solve this riddle, I'll give you the print for free. He leads me to a door at the back of the space, and the hairs go up on the back of my neck. Really? I'm going back into this wormhole with a man I've never met? Yes. I am.
The space opens deep, in front and below us. He tells me, as we walk down flower-embossed stairs, that this was a Piggly Wiggly warehouse. At the foot of the stairs are a set of maple chairs that I tell him remind me of the set I inherited from my Swedish grandmother's family. He sort of smiles mysteriously, and we keep moving back. OK, here it is, he says. Look up. Where did that wood come from? I start slowly. The bricks tell me the spaces I'm looking at were built at different times. In the older space, handmade lumpy bricks, and long boards for the ceiling. In the newer space, machine-made boring bricks, and old stained wood in strange, regular, short lengths for the ceiling. That wood's recycled from somewhere, I say. What's that size? I think of the rail yards I passed on my way into town. Crates. I ask if they were for something light, like cotton, but no.
Eventually, I give up, and he tells me he crates came from Sweden with Volvo freight engines and parts in them. It's scary how close you got, he says, and I see that while the world was telling me what I needed to know, it is still right that I should pay for the Dark Lady, her ferryman, the boat, and the night world we are all moving through.
Now they're in the back seat of my car, behind the portfolio where I keep the drawing paper, and we are keeping one another company through the miles. We are traveling together by feel, where only the heart can see.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.