Remember the issue of National Geographic with the stunningly mesmerizing girl on the cover? The one in the brown cloak up around her hair, with shocking green eyes staring, searing a hole in the camera?
Yeah, so do I.
I used to lay on my belly on the floor of my childhood home, chin in hands, in front of the old black wood stove, studying the pages of NG, dreaming not only of being a traveller, but of being the photojournalist capturing the exotic and divine world I was seeing on the pages. I wanted to be where the wild things were, where life was happening in brilliant color and definition.
I don’t know exactly what happened to that dream except that, like the myriad branches of a juniper tree, different paths laid themselves out before me and I walked them, following them to bigger and better branches, which, as it turns out, didn’t include becoming a photojournalist for National Geographic.
As luck and fate would have it, two weeks or so ago I stood on The Great Wall of China.
That’s stood, walked, climbed, explored, photographed, skipped along — THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA, people! This was closing my eyes, making a wish, blowing out the candles …waiting 25 years… and having the wish come true. It was the magic of a hundred bristles of a whitened dandelion blowing on the wind of time – and, oh whatEVER. It was totally wicked awesome.
I remember a spread in NG – one of the ones you had to unfold layer by layer until it covered the whole tv tray. It was a magnificent photograph of The Great Wall, it must have been taken in the 1970’s. The wall wound itself through the mountains of China, poking its square watchtower head up every now and again, a watchful dragon. I remember thinking, if I ever get to that wall, so help me, I will have MADE IT.
To be clear, I had no idea what that meant. Still don’t.
But I’ve been thinking. Maybe that’s how I felt, like I’d really accomplished something, while watching my children bounce along a part of the world I would venture to say the entire populace of the planet knows. Because, you know, it’s so old and big and all.
First, the Hamlin trio peered over the wall toward what used to be Mongolia, from the direction the soldiers came who put an end to the lasting ruling monarch in the country. Then, toward the heart of Beijing, in northern China – a beautiful and welcoming city where we had just spent 4 days. They ran and shouted noisily, posed for pictures, asked lots of questions, floated along, being thoughtful (I would like to think,) touched stones that are over 600 years old (and it’s a new section, by comparison. Some are 2,500 years old,) and were happy.
So let’s recap. My children stood on The Great Wall of China. With me. It’s such an awesome concept I am unsure it really happened. Thank god for the invention of the camera. I bet the millions of people who built that wall would’ve liked a handy Nikon, too, just to prove they’d been there, too.
I don’t know what I would have felt if I’d been standing on the wall alone, like I’d planned decades ago in our cozy red ranch. I just know I’m glad I don’t. As it were, we were able to give our kids an amazing bit of history, placing it in their hands and letting them handle it awhile. That feels like “making it”, I guess.
Then again. We’ve been home for a bit now. Jet lag has slunk away – the old skunk.
We’re putting our house back together, albeit very slowly, as we are spending as much time as we can with friends and family. I know it’s cliche – but life is happening in brilliant color and definition right here on Cedar Street. And it’s been happening all along. I’m not gonna lie, being here, being in a place we call “home,” where people greet us at the door with big smiles and cold beer and a zillion stories to share, feels even more like “making it” than visiting any old wall.