My Grammie is a collector. Her ancient and dusty home that I visited annually as a child was always full to the brim with every kind of collection imaginable. Collections of hardware in the garage, birds nests in the TV room, antique sleighs in the containers, bridles and saddles in the halls. She collected Jack Russell Terriors, peacocks and their hens, and Morgan ponies. Her collections were everywhere. That home was pure magic. A dark, and musty kind of magic. The kind with a strange vintage smell and startling lack of cleanliness at times. But magic, nontheless. And something deep in me woke up in that house.
I grew up too with a collector father and a purger mother. My dad’s collections were relegated to the basement crawl space. Boxes of rocks and gems, framed butterflies pinned into their eternal styrofoam resting places, shells upon shells upon shells eventually re-purposed into slightly tacky wreaths by my mother in order to “make use” of them. My spirit woke up too when my dad pulled those boxes from the crawl space for our inspection – usually at our insistence. I came alive as I listened to him talk about hunting for butterflies, even as I was repulsed by the concept of killing such beautiful creatures for sport. I remember the awe with which I watched my dad use the black light to show me the details of his rocks. This was the hidden side of my father, the side I only imagined because it showed itself to me so little.
My favorite childhood years were spent in Oregon, the land of rain and of the great outdoors. I remember trips to fish in our family’s shared vineyard where I watched the rainbows shimmer off the trout that my dad and brothers pulled from the pond. I didn’t want to eat them but I wanted to LOOK at them – so beautiful even in their last, horrified, gasping breaths. I remember a Saturday when my dad took me to a beautiful piece of Oregon farm land where we payed the land owner for the rights to search for geodes on his property. He taught me to look for the ordinary rocks that held extraordinary magic inside of them. With a tap of the hammer we would crack open the mundane to find glory in the shimmering jewels inside.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that collecting is at the very core of who I am. It was a little boy named Christian who reminded of this magic inside my soul. Walking with him a year or two ago I watched as he picked up a variety of acorns and pine cones pleading with his mother to help him carry them home. “He’s always collecting,” she said. “Everywhere he goes he finds something so beautiful, so captivating, that he wants to take it home.” Me too, sweet boy, me too. Her simple act of acceptance of his love for collecting healed something I didn’t know was cracked inside my heart. I think I have always collected, but slowly and softly for so many years. Now I see my collector-self as part of my artist self. It’s the lover of beauty inside of me that gathers the magic wherever I find it.
Our recent trip to California’s Lost Coast was a chance to indulge my inner collector and to share this part of myself with my own family. I won’t easily forget how we all sat, side by side, sifting the black pebbles of the beach through our hands as we searched for the magical green jade that seemed to be nearly everywhere. I think all of us felt the magic of collecting as we journeyed back to the beach house, our pockets loaded with green stones. I walked the beach, collecting seaweed for the magical shapes it had. I followed Quinn up rock cliffs to collect red tipped succulents clinging to the rocks by a few roots. I hope they will root at home too. Smooth pebbles were collected to stack on our outdoor table. Starfish, still pliable from their recent demise, were carried home too. I shall have to find out how to dry them safely to keep – their ochre color will fade but they will be such a beautiful reminder of the beauty I encountered.
Perhaps I have kept the best of my collector father and my organizing mother. I constantly edit and re-edit my collections to keep only the best, the most beautiful, and those that speak most deeply to me. I collect and purge; collect and purge. As a result, my collections have not taken over my spaces and I am not relegated to a tiresome caring for them. Instead they surround me in a way that sweetens my space and my soul.
I am a collector by nature, by nurture, and by choice. Why do I collect? I collect to remember. I collect to see. I collect so that I will not forget. I collect because there is so much more to notice than we normally notice. I collect to stop myself, to pause, to breath. I collect to connect to others. I collect because beauty demands my attention. I collect because I cannot stop myself and I do not want to. I collect because the abundance of the world requires my gratitude. Through collecting, I offer my thanks to the Divinity for all the beauty expressed in this great world.