My mother, Kate Webb Harris, included that quote in the closing section of her 1969 Hollins College graduating thesis, A Song in Chains, which analyzed the work of Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature the following year, before being expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, ultimately seeking refuge two years later here in Vermont, where he ended up living for the next twenty years.
My mother was fascinated by Solzhenitsyn’s theory of attaining spiritual liberation from within a situation of physical confinement, as he found in the “gulags” of Russia. Writing in his 1966 novel, Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn posits:
A man is happy, so long as he chooses to be happy and nothing can stop him.
Even as a young woman, the seed of this idea was planted in my mother’s imagination — little did she know at the time how her own life would end up testing Solzhenitsyn’s hypothesis...
Beginning in 1989, my mother started seeing a psychoanalyst in New York City, to help her process frequent nightmares, a debilitating depression, ambivalence about whether to end or continue her marriage, and her long-time struggle to give up cigarette smoking. Her therapy consisted largely of dream analysis, so she began a meticulous practice of recording her dreams, which she carried out for the next thirteen years in a series of spiral-bound journals. After she died, I came across her collection of journals, which I read through word by word over several long and challenging winter days.
Without going into too many details, a picture is painted of half-remembered childhood abuse that cast a long shadow on the rest of her life, tainting her view of men and sexuality, and creating deep levels of fear and anxiety that caused her to withdraw more and more from the world as she aged. Mainly, reading her journals made me feel enormous compassion for her situation — which, like her father, she was never quite able to transcend and escape.
This ritual deals with the process of transforming her dreams, so that her spirit (and High Acres Farm) can be free of their old and fearful burdens.
An old wooden bed that belonged to my mother’s great-grandparents is placed in a maple sugarbush in the High Acres Farm woods.
The maple trees are tapped and the early spring sap is flowing, with blue cords criss-crossing the woods.
In the bed is “Baby Linda,” my mother’s 1950s childhood doll.
Nearby, the snow is falling. I’ve laid out my mother’s dream journals on an old wooden table. I take the glass cup from Phase Change and sprinkle water over the journals, and then into the landscape, where the snow suddenly clears.
I enter the forest and come across the white wooden bed, greeting Baby Linda.
I take the journals from my bag, and begin removing sheets of paper, which I clip to the blue cords using clothespins, airing out the dreams like dirty laundry.
I read each dream's title as I clip it to the rope, taking in the information.
I repeat this process into the evening, until the woods are festooned with hundreds of white sheets of paper, like strange New England “prayer flags,” slowly being sweetened by the spring sap that’s dripping from the trees.
As night falls, the haunting sound of baby frogs takes over the forest.
A freeze-frame nightmare sequence begins.
In the morning, the sound of the nightmares gives way to the sound of crows, echoing through the empty woods. I return to the sugarbush with my sister and her kids, to gather up the sheets of paper.
We carry the bundle of collected dreams to a nearby hillside, where two tables await us — one made of wood, holding a collection of my mother’s beautiful glass paperweights; the other made of glass, propped up between two columns of bricks from the old High Acres Farm chimney, removed in the 2017 renovation.
We explore the exquisite designs of our mother’s glass paperweights.
One by one, her paperweights are placed atop the stack of paper dreams, causing the glass sheet suspended between the bricks to sag and dip precariously.
As the final paperweight is placed and moved, the sheet of glass suddenly cracks, and the sheets of paper fall to the ground, under the weight of the paperweights.
Four white doves emerge from the empty space created. There is a dove for me, a dove for my sister, and one for each of her children.
The doves were released by Gary Reid — who, five years earlier, had appeared in Space Suit, while performing our mother’s cremation.
As the wind picks up, we begin a family process of kite-making, with little Baby Linda sitting at the table as a witness. My nieces decorate the paper dreams with colorful drawings of flowers.
My eldest niece rushes into the field, with her new kite flapping wildly behind her.
She meets her little sister on a neighboring hill. They fly their kites together in the warm spring sun. Their grandmother’s dreams are swirling and soaring in the bright Easter sky — their heaviness finally made light.
Original music by
- Amanda Herzberger & her kids
Dove release by