Everyone knows that Grey Havens is located in the west of Middle-earth at the feet of Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains. The Elves journey to Grey Havens under the Blue Mountains to take ship to another world, to Valinor, land of the gods. To the Elves, Grey Havens is a kind of spiritual portal to Valinor, not found by following the bent seas of Middle-earth. Only the magic Swan Ships of Grey Havens are capable of following the Straight Road to Valinor.
And Grey Havens today is located, I suggest, at the feet of the Blue Mountains. We gather every so often at Barbed Wire Books in downtown Longmont, Colorado. To say this, it might sound to some like a strange tale, but it is a true story.
Attending the April 2011 meeting of Grey Havens I premiered a small sculpture garden, something I call a Magic Circle Dreamscape. These are small scenes with figurines posed in the midst of another enchanted world. We sat at our table in Barbed Wire Books and we discussed The Fellowship of the Ring and we peered at my sculpture in the middle of the table.
But my mind was on something else that day. In the afternoon I had worked on a project involving the connections of my father’s ancestors to the ancient Rocky Mountains. My ancestors called these mountains Those Distant Rocks in a Line. The Distant Rocks served as the westernmost boundary of their homeland. And I don’t know for sure, but this name could have inspired the name “Rocky Mountains.”
Our kinfolk to the north – with whom we had once formed one ethnic community – they long retained another name for the Rocky Mountains. This ancient name was still remembered over a century ago. A folklorist named George Bird Grinnell recorded that name around 1890 from an elder of those people and he published it as part of their origin story. His unpublished notes specified that the name referred to the Rockies.
The Blue Mountains. Those folk today no longer recall this old term. It is forgotten today. They have no memory of the Rocky Mountains in those stories. But some of our ancestors wandered down from the Blue Mountains and they brought that memory with them, and when they talked of their history they said to one another that they came from the Blue Mountains.
Among my ancestors, this ancient history has been forgotten, too. Vague fragments of memory endured through the years, but people looked at one another one day and they forgot what those remnant memories meant.
It is reasonable to suggest that the association of the color blue in the ancient name “Blue Mountains” could refer to the sky. This would certainly fit the name that my ancestors had for Pike’s Peak: The Mountain That Touches the Sky.
In one unpublished manuscript in the Field Museum in Chicago, a man of my people wrote down this information from oral tradition: “The old folks also told the people that far to the west where the skies touch the earth, sits a buffalo who sits there as an open way to the spirit land[.]” The story mentions the name for Pike’s Peak, but the man who wrote it down did not mention that fact. The story goes on to prophesy the future of humankind and the end of the world as the magic buffalo loses its hair.
This is an ancient memory of Pike’s Peak and what it once meant long ago. Where the blue sky touches the earth, at the edge of the Blue Mountains, my ancestors located there a portal to another world, an enchanted place where history and fate circle together.
In another tradition a gambler journeyed to “the end of the world, where the sky bends down and touches the ground.” Here stood a buffalo bull guarding a gateway to a distant land filled with people who served “the Father.” So this story also mentions Pike’s Peak, and it also does not mention that fact. And this story of the Mountain That Touches the Sky (in the Blue Mountains) speaks of a portal to a far-off land, a realm of the gods.
So in April of 2011, driving across Longmont with Withywyndle, I pictured myself going to Grey Havens at the feet of the Blue Mountains. In this land stands an ancient gateway. It connects us all to another world. But the path to that other world is mysterious, enchanted – made of forgetfulness.
In this version of history, the destiny of humankind is full of mysterious collisions and beautiful conjunctions. I think we need strange tales like this one.
That evening I set down my sculpture in the middle of the table at Grey Havens and we talked together. And as our words faded around us, around that table, a slow sunset cast long shadows down from the Blue Mountains upon Grey Havens.