Monday, November 7, 2011

the wood between the worlds

As an English major who spent more time reading the works of dead crackers than doing anything resembling creative writing both out of shyness and disdain for those who wanted to be the next Bret Easton Ellis or Thomas De Quincey, I got a decent dosage of medievals and Romantics that I alternated adored and was infuriated by.

Wordsworth might have said he wandered lonely as a cloud and found some daffodils, but his sister was most definitely along for the ride, as their diaries show, but she was conveniently written out of the picture to maintain the image of the loner among nature.

I've been rediscovering Annie Dillard after a long time of not maybe understanding, maybe not getting out into the almost-wilderness enough, obsessed with crumbling concrete dying from neglect rather than the world outside continually dying and reborn.

“Concerning trees and leaves... there's a real power here. It is amazing that trees can turn gravel and bitter salts into these soft-lipped lobes, as if I were to bite down on a granite slab and start to swell, bud and flower. Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts. Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in full summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day. A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn't make one. A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes, it splits, sucks and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out even more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air.”

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”

So Saturday I was introverted, and I know these days are getting shorter and colder and more brutish, so I went out to the woods where we played as kids. Our parents would walk along the concrete path and we would run along the side, scampering over huge trees fallen across the creek, making our way across stones to the island in the middle of the creek as runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad or Robin Hood's merry band or the kids in Narnia, so immersed in this world of water and trees and imagination even with the suburbs on the top of the hill and the road running along the other side. It's still as beautiful as I remember it.

The summer I graduated, me and one of my friends used to come here, because it was so close by, and me and him would sit by the water and ponder, or lay on the picnic tables and stare up at the pine trees soaring so tall and straight over us. It felt like time was fluid, an endless eternal tap when it was already beginning to drain away.

This was so good for my soul, so when I got out of church, I did it again, driving out to Medina and wondering why every road now has the name of some poor kid who died in the army, stopping at Worden's Homestead, knowing that the ledges had to be nearby.

I'd only been there once, probably fifteen years ago, when we walked from my parents' friends house through some back yards and back woods to end up in a quiet place in the middle of a forest strewn with hanging Jungle Book vines in a place with carvings not quite Olmec, but ancient seeming enough for a part of the country where the ancients did not see it fit to build. The path behind the farmhouse is not well-marked, but I followed the couple in front of me in, and made my way across.

I wonder what the carver of these stones thought when he came upon them for the first time, and shaped and incised these rocks with sweat and fervor. The deformed Sphinx remains cryptic, the faces unidentified, the symbology of cross and schooner arcane.

I return up the path to the back of the property, where assorted playhouse-sized outbuildings disintegrate and a crucified effigy is sprawled on the ground, awkwardly formed, with a bulky torso and a crown of rusty nails. Attempts at getting a good shot were made but ultimately unsuccessful.

And from there I went to the much more populated Whipps Ledges, which was crawling with children, dogs and rock climbers. I walked the periphery and the then along the top, knowing I'd be unable to capture the grandeur completely.

“After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.”

“What do I make of all this texture? What does it mean about the kind of world in which I have been set down? The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.”

And now I'm back at the daily routine, and I wonder why I didn't do this more, because of the euphoria of atmosphere, movement, and the created order at its most beautiful.

“There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: A people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death. It is a weakening and discoloring idea, that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time-- or even knew selflessness or courage or literature-- but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less.”


Randal Graves said...

Shorter Annie: darkthroning is good.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I like those pictures so much I'll come look at them again tomorrow.