Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
Middle of the night and I’m unable to sleep. A bit unusual these days. A combination of aerobic and resistance work coupled with a new medication regime had me sleeping, not like the proverbial baby—who wakes up and cries every two hours—but, like a calm, integrated adult.
I know this is a further manifestation of my melancholy and I wish it weren’t so, but, as Kate says, “It is what it is.” This does not mean resignation, rather recognition of whatever state of health or dis-ease visits just now.
I ruminate during these sleepless periods, certain thoughts clang around my brain case, slamming into skull, bouncing back, returning. Tonight Ione, Raeone’s mother and Joseph’s grandmother, keeps passing through, or, rather, my agreement to conduct her funeral and how I might structure it, what I might say.
Also, a very interesting sermon by Davidson Loehr, clergy of the UU church in Austin, Texas and here for a brief while as interim at Unity in St. Paul, “Why ‘Unitarian-Universalism’ is Dying.”. You can read it if you’re so inclined at the following URL: http://austinuu.org/sermons/2004/2004-07-21-WhyUnitarianUniversalismisDying.html.
You may think this would depress me, instead it excites me and makes me feel even more urgency about my “The Way of a Liberal’s Faith” project.
Now, this thought leads to wanting to be clear about what my own faith is, what it looks like, its outlines, boundaries, content...
A line from Martin Luther came to mind (and started clanging around at this importune hour of 4:00 AM), Here I Stand. This was the title of a well-known Roland Bainton biography of Luther and a sign of Luther’s willingness to stand, as his own man, against the might of the prevailing orthodoxy.
Here I stand. Hmmm. This does go to the core of my faith, but not in the way of Bainton’s biography or Luther’s theology. Rather, its plain meaning speaks to me.
I stand right here. Since my time in seminary a realization, more physical than intellectual, has grown within me, and it is this: we are animals, born to the earth, privileged for a while to walk upon it and draw our sustenance from it, then to return again to her bosom, only to rejoin life in a different form.
Not only are we born to the earth, but we are born to a particular part of the earth, the place where we feel home; the place which quickens our heart when we return to it after having been away; the place which has not only physical terrain, but also embodies the terrain of our heart, our inside folded out onto streets, fields, trees, hills, lakes, weather patterns, and the history of human lives lived in this place.
Without going into the intellectual superstructure behind this idea (Alfred North Whitehead if you care to pursue it.) I also became convinced, again physically as much as intellectually—that moment on campus when I walked through the door of the philosophy building and had an epiphany of the interconnectedness of all things—that the universe is alive.
If the universe, then so too the small portion of the universe, that place I am born to—and, here is a key notion, for which I am responsible. Now, for reasons made clear in Loehr’s sermon, I don’t want this to turn into a political rant, or an ecological platform, I simply want to assert, or recognize or reclaim, or claim the reciprocal nature implied in this notion of being born to the earth and a particular spot in it.
Let me expand a bit on what I mean by a having notion physically as much as intellectually. If I walk out my sliding glass doors right now, I will walk into the night, a dark time which cycles with regularity, yet also with particularity related to our latitude and longitude. My sister always remarks when she’s here how long it stays light; she lives near the equator where the days are more uniform in their distribution of light and dark and, too, in temperature variations.
Further, if I go out now, in early August, the air is cool and fragrant with the smell of moist earth, blooming floors, wet hay, and cut grass. Above me is the sky as it appears only here on this night, again at our particular latitude and longitude.
I can see trees on the southern horizon, trees on our property, tall cottonwoods, oak massed on the hill to my left, and a magnolia right beside me.
I know if put my hand in the garden soil here, soil I have amended many times, yet I put my hand, too, in soil always contained in the larger context of the Great Anoka Sand Plain, ancient river bed and glacial melt extending a large distance in all directions from our home.
We live on land originally oak savannah, so it is no surprise we have oak trees in our woods, iron wood and green ash, too.
A couple of days ago I grumbled about the gopher who dug a tunnel under three hosta I’d planted a month or so ago, and ate them. Joseph said, “Don’t be mad at him. After all, you moved onto his home.” My own words come back to me. This too is part of my core faith, if it belongs here, it belongs here. Sort of a variation on “It is what it is.”
My faith has saints. Wendell Berry is one. Aldo Leopold. John Muir. Sigurd Olson. Rachel Carlson. Rick Bass. Paul Gruchow. Again, I take from these saints not so much their radical ecological message, though I do take that, but as a peripheral matter; rather, I take from them first and foremost their love of place, their sense of rootedness in a geography, a particular location.
I love regional authors like Willa Cather, Tony Hillerman, Sarah Orne Jewett, even Stephen King for their evocation of a locale. Painters, too. The Hudson River School, Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O’Keefe. I take from these authors and artists, again, first and foremost, their sense of here, now with, as Joseph Campbell says, a local inflection. I would not argue their literary or painterly merits for that is not my point in this case, rather, it is their fellow-feeling, their insistence on the importance of an area, a countryside, a built environment.
This may seem like a constricted, parochial vision in a time of globalization protests and international conflicts, and it is, in a way. Yet.
I have a sense, derived in part from a long ago anthropology degree, that before we can become universal, we must first be local. In fact, I would argue that there is no way to be truly universal, all of us must speak with our particular inflection, an inflection formed by land, culture, and personal history. It is this radical geographic centeredness which makes us human, and so universal, yet also local and so unique.
One of the great challenges of our era is to embrace our unique, locally inflected selves while coming to know and embrace the many unique others, too.
So, we’ll stop there and see if these matters can now cease clanging around in my very local (loco?) head. As they say, Think globally, act loco.
Later, the same day. The Romans worshiped the genius loci, the genius of the place, and had an altar to him or her in their homes. Each crossroads had a god, too. The Japanese kami inhabit woods, rocks, lakes, streams and make them holy, sites often marked with thick rope and torii.
Native Americans, too, have holy mountains like Bear Butte in South Dakota and Ship Rock in Arizona. The pipestone quarry, too, where “the stone is like the blood of our brothers.” Madeline Island is sacred to the Annshinabe as the center of the universe. There Manitou took earth from turtle after the great flood and created turtle island, what we call North America.
In the British Isles the ancient Celts had holy wells, fresh-water springs which had various properties: wish-granting, curse-enhancing, bridegroom foreeings, wealth improving, and physical healing. The Celts did not believe, they knew the faery folk inhabited various mounds, rocks, great trees, and could be reached through holy wells, lakes, cracks in the earth, and caves.
Wiccans claim a certain fealty to Celtic tradition while adding other, goddess worship foci. I could go on. Gyatsho asked me at the Art Institute a couple of months ago if the local spirits had been consulted before construction of the Institutes expansion galleries began. No, I said, I doubt it. Our belief system here is too empirical. He nodded as if my answer didn’t surprise him.
There are many other earth-centered faith traditions—African, aboriginal, Maori, Hawaiian, Javanese and Balinese. In essence earth-centered faith traditions seem common among indigenous peoples, the more abstract, dogma centered traditions coming with immigration and urbanization.
My faith resonates with these, mine may be simply the white, middle-class suburban equivalent; a neo-paganism not dictated by tribal custom, but by a process of liberal religious thought which has peeled back the accretions of Judaeo-Christian thought and found them too rigid and divisive and inauthentic.
Another way of saying the same thing: I find the love and support I once got from God has always been there from mother earth. She is, I admit, a savage god with little romanticism and a sense, not of justice, but of biological and geological necessity. Yet anyone who reads the text of Hebrew and Christian sacred literature knows that Yahweh Sabbaoth (Lord of Hosts, or, Lord of the Armies) sanctioned the first humans with death and hard labor for seeking knowledge, wiped out humanity in one go early on, and, later, gives up his son for blood sacrifice. Hmmm. Seems a bit harsh, too.
Consider this: our food comes either directly or indirectly from the earth with energy contributed by the sun. Ditto the cloths on our backs. The roof over our head, the windows in the house, the silicon in these computer chips. When I emerged from the womb, an oxygen rich environment called our atmosphere greeted me. Of course, most of this is mediated now by some human agency, but that doesn’t change the ultimate source of the chemicals, the building materials, and the photosynthesis we cannot recreate.
I’m willing to call the whole, alive and creative, God. The word process theologians use is panentheism, God is present in all but is not limited to it.
The local comes again into play here. Mother earth is the local area for earth-based organisms, but the entire planet is dependent, in a very direct way, on the nuclear fusion and fission always bright in Sol, our nearest star.
Due to my human limitedness I do not have the capacity to live on much more than a small piece of mother earth, so, the local begins to look like the radius of space reasonably available to an individual or family.
I believe it was Tip O’Neil, former speaker of the House of Representatives, who said, “All politics is local.” I would expand that and say that everything is local, and, furthermore, the only way to experience the universal is through a particular.
At some point in college I became convinced I could explain everything if I could adequately describe a flower. Or a rock. Or a fellow student. Or a road. It seemed to me that the total penetration of a particular entity would inevitably lead back out into the universe and that through its molecules, its origins, its representation of a moment in time preceded by an infinite string of other moments, the flower would illustrate our total interdependence, in fact, the complete interpenetration of all by all.
I still have that vision and I’m increasingly drawn to my yard and my family as the particulars I can describe in some richness.
Today I have finished planting iris in a raised bed, around sixty rhizomes in all, I suppose. Then, leveraging roots out of the ground with a long pole bar designed for moving logs.
Simple tools, unmechanized are the ones I love best: a shovel, the pry bar, an axe, a hatchet, a trowel, a Japanese weeding knife, pruners of various types especially Felco’s, a shovel, a cultivator, a garden rake, a leaf rake, weed wrench, even a snow shovel.
Just because, however, I love the axe and the snow shovel does not mean I won’t use a chain saw and a snow blower. I do. Even so, they are both loud and require annual and weekly maintenance. I don’t like them, but they do the job in a time effective manner.
The simple tools, hand tools, I like, probably, because I was never taught to use power tools and never bothered to learn. Still, there’s something about wielding an axe, pushing down on the pry bar, cutting limbs from a tree with a lopper or bypass pruner that is so satisfying to me. The direct application of my muscle through a blade, a cutting surface, a rake seems—wholesome.
I know this attitude is a gardener’s, not that of a farmer or horticulturist, yet, when I consider my faith, using these hand tools becomes an act of worship. I come into contact with mother earth with as little brutality and pollution as possible; with these tools I nurture the lives of numerous plants, and, at the same time, effect my own health positively.
No, I don’t believe we should all go back to the land and grow tomatoes and raise bees, that was thirty years ago and naïve, but I know the tools we use effect and express our attitude toward mother earth. I feel lucky I can use ones that are benign.
In his excellent sermon Davidson Loehr makes the point that all the major world faith traditions (this is Wilfred Cantrell Smith’s language from his book The Meaning and Purpose of Religion.) insist that the way is difficult, not easy: The narrow way of Jesus, the sword’s edge over an abyss of Islam, the struggle to be aware first of maya, then one’s own monkey mind in Buddhism, the many life time necessary to merge with Brahma in Hinduism. (I can’t recall right now the equivalent in Judaism, but we already saw that Yahweh Sabbaoth is a jealous God.)
So what is the equivalent in my neo-pagan faith? Love the mother as she provides love unto you? I suspect in this faith tradition it has a lot to do with paying attention. Be here now, as the Buddhists say. Here I stand, and I know where I stand. Intimately. I recognize and embrace my responsibility to the place for which I was born. In practice, I suppose we take every opportunity to listen to the kami, to respect the genius loci and honor it. This may, in fact, be enough because it entails a gradual move from an I-it relationship with your place to an I-Thou, a reciprocal honoring of each other.
Later, I’ll look at the place to which I feel born: first, the heartland of North America, second, the Lake Superior and upper Mississippi watersheds, third, the Twin Cities metropolitan area, fourth, their northern suburbs, fifth, northern Anoka County, and sixth, the 2 ½ acres at 3122 153rd Ave. NW.
As I said in earlier journal entry, I started life in Duncan, Oklahoma near the Red River, the border between Oklahoma and Texas. Later, we moved to Watonga in the Oklahoma panhandle. From there, a move to Alexandria, Indiana where I lived 15 years, through high school; then, four more years in Indiana: Crawfordsville, Muncie, and Connersville. After Indiana my first wife, Judy, and I moved to Appleton, Wisconsin. A straight shot west from there to the Twin Cities. A brief stint in Hubbard County near Spider Lake on the not-so Peaceable Kingdom farm, Lindstrom, then back to the Twin Cities, and now, Andover, a northern suburb.
When I was a boy we traveled often to southern Indiana and the tiny farming town of Morristown, my mother’s home. James Whitcomb Riley, “The Hoosier Poet,” wrote poetry that captured the spirit of Morristown and Shelby County. Here, for example, is his “When the Frost is on the Punkin.”
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then's the times a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here--
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock--
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries--kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below--the clover over-head!--
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin' 's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! ...
I don't know how to tell it--but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me--
I'd want to 'commodate 'em--all the whole-indurin' flock--
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!
Again, I’ll not argue the literary merits, rather I want to point to Riley’s evocation of a midwestern/heartland idyll, a point in the fall when the harvest is in and hospitality so inviting that Angels can come. Work is done for the growing season and the less onerous work of winter, repairing tools, feeding livestock is about to commence.
My grandfather, a horse-trader, and my Uncle Riley worked the farm Grandpa owned. Uncle Riley and Aunt Virginia lived on it and kept, at least early in my life, milk cows, horses, chickens, pigs and raised their own feed on two hundred and twenty acres of bottom land.
Though the cows scared me occasionally when I was young, they were so big, and I was so small, I loved the smells of the farm: shucked corn in the wood crib, stacked up yellow and hard, the barn filled with hay and dust, even the smell of manure blended with the wood scent of the barn’s rafters and the hay in the hay mow to create a smell I learned to love. Sometimes I go to the state fair barns just for the chance to relive that time. There was also the moist, pungent humus smell of plowed fields after a light rain, the dust of the gravel and dirt roads, tractors with their scents of oil, gasoline, and exhaust gases.
To get to the farm we drove along Blue River Road, a winding gravel path following the river, on the west side forests of maples and sycamores, on the east, fields filled with tall corn, bushy soy beans, and the occasional fallow field in alfalfa and once in a while, wheat.
There was a time warp at the edge of Morristown, or so it seemed to me. Once we passed into Shelby County and the area around Morristown, a shift to the late 19th century took place. Yes, there were cars and electric lights and indoor plumbing, but the overall feel of things had a distinct century ago tinge.
I imagine this was because the fundamental activities in Shelby County and around Morristown had not changed since the Civil War. Farmers grew crops, fed some of them to milk cows, beef cattle, hogs, chickens, and a horse or two. They sold some of their crop, put milk in round metal containers cooled in a water filled rock trough while awaiting the milk truck, sold some eggs, a hog or two, and butchered the beef cattle in the fall. Most had large vegetable gardens and tried to maintain self-sufficiency, at least as far as food went.
Few people got rich, but all lived with the rhythms of the seasons and the land. I know these people too well to romanticize farm life. It was hard and dangerous, often financially disastrous, but for those who loved it, farming was the only life imaginable.
A break here for an internal weather report. Still cloudy and gray. In Denver I kept getting lost, missing exits, generally spacing things out. When I’m melancholy, my attention turns inward and I don’t always know it, usually I don’t know it. I don’t know what it is about my internal life that fascinates me when I’m melancholy, but the turn happens and I experience the results: lost thoughts, poor timing while driving, losing track of conversations.
In spite of my ideas earlier, I still don’t know what’s causing this sadness. Another symptom for me is tears. I come closer to crying over unexpected things, I said this earlier, too, and it is still present.
I got back to my regular exercise routine yesterday and today, that feels much better, and I seem to have my medications back in working order. I planted the iris bed and pulled out roots yesterday; I have a plan to finish the garden work before Kate’s party on the 22nd, almost a full year put in so far, and still so much to do. It won’t come into full bloom for another couple of years. All of this feels good.
Still, this stream is deep and dark. It does not ebb and flow in patterns I can discern; it is a cthonic drive, a drive with its own reasons and rhythms. I see John Desteian again tomorrow, perhaps we will get further, probe again. I hope so; I need to live this out, I know it, but I’m ready to dance again. Anytime now.
The stories of my father’s youth, aside from the disappearance of Grandpa Elmo Ellis, were farm stories. Dad plowing the field on a tractor, struck by lightning, thrown off but ok. Living on the farm, so necessary to the well-being of country doctor often paid in farm produce. My great- Grandpa, Jonas Spitler, workin hard, too hard. Called out at all times, day and night.
The irony? Great-grandpa tried to get out of medicine. That’s why he became a Sooner, an early land rusher, way out in Oklahoma Territory. He tried to leave his medical practice behind him, but when neighbors found out about his medical training, they began to seek him out, a few at first, then more and more.
Family story is that Jonas died of exhaustion, pneumonia brought on by too much work.
My great-uncle Curtis, my Dad’s namesake farmed 600 acres near Jonas’s place. He was a contrarian, “When the other guys planted wheat, I’d plant corn; they’d plant corn, I’d plant rye. They got beef cattle; I got Holsteins.” He made a lot of money, mostly, in the end, by selling all 600 acres to developers for subdivisions in Mustang, Oklahoma, and left the old homestead for retirement in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I always loved that name for a town.
Uncle George, six fingers on both hands and an excellent violinist, farmed near Chickashea, Oklahoma. A lease purchaser for Texaco oil wanted to lease or buy the mineral rights under his land. This guy told Uncle George he could afford to buy indoor plumbing.
It was not a compelling argument to my 70-year old great-Uncle. No deal with Texaco.
My grandmother Jennie taught school, always in one-room school houses.
Alexandria, where I spent all my elementary and secondary school years, is on the eastern edge of Indiana, east of Indianapolis about 60 miles. This part of Indiana was then and is now a mix of manufacturing and farming. When I lived there, from 1950 to 1965, both sectors were vibrant.
General Motors employed 25,000 people in Anderson, just nine miles to the south. Family farms were numerous in the countryside outside town and the farm kids all came into Alexandria City schools, so they were my friends growing up. The schools ran around the farming needs, letting out on Memorial Day and not returning until after Labor Day. This let the farm kids have plenty of hours at home to help with plowing, cultivating, and harvest.
(disjunction: Christian holidays and the seasons of the land.)
Back from seeing John. A hard session for me. Grief turns to impatience and anger. Distraction. What grief? The grief of a period now long past, punctuated by my mother’s death at the beginning and my graduation/marriage/move to Wisconsin—with no follow-up on my academic life, no continuation of what seemed, at the time, the logical extension of my gifts.
This grief follows me, finds me wherever I go, and I still don’t know how to mourn, how to grieve. Instead, I pound ahead, the very determination I both exhibited and reinforced when I had polio, pushing me forward, not letting me just ease up, but pressing me on, against the onrushing flood of time, the imminence of death...how can I do what I need to do in the time I have left.
As John and I said, I should have had students, a bright line into the future, but I have none. I didn’t act when I could have, now this part of life has closed itself off from me.
A tragedy, John said, in the Greek sense. I have the gifts and the awareness of them, yet I chose a life which frustrates them, “And that’s very sad.” he said.
Yes, I felt that. The signal in analysis when the thought hits the mark.
“I feel trapped by time,” I told him, “At some point I won’t have the energy, perhaps even the faculties to finish my work. And besides, who do I share it with? I can sense life getting claustrophobic for me in the years ahead.”
I need to mourn, but I don’t know how. I need to...what? Yet, I can’t, won’t, give up my work, my intellectual and fictional pursuits. So, how do I do that with an awareness that the life of a professor, with students, publications, a legacy of these things is no longer a possibility?
I feel...stuck. I know this is the problem, but I don’t know what to do.
Sad and sadder. Heavy. Cross words with Kate last night. Impatience at her not feeling where I was. Not her fault, but mine. The inner gloom takes away my attention, makes me irritable unless events follow my flow. I don’t/can’t track with others when I’m in this state.
Again the weight. A burden rests on my eyebrows, my shoulders. I shudder underneath it, wonder if I can raise my sight ever again and see the hills, the horizon. Sighs come from a chest compressed by a flat weight.
Words come slow. Slow. Muddled. The flow ragged, uneven. I hope you don’t see this as self-pity, not what I feel. I’m just trying to report what I do feel. And it is mine, a sadness I live, that lives through me. A sadness that has not had its day, perhaps not in thirty years; no wonder it’s powerful from time to time.
Let me speak again to the collegian, the alcoholic, grieving young man of 21, consumed by his rage against injustice out there, corroded by tears seeping down into the inner cathedral.
You did the best you could; it was not good enough. I missed a life of contemplation, scholarly interaction, a life with students who would listen to and refine and carry on my work, my vision of philosophy, religion, and anthropology. I am sad. Grey. Dejected.
But...not defeated or depressed.
Melancholy. Those years, begun with Mom’s death and lasting through all the heady, achy, throbbing days of drugs, sex, and rock and roll, all those days. Days and weeks and months of anger, fear, and self-loathing, not in Las Vegas, but in Muncie, Indiana, fruit-jar capital of the United States.
Now, at 57, I can count the loss, the might-have-beens: a rapprochement in my family if Mom had lived; books on interesting topics—religion, faith, loving the earth from which we come, politics in a new key; some young, eager minds to give me mental refreshment, puppies for my intellect, and, also, puppies who would grown into big dogs remembering their old teacher; a career with regular markers; more money; perhaps, even, less pain as life unfolded, certainly less sadness. These things have disappeared from the realm of the possible for me. And at my hand...no one else’s.
On my pilgrimage I am in the slough of despond, a winding trail through the moor and lowlands. I know it’s a part of my pilgrimage, this year and every year; I don’t know if it’s necessary, or just inevitable; I do know this part of my pilgrimage has its own sights, its own unique treasures.
Those pilgrims Gyatsho described, the inch-worm movement, prostration, hands out to feet behind, for miles, hundreds of miles, eyes to the gravel road, not lifted up to the mountains or gazing down into deep valleys, they come to mind here. A pilgrim travels where the journey leads, not where he wants to go, not even where he chooses to go, but where he must go; thus, a trip through swamp and wetland, marsh and bog, lies between me and my destination. I don’t know if it lies on the way back, but it is apparent to me that I have not diverted from my journey, but am on the trail, following where it leads.
Ned Kelly is a key figure in Australian identity. He was an Irishman of the late 1880’s who, through a mixture of bad blood between Victoria’s police and attractive sisters, got drawn into a quixotic rebellion. A hard man from South Africa came to hunt him down, and hunt him down he did, but the end, an epic gun battle in which Ned Kelly and his gang wore armor, has gone down in Australian history as an object lesson in not trusting the bloody government.
A recent movie, “Ned Kelly”, with Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts, and Geoffrey Rush recounts the story. It is, by the way, the latest in a line of movies, musicals, books, paintings, and histories dating back to the first movie in 1906, one of the first feature films ever made. I watched it today, and, in the final scene, Ned Kelly goes down fighting, not dead, but critically wounded.
As I saw this scene, I began to weep, then cry, then sob. Hooked into grief, loss, the wounded and dying parts of my life I went on for a while, then began to wonder if I’d done this just to “perform” mourning. God, (I should say, Buddha) the monkey mind. I love that phrase.
Still in slough. Good night.
Pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St. James at Compostela in Northern Spain, a most popular pilgrimage in the Middle Ages that has recently had a great revival. St. James watches the travel through the mountains to a first sight of the cathedral. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the stars of the Milky Way showed the way to Compostela. http://www.quiltmag.com/clarke/gillian.html
Just a thought about the difference between pilgrimages and life: pilgrimages generally have an out, get there, come back rhythm. Life has an out, get there, don’t come back rhythm—at least, not as you are, or, rather, were.
I haven’t used any illustrations for awhile. Hunted for the slough of despond, but couldn’t find anything. Here are some images germane to our travels.
My point about the earlier material...childhood memories...is that they are template on which my sense of place formed. An incident burned into my brain illustrates it in another way.
I drove around the countryside, often at night, by myself, thinking. Since we only had one car, it was nighttime when the family car became available. One night late in August I made a left turn onto a gravel road. The sides of the road, like most of the roads in this one mile square grid arrangement so common in Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois had tall green walls, corn, grown here for feed, for silage.
Lights. Bright lights. Illumination on a dark road was like a sudden patch of night on a daytime drive. Out of place.
Curious, I drove on toward the lights. As I got closer, I saw tractors and cars parked, their headlights on high beam, all pointed toward the middle of the road.
The sight was so peculiar, it took me a second to register what I saw. A Guernsey heifer lay in the middle of the gravel road, her four legs sticking straight up in the air, her udder flaccid and hanging limp along her flank. She was not dead, not yet; her legs trembled and her large tongue protruded from her mouth.
The scene was so intimate, so sad, I didn’t press forward to find out what had happened though I’ve always imagined the heifer got out and was hit by a truck or passing car. Guernseys are milk cows, so an early death is not their normal fate.
This kind of experience does not happen to city dwellers. It was not common for me either, rare, one of a kind in fact; yet, it was the drive in the country at night, passing walls of corn not long from the corn picker and the corncrib, it was this drive, something I did without a particular thought, a personal habit, a place I could access easily, like city dweller might drive to a favorite club or go to a favorite building to take in the night.
The Fall 2004, theme for Parabola is The Seeker. Several articles I’ve read already, and all relevant to our topic. I recommend this issue.
I found Stephen Batchelor’s comments about the path or the way especially provocative. In Week 30 I’m going to comment on his material; it’s set me thinking in a new way about such ideas as call, vocation, path, way, thread.
This has gone long and is not yet done, but I’m going to stop here and pick up the born to a place idea next time. I’m interested in anybody else’s perspective on this.
I know the theme of down can get you down and I apologize for staying with it in these entries, but it is the direction of my pilgrimage right now, though I do sense an up tick beginning. We’ll see.
From the ancient emptiness, wandering on the Mammoth’s path.