Friday, September 30, 2005

Jon and I want a house in the country, with a garden and a creek out back. Part of the land we will leave alone, let the trees do as they will. Part of the land will be pasture for our goats.

I have been thinking lately about why I want goats. That decision came about so gradually, I can't pinpoint the grain of a notion of a thought that started all this, that is the reason for the bemused smiles in our families' voices. I want goats as surely as I want to read, as surely as I will not willingly give up Pope. Animals and books are such a part of me, that I can't fathom a life without.

Annie Dillard keeps popping up in my musing, a stubborn pebble lodged in one's shoe. Her essay "Living with Weasels" has stuck with me for mainly 2 reasons. (You will have to read it, now that you are reading this posting.)

One is her simple proclamation "Weasel!" about a third of the way in. This isn't just the simple word, but the word that encapsulates the being of that particular animal. Think, perhaps, of Adam naming the animals in Genesis, of the power that comes in knowing the name of a thing. Whole books are built upon this power--the Earthsea books, for example. But I digress. What I mean by all this is that joy that comes in seeing an animal, that thrill in contact with another living being quite unlike yourself.

The other reason is this (in Dillard's own words): "I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don't think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular...but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive."

What all this has to do with goats, you can decide. I think I would be as happy living in a zoo as I am living here with just Pope. Laugh at my preoccupation or think about your own fondness for your pet. Sometimes I think that animals don't need us so much as we need animals.

Here's a link to the article.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Jon took me to Waterfall Cave while showing me around the area where he worked as a Life Adventure Camp counselor, down by the Red River Gorge area. It was quite neat, and rather scary. Being underground is not a natural human inclination, even though I was quite curious about what I would see.

The opening to the cave was vast; a house could fit comfortably there. We strapped our tiny headlights on and set off into the cool darkness. The walls rapidly narrowed in on us the further we went, until we were squeezing between curvy rock formations and clambering over and under sharp outcrops of stone.

We saw living rock, in the process of formation as minerals in the water dripping from above solidified into bulbous shapes. The whole thing looked like gleaming clay, as though someone had been at work on it and left just before we arrived. Perhaps this was the way Manwe formed his dwarves in the Silmarillion?

There was a pool of clear water at the end, as far as we could go, unless we wanted to start climbing up into the darkness that pooled above. That way would take us to the sinkhole high above, where we could have climbed up into dirt and grass and the sunlight. But we remained in that little room, our whispered voices echoing as we spied a blind crawfish in the pool.

Let me tell you how I felt in that underground place. I felt as though I was intruding, daring to enter some holy one's place. Perhaps my feelings are colored by "The Tombs of Atuan", by Ursula LeGuin. In that book, there is a labyrinth of caves that the protagonist navigates in her work as the priestess of the Old Ones. I could imagine more clearly the presence of the Old Ones, the Powers of the Earth as they were known in that book. I understood at last that feeling of weight about one's shoulders, one's being to be more precise. It was as though some other consciousness was bearing down upon us, or was it only the fear of loneliness--complete and binding in a hard, dark place?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Here's a typical conversation between Jon & I:

(on seeing an roadside ad for 'labradoodles')

Jon: "That's stupid."
Laura: "That sounds interesting.."

This illustrates perfectly our personalities. Jon is fiercely opinionated; Laura takes her time, preferring to collect all the facts before verbalizing her opinions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mornings in the Red River Gorge are quiet, like the silence that comes just after a birth. In those first few moments when the shell-shocked baby's just come out, everyone involved is stunned speechless at the sacredness of this violent, profound mystery—something out of nothing, creatio ex nihilo, light out of the darkness...

So the thought entered my mind as I stood at the edge of the ravine, overlooking the valley still in night and the cliff-tops opposite slowly waking up in the light, a warm wash of sandstone, the color of a baby's stomach. It had been a moonless night, and being surrounded by trees had made the night thicker still, so I was glad when the sun approached, bringing back the blue sky we live our daily lives beneath.

This is what I had just arisen out of: a black night whose first part was filled with the noise of creation—cicadas droning their last desperate summer speech, the trees whining in the breeze, the rustle of debris as small, unknown animals settled in, the murmur of the campfire breathing its last. Then midnight came, and all was silent, as though some unknown presence was holding its breath.

They say that this is the evil hour, when the spirits can come forth and prowl a land they knew once while living. Indeed, you feel as though something is watching you from the edge of the campsite. It may only be a shy bobcat, pausing to observe the strange new beings on the cliff-top before making his way home to some pine-needle cushioned rock niche. But that feeling of unease remains, and some distant fear is awakened: fear of the darkness, and the void.

And so the pagans worshipped the sun, for they desperately believed that honoring it would assure the return of the light, their life—their salvation. I understood now a little of that desperation as I stood there on the ridge, exalting in the sunrise, joyously watching the valley emerging from the darkness as abruptly as a baby bursting forth from his mother’s womb, from the void. A passage came to mind then, startling in its newfound clarity:

“People living out their lives in the dark,
saw a huge light;
living in that dark, dark land of death,
they watched the sun come up.”

Isaiah’s foretelling suddenly jointed together and came alive for me with as much immediacy as the rock supporting my feet, the falcon’s sloping flight above the ridge, and the textured leaves of the newly-emerged trees beneath. I became aware then of the sacredness of the silence surrounding me, involving all that I could see. It seemed to murmur, with the freshly-stoked campfire, that bone-shivering prophecy: “Salvation is at hand!” And for once, in the growing warmth of the sun, I grasped the immensity of the situation, the profundity of the knowledge we take for granted: a prophecy that has come true.