In his short story "The Silver Key" H.P. Lovecraft writes of how his protagonist changed "as middle age hardened upon him":
"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference between those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value one above the other."
There's a lot to be unpacked in that. I think a lot about the sense of wonder; when I walk in our back yard these days I see the same sort of things I saw when I was a kid (well, mostly -- these days most lawns are better manicured and I remember many more bees and butterflies; a loss to our civilizations). But I don't feel the magic, I only remember the feelings I had as a young boy; the beauty of a dandelion, with its bright yellow flower busy with bees, or later, when the flower had gone to fluff, the way that fluff danced in the breeze. I remember climbing trees, effortlessly, and can still picture the view, and remember the smells of leaves and bark and the texture of the tree. Sometimes coming across an empty cicada shell, or even a bird's nest.
I remember discovering a small pond not far from my house, and spending hours there, watching the tadpoles surface and leave concentric circles on the otherwise glossy water; there were dragonflies, too, aerial dancers;and sometimes grasshoppers, big ones, flying ones, little ones, all surrounded by tall wild grasses. The smell of fertile mud and still water.
More than that I felt intuitively that I belonged, and that the world welcomed me to find hidden meanings and treasures. I imagined being an early settler on the Great Plains, and would sometimes lie on the ground looking at the horizon, pretending that over the next hill was not home and civilization, but unbroken prairie and yet unknown mysteries, waiting for me.
All that and much more is somewhere in my memory bank, but try as I will I cannot quite, yet anyway, recapture the sense of wonder, the dreaming, the magical merger of the world and myself.
I also remember the slow process of the "hardening" that did indeed settle upon me as I reached middle age; when logic rose up and imposed itself, decreeing it would be best to set all that aside and concentrate on things that mattered in a worldly material sense. I succeeded.
And now, at the edge of my dotage, I begin to realize what was lost; but more than that, when I look carefully I find traces of that wonder, and have begun to follow those traces in hopes of re-discovering that inner world, which I presumed was gone for good, but which I now see has always been there, always remains; it never left me -- I left it.
I begin to think that child is waiting for me, not to re-become me or for me to become childish, but to show me and share with me the magical essence of life.
I hope so. I know now how much I miss him, and how easy it was to callously leave him behind.
Looked out the kitchen window this morning and noticed what looked like a small tree in the backyard where none had been before. About 4 feet high, maybe 3 or 4 inches wide. No leaves and no branches were visible.
On closer inspection it was a dead branch that had fallen from high up in one of our maple trees, and landed on its narrower end, so that it had thrust into the lawn about 3 or 4 inches deep. Like a javelin. I could only imagine what it would have done to me had I been mowing or otherwise puttering around out there, like I am wont to do in my dotage. But I wasn’t, so no harm, no foul. But is it a threat? I have reason to begin to feel a bit paranoid.
Some years back I was driving home from work on a sunny, windy autumn day in the midwest, on a neighborhood street. I heard a sudden crash, breaking glass, and a sort of muffled thud. A tree branch, much bigger than the one this morning, had snapped off a tree and burst through the windshield on the passenger side, landing right where the passenger, usually my wife, would have been sitting. Fortunately for her she wasn’t sitting there. But then what if it wasn’t meant for her but for me? It wasn’t that far off from me.
I know it happens. Maybe 40 years ago in my hometown a woman driving home from work got caught in good old Nebraska thunderstorm, and pulled over to let the worst of the storm go past. Suddenly an old maple tree split in the wind, and half of it fell on her car, crushing her.
Doesn’t have to be trees, either. Back in my earliest days I was a news reporter in a small town. Every time the sirens went off I would grab my camera, hop in the car, and try to find out what was happening. One night, around 9 and dark, I followed the rescue squad to the edge of town. This was out in sugar beet country, and it was harvest time. The haulers usually didn’t have enough capacity in their trucks, so they would add a trailer -- a “pup” -- to hold the excess. Well, this night the trailer came unfastened and, unlighted, it swerved across the road where it collided with the passenger side of a pickup truck, neatly removing half the roof of the truck, on the passenger side. And, I discovered later when I developed my photos (shot almost randomly in the dark) neatly removed the head of the woman in that seat.
Finally, in law school, in a trial practice class, our assigned case came in an amply illustrated book. Seems a gentleman was following a flatbed truck with a load of long thin cast iron pipes. You know where this is going. The pipes came loose, and one pierced the windshield; also the guy’s head.
So it sometimes goes.
I guess the moral of this little tale is simply that we never know if there is some inantimate object with our name on it, just lurking and waiting for a chance. And sometimes the aim is good.
There is a technique promoted for defusing arguments, called "Gray Rock." The idea is that you be sure any responses you make are factual, calm, and unemotional. In other words, boring, like a plain gray rock, nothing of interest. So anyone trying to trigger a response from you will eventually give up.
It does work, but I no longer like the name.
I'm thinking of that boulder we got dropped off in our front yard (my neighbor came over the other day and asked me, "so what happened? God's aim was off? He missed your house?"). It is, I think, basalt, a very hard rock and definitely gray in color, now that the centuries of brown mud have mostly washed off.
But it's anything but boring.
If I glance out the window at it, I see first of all its irregular shape, flats and sharps and everything in between. Shadows emerge, move, and merge as sunlight works its way through the day, and in some places tiny bits of mica sparkle. The color slips through ranges of gray even when it's dry, but when it rains the rock becomes almost piebald, wet areas turning dark, almost black, dry areas pale, almost white, and in places darker wet streaks cut through the otherwise dry pale spots. When the sunlight changes and the rain stops, the rock becomes something else again. At night it's not gray, it's a black monolith, except when moonlight hits it, and it becomes a pale shadow. And when it snowed the other day, bits stuck to the flat areas, so it sort of resembled a distant mountain range. I'm wondering what sort of patterns the birds will leave on it when they perch on the branches above. But it's all good, it's all in there, the wondrous beauty of nature and life.
It may be a gray rock, but it's not boring. If you bother to look, which, I suppose is the point of the gray rock defusing strategy; anyone who is emotional enough to be picking a fight is not likely to calmly pick out subtleties.
I can tell you this. They are missing out on a lot.
Wife and I went for a walk yesterday morning, through the local wildlife conservancy, a few blocks from home. The sun shone, the air was t-shirt warm, the spring birds were singing and darting about, shrubs and trees have buds well on the way to opening. The sky had only the faintest white puffs of cloud, and slight breezes drifted against us.
Ah, spring. So welcome after what turned out to be one of the harshest winters in years. Hard to believe how quickly winter has become a memory, those frigid mornings as far gone as the once-deep drifts, and the landscape has grown again into green and promises more.
Fitting that our first real walk of the year came on Easter, the day that for so many people symbolizes rebirth, redemption, and promise. It all seemed so right.
And today seems to promise even more. Here in the States it's "Earth Day," a time for remembering the environment that makes us all possible. It also happens to be my birthday, and my younger daughter gave me a new, theoretically squirrel-proof, bird feeder. I have my doubts, but I filled it a few minutes ago and put it up. Now I'm sitting on the screened porch in a light jacket, watching as the local cardinal begins cautiously checking it out, flits back and forth, and makes a sort of chittering sound, probably calling for his mate. Soon the chickadees will show up, and the wrens, all of whom will perch on the sides of the feeder, bickering and squabbling and sharing. Then the juncoes will come and scratch around in the seeds that fall to the ground, and then the mourning doves.
The chipmunks will soon scurry out and begin watchfully gathering seeds. The rabbits will wander by, including (I hope) my friend with the damaged back leg, who has somehow survived the winter -- yesterday when I opened the back door she came running up to me, and took a cracker from my hand. The other morning I saw a field mouse venture out, a "wee cowering timorous beastie," hoping to grab a bite while the others are distracted, always ready to dash for cover, seeming to think he has no real right to exist, but nonetheless daring to survive.
At some point, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, or soon thereafter, the red-tailed hawk will wander by and settle in the cherry tree and wait for a chance at his own meal, at the expense of the others. After all, every good story needs a villain.
Which reminds me. Soon enough the squirrels will show up, and test out the feeder. But that will be another story for another time.
This is my day.
I've written earlier about my efforts to landscape my yard with rocks -- putting borders around trees and so on, making natural areas (and reducing the space needing to be mowed). Not terribly hard to do here; this was near the furthest reach of the last glaciation period, so the topsoil conceals a lot of glacial till -- the pieces of rock broken off from Canadian mountains and pushed along by the glaciers. So most excavation turns up quite a few rocks.
I sometimes haunt construction sites -- in the early stages, before they put up the "no trespassing signs," and I found one place where contractors seem to dump soil and rock debris. I've found some pretty good stones, including a couple agates. Various sizes too, from medium chunks to a couple as large as I could carry. All sorts of colors and shapes and chemical composition.
These last few weeks the utility folks have been replacing the gas lines on our street, which has required them to do a lot of directional drilling, a cool technique in which a drill tunnels along a few feet underground, controlled by a guy with a computer screen, trying to work the drill bit between obstacles. Sometimes, though, they run into something they can't get around, usually a large rock. Then they dig it up.
Driving by one day I saw a very large rock sitting where none had been before, and even I could figure out they had pulled it out of the ground. After some asking around, I learned that I could indeed have it, if no one else had claimed it first. The foreman gave me a can of white spray paint and told me to paint a large "X" where I wanted it placed. So I did.
That afternoon I came home and found the rock -- boulder really -- up in my yard. My, it's big. A bit more than 3 feet high, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet tall. I can't quite tell what it is for sure, but I think it's granite. If so, and if Google is right, that means it's approximately 6,120 pounds of rock -- more than three tons. No wonder the foreman told me I could have it, but once it got placed it would stay put.
So no room for buyer's (asker's) remorse. It's my star rock and it's here to stay. now I have to figure out how to landscape around it. I suspect from now on my house will be "the one with the huge rock in the yard." There are worse descriptions.
And I am fascinated with it. Those last glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, so this rock and its cohorts were left behind 100 centuries ago. Over the years they were covered with topsoil, the land became the forested home of Native Americans, then farmland, then housing developments. Until this year, a month ago, when my rock was excavated. Now, after eons of darkness, it's exposed to rain again, and I look forward to seeing what those rains reveal.
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