“then laugh … for life's not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis” E.E. Cummings
How many calories come with each breath? I have long suspected one could gain weight just by inhaling in the riverbottom. The fragrance of rotted and growing carbon mixed with the freshness of wild flowers is its unique signature sensation which silently proclaims the timeless richness of the neighborhood.
As I sit beholding on a now soft oak stump —the result of a decade ago non-fictional Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the motion and the lack of motion and the smells and the light and the shadows and the air are hypnotic: the trees and the saw grass and the palmettos undulate seeming with and without synchrony as the untrustworthy wind vanishes through this neotropical maze.
The large gray-barked oaks convey certitude of permanence, while the juvenile, lithe ones swaying in the breeze suggest imminent if not eternal rejuvenation. Parked in the firm black earth, dappled with impressionist failing light, one gets the sense that this tableau has always been, a surmise which would be incorrect. The black dirt is a migrant, having emigrated from the blackland prairies about Dallas; having arrived in millennia past in millennial floods; having come down in what geologist would call deep time — a time so vast as to extend beyond our ability to relate or comprehend. So, to be fair, in a strictly human sense, it really has all been here forever.
The floods are undoubtedly what make this land so fecund, depositing in this black earth the rotting detritus of washed away plants and the soil in which they lived and died year after year after year, eventually creating version two of Eden.
Of course it is the Sun which is ultimately responsible, powering the rotting death and growth of flora and the rain and the floods necessary for the creation of hardwood cathedrals as well as man who pollutes them. (I wonder if the old Aztec ritual of prying beating hearts from the body was intended to stop the latter. At the very least, they knew to blame the Sun in the end.)
As the old logging road continued to the south in its mending rend in the forest, I received the gaze of an immature spike buck outfitted with its first antlers — already shed of velvet, thus drowned in the throes of its confusing virginal puberty, peering at me, looking like the frozen statue of a gray ghost - how long it has been there watching I do not know, but suspect for not as long as the black dirt. For seeming ever, it does not move, in relief juxtaposed against the black land and the brown and the gray of the tree trunks conveying in its coiled muscles an attitude of tension and excitement. After awhile, he too seems a permanent fixture, cast in stone in his first rut, a phantom incarnation of “Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,” but then he glides off with scant motion and no sound as shades in the forest do, thus the urn remains unpainted.
As evening begins to fall, intermittent multitudes of dragonflies, wings glinting golden in sepia light, pirouette soundlessly with graceful motion - ethereal miniature ballerinas in a silent opera, but, also, they are prone to ataxic fits and starts, apparently jerked at random, tethered to a giant mobile, alternatively spun and stopped abruptly as if by some celestial brat. Beheld, all this is too surreal in its consuming silence, so that memory and perception — was, becomes, confused and conflated, today … yonder; coalescing in Thoreau's apparently, but not actually, oxymoronic fusion of “the joyous and the serene”: A giant arboreal mood poem whose vibrancy and overarching resonance seduces one into its maw of timeless reverence without sound or apparent effort.
As the light of the Sun fades, and the dark of the earth rises to meet the sky, it becomes bathed in the silvery light of the Moon, and fittingly, an a cappella nocturne is tapped out by an insomniac woodpecker who, in turn, is eventually serenaded by the plaintive French horn of the forest, the barred owl; and so, in this firmament of unnatural light, fractured, albeit soothingly, by the first sounds of the evening, all seems to become as fused into one as in a dream: the smells, the not-sounds and the sounds, the panoramas, the animals, and the trees … my redneck nirvana, or, as Willa Cather averred in My Antonia and, later, in part on her tombstone, “I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is the sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved in something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
And what a place to lay down to rest: Where better to be underground when, in 5 billion years, the sun extinguishes its hydrogen and quits powering the rain and the floods and the people and then expands and incinerates all man has known — the Mother of All Cremations? Maybe Aristotle's uncaused cause could come back and start over from here?
All too unknowable for me, except I'm sure, when what ever happens happens, what a setting this will have been to have come to grips with singular finiteness, mortality —no instant replays or reruns, and then on to irenic slumber, in deep time no less; so, Amen.
Or to paraphrase Robert Frost, “One could do worse than be a sitter of stumps.”
Dr. Robert McFarlane is a local cardiologist and the owner of The Big Woods hunting ranch.
“then laugh … for life's not a paragraph
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