Sunday, August 01, 2010


My theological system, I think I’ve already explained, is about the center and the edge. The center is where you are, deepest and highest, most absolutely and at the core. The edge is what you try to find out -- and survive -- for your whole life. That’s why I like Tim -- he’s out there barefoot wire-walking over the nothingness with his dog balancing on one front paw on his head. (She’s a clever dog, that Isabella. But now Tim says he’s adding a dog, Jack the terrier! )

Maybe I haven’t explained about the duplicity of the writer, how the writer inhabits the writing so deeply so sincerely that she weeps into the keyboard while the cats look away, embarrassed. (No pun.) But on the other hand how cold and hard and mercenary and merciless the artist can be. This has nothing to do with that other schema, the one about the center and the edge. It’s about mode, mood, moves, m . . . I won’t say it. Stick your own word in here.

But it’s a mistake to think that if I write a tender story or tap out a nice email, that I’m not dangerous. I am. I want to be. It’s a human entitlement I didn’t claim for a long time, which made me more dangerous because I caroomed along indiscriminately, running over the ground squirrels. Focus gives a certain amount of control. Deliberately I chose a small sensible village where people are watchful. It is a safe place because I’m forgetful now and don’t always keep my guard up as much as I used to in the city. This village is safer than the romanticized “wilderness” where a grizzly sow with THREE big cubs (which means that she’s been doing very well, thank you, because she’s aggressive as hell and eats people) just ran amuck in a campground.

Or where a man taking his son fishing (what could be more Norman Rockwell) was approached by another man (not rough looking but maybe drunk) who demanded, “When do you want it?” Then this second man knocked the father to the ground and kicked his face in while the little boy ran for help. Is this evil? The attacker doesn’t remember it. His friends turned him in. There was no motive. Is this madness? What is the difference between an aggressive grizzly and an aggressive man? Not that all men are attackers, but then neither are all grizzlies.

We each walk our own path and linger in different places -- what choice do we have? When the cats are gone for a while and then come back, the cat flap creaking behind them, I ask, “Were you going to and fro in the grass?” In “J.B.” God and the Devil were going to and fro on the earth. (Where’s my copy of “J.B.”? I can’t play my record of the Macleish play anymore. Has someone made a CD?) The walking is part of it. I like to watch cows walking in a long line, going down to water on a summer evening. Don’t let them stay by the water. They wreck the riparian ecology unless they drink and leave. One needs lions to lie up in the brush and drive the cows out. Keep things moving.

What I never suspected (and neither did many others) in spite of all the knowledge of the birth of planets and how plate tectonics swirl the continents around, tearing them apart and slamming them together, damn the consequences to living beings, was how much my little schematic of territory was going to abruptly and wildly change. I did see change coming and expected it to be human: revolutions, culture shift, reorganization. The Internet, the genome, the cosmic knowledge, the drifting seeds of plants and viruses, pandemic and evolution. It didn’t occur to me that humans could kill the ocean as well as the jungle. A new study claims that forty per cent of the marine phytoplankton have disappeared since 1950. We won’t die if the salmon don’t return. We WILL die if the phytoplankton die. The interviewed scientist was terrified. Lions are coming for our cows.

A weed scientist in Montana once observed that what is “normal” for a landscape depends on when you first encountered it. For the people who arrived after the purple haze of knapweed bloomed everywhere, it’s kinda pretty. For the people who arrived in 1950, the decline in snowpack in the Rockies has been horrifying. Yet a geologist to whom I made this remark snapped at me that it has been inevitable all along, starting with the withdrawal of the mighty glaciers ten thousand years ago after scooping out our parks and potholes. In fact, if history is what repeats itself, at some point the glaciers may begin to return. They did before. Several times. The Rockies are the third range thrown up by tectonic collision and the worn down. We’re about due for another massive earthquake.

If I were feeling fancier this morning, I’d tie the glaciers into the ending of the era of paper publishing. Books have not just been my guides since “Make Way for Ducklings” through every book on the fairy tale and mythology page. around the corner to the sci-fi (about the time of Heinlein’s first books) and down the wall to the romances (both Ernest Thompson Seton and Anya Seton) and on around two corners to the nonfiction. Since then that library was given over to an African cultural group and I went on to the mighty Regenstein and then out into the diasphora of online resources so complex and bottomless that I need a librarian in a pith helmet to guide me past the guardians.

The book that was to be my guarantee turned out to be a ghost. I wrote it all right -- you can buy it on Amazon along with some others by me -- but there were no consequences. None. Just as I settled down to read my obsolete collection of books by others, open creaked a secret passageway behind the paneling: blogging. You’re reading it now. These are the staircases and labyrinths of my life now. Don’t bother to talk to me if you don’t read it. I have nothing else to say.

My writing is far more real to me than the unmanned and vehemently denied drones that have been practicing overhead for decades. (We saw what we said we saw.) Far more real than the wind farm on the edge of town that strobes blood red from dusk to dawn. More real than the missile silo just over the ridge. More real than the leviathan tar sands equipment that will cross our state to northern Alberta no matter the resistance.

Time is not an orderly progression -- it is an enormous storm that reverses and destroys our small temporary constructions. And yet, the joyful cries of the Blackfeet two-year-old next-door denies all that. Like him, we live in the now. That’s the real and only center. I stop blogging for a moment to watch his mom lift him into his protective carseat.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end."

—Virginia Woolf