Friday, January 28, 2011


When I was a kid, my mother owned a house in New City, N.Y., a town within driving distance of New York and populated -- back then -- by quite a few artists of one kind or another. The house had a small, untended apple orchard and a barn. In the winter, deer could be seen delicately tiptoeing around the orchard, digging for fallen, rotted apples.

The barn, like the apple orchard was untended and sagging. Though still serviceable, a forest of honeysuckle grew up and around two sides of it like Peruvian jungle vines. The honeysuckle was so thick that on days when there was little to do, I might take a run at its billowing creepers and then leap into it without mishap: The stuff was so lush that it completely cushioned my fall, even as it filled my nostrils with a dusty dust that rose up like water around a cannon-balling kid in summer.

The honeysuckle was eating the barn -- nature was reclaiming what had once been someone's 'civilizing' effort. Even then, I knew there was something "not right" about the advancing honeysuckle. Someone should have cleared it away and saved the barn, but no one ever did. The honeysuckle just grew and grew. Like some encroaching tsunami, it began about 12 feet from the side of the barn, covered the ground thickly, and then rose up along the barn face, higher and higher as the years passed. Occasionally, I would rip some of its advancing vines down from the purchase points where they reached for the eaves, but my efforts never accomplished much. The tsunami just keep on coming, swelling, rising.

In spring, its small white trumpet-shaped flowers could be plucked one by one and, by nipping off the narrow throat and sucking, a small moment-taste of honey-like sweetness would touch the tongue. The rich, roiling, untamed insistence of nature was eating the barn, reclaiming its own ... the straight lines that civilization drew were being slowly erased.

Once upon a time, in an obituary I read, a peppery 90-plus-year-old woman was quoted as saying to a group of elderly people she was addressing, "If, after the age of 65, you wake up in the morning without any aches or pains, you will know you are dead."

When I wake up in the morning, I think of the honeysuckle reclaiming its natural place. The aches and pains inch higher and higher around the straight, civilized lines that once claimed the space called "me." Yes, there was shelter and storage and definition; there was kindness and cruelty, doubt and certainty, clarity and dis-ease, accomplishment and failure and all the other straight edges of civilization and definition and meaning. And each morning suggests that somehow I should reassert those straight lines and definitions -- get things done, think and believe, join in the human endeavor of creating straight lines.

But it becomes harder and harder as the light reaches up out of the East. A sense of been-there-done-that whispers, and straight lines no longer hold the force they once did. It's not especially sad. It's the same feeling a person might have when recollecting a love of dolls or cap pistols. Yes, that was part of the picture and it was rich in its time. But now, it is a bit stale, this straight-line "me" business.

Fighting with honey suckle ... in what way does that make sense? In what way is that necessary? After all, every now and then, there is a natural moment-taste of sweetness without any effort at all.

1 comment:

    Michael Crummey
From: Arguments With Gravity. Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1996.

    I thought I was following a track of freedom
and for awhile it was 
 Adrienne Rich 

    Consider the earnestness of pavement

    its dark elegant sheen after rain,

    its insistence on leading you somewhere

    A highway wants to own the landscape, 

    it sections prairie into neat squares

    swallows mile after mile of countryside

    to connect the dots of cities and towns,
to make sense of things

A river is less opinionated

    less predictable 

    it never argues with gravity 

    its history is a series of delicate negotiations with

    time and geography

    Wet your feet all you want

    Hericlitus says,

    it's never the river you remember;

    a road repeats itself incessantly

    obsessed with its own small truth,
it wants you to believe in something particular

    The destination you have in mind when you set out

    is nowhere you have ever been;

    where you arrive finally depends on 

    how you get there,

    by river or by road