Friday, January 10, 2014

bridging the gap

Whatever other characteristics dreams may have, it seems to me that they lack the qualities of awe or pomposity or perspective.

In dreams, there is no second opinion.

Dreams are serious, not solemn.

From nightmare horror to wet-dream wonder, dreams dance without partners. They are clean and clear and uncluttered with sage overlays. Soaring with eagles or dissolving in despair, still there is nothing but soaring or dissolving.  Laughter is just laughing.

Some say dreams represent what anyone might fear or long for but anyone who has dreamed long enough knows that distinguishing between those two is a fool's errand.

I don't dream well or at any rate remember what I do dream, but last night I dreamed a dream that I managed to remember.

In the dream, I turned some corner on the property here and saw that someone had dug up the concrete steps leading into the zendo I built in the backyard more than a decade ago. The steps were laid out ... dug up and laid out and the important part was the knowledge that no one was going to put them back. Given all the effort that had gone into creating them and given their utility, it seemed too bad ... but there it was: It was over. I sure as hell didn't have what it took to recreate, reposition, or replace what had been undone.

In the dream, the steps -- three of them -- looked somewhat different from the reality, but the representation was close enough. What had showed above-ground (the steps themselves) had long footings that had been, as in reality, below the surface of the earth. Like a wisdom tooth or an iceberg, the serious aspects of the steps lay unseen below the surface.

Once the zendo was more or less complete in 1998, I needed to create some bridge between the earth and the building entrance, which lay perhaps 28-36 inches above the ground. I wasn't a good enough carpenter/mathematician to create wooden stairs on my own, but in any case disliked the staying power of wood, given the elements around here. So I went to my favorite junk yard -- a wondrous expanse of  leftover windows and doors and toilets and sinks. I did find short bits of staircasing, but none fit the specifications I needed. And so I was thrown back on my own resources: If you want something done right, do it yourself. But how?

And then the idea of creating concrete pilings came to mind. The stairs would be round ... or anyway, that's what I imagined. But they needed a foundation -- something that would defy the capricious imperatives of a New England frost line. So first I dug a square -- perhaps two-by-five feet -- about a foot deep. The square would underpin the three stairs, each of them about 18 inches across. But this plate on which the stairs would rest also needed an underpinning: Frost lines usually reach 24 inches down. I needed something that would assure the stability of the stability I wanted for the steps. So I got a post digger and created a hole in the center of the space that would hold the stairs. The hole was three or four feet deep, thus creating a foundation that was below the frost line. Then I mixed the first batch of cement, laced it with bits and shards of New England rock and shoved in three lengths of rebar -- metal reinforcing rods used in construction. The rebar in the hole protruded above the cement and awaited the second addition of concrete -- a connective to the plate on which the stairs would sit. Into this second addition of cement, I added three pieces of rebar per step -- sticking up and creating a new connector.

Looking at the paragraph above, I realize how tedious it is. No one gives a shit how something was built. What they care about is that the shoes or forks or glasses or trousers in their lives work. But in the dream, all the tediousness and sweat was in my mind as I surveyed the extracted steps. And there was more to remember and factor in: As a means of creating the steps themselves, I got 36-inch roof flashing -- a thin metal sheathing -- and turned it into tubes by applying duct tape. Then I poured concrete into the tubes. One of the problems was that I hadn't thought of how much weight the concrete represented and how that weight might affect the perfect but thinly shaped circles I had created. But once I got to pouring cement, there was no going back and the perfect circles became whatever shape gravity insisted upon. The steps themselves -- the results -- are kind of wubba-wubba by shape ... but they worked... worked then, worked now, but no longer worked in the dream.

The bridge had been built, from earth to entry way. Using it, anyone could climb smoothly into the zendo. No special effort required. The earth has long since filled in around the base of the steps, so they seem to arise without effort out of the lawn ... like some volcanic-extrusion islands in the Pacific.

But coming around the corner in my dream, there they lay, extracted from the earth to which they had been affixed. The smoothness from earth to destination had been undone and no one was going to resmooth the scene. The steps in their usefulness were gone and, with them, the effort that had once started as a dream.

Last night's dream was not sad or frustrated. Like all dreams, it was just factual. I wasn't quite sure how so much effort had come undone, but it had.

That's the way it is with important bridges, I guess -- so important in their time and effort and yet coming undone with the passage of dawns and dusks and with some evolving recognition of the imaginary gaps they span.

That's the way it is with dreams.

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