Hello everyone. I hope you enjoyed the introduction of That Which We Already Know. I’m presently envisioning a three part book with three chapters in each part. As you will see, remembrances of childhood will become vehicles for the fleshing out of the book’s main thesis. I hope you enjoy this journey through childhood, yours as well as mine. In doing so I hope we will realize together the exquisite nature of that which we already know.
Part I, Chapter 1 - A Child in Eden
We were enjoying one of those periods of autumn weather when the mornings and evenings are crisp and cool and the afternoons are summery warm. Indian Summer is what we used to call such a pleasant string of days, harkening back in some barely understood way to a time when the onset of winter – whether harshly abrupt or blessedly gradual – determined what life in the coming months would be like. Would there be ample time to augment the winter food stores, or must haste be made instead to prepare for deprivation?
I must have been wondering then what life would have in store for me in the coming months and years. Gone were those not too very distant days when I could wake of my own accord and enjoy my childhood paradise as weather and whim and the availability of companionship might dictate. Life had begun to make demands. School was still a brand new experience for me, and as much as I might have enjoyed it I must have also sensed that it was but a precursor to a dangerous new season of life. I’d already caught glimpses on the evening news of the endless summer of jungle warfare that followed the spring of youth for so many young men – whether they chose to take part in it or not. Yes, the grownup world was a worrisome one, and my time was marching inexorably toward it.
Perhaps sweet respite from those concerns and encroaching demands was what I sought as I closed the back gate behind me and headed straight for the Nursery’s interior. Eschewing the trail through the darkened wood, I veered right instead and then quickly left – past the thicket of white cedars on one side and the stand of birch trees on the other. The birch grove was always a pleasant enough place to while away the hours, with its dense undergrowth of Mayapples, wood lilies, wild ginger and such stretching clear from the trail’s edge to the drainage ditch meandering along its southern edge. On this day, however, it was light rather than shadow that captivated my eye. It pulled my gaze in between the birches and across the drainage ditch and through the understory of the double row of climbing oaks to where the sunlight set aglow the clearing just beyond. Yes, it was sunlight that I needed, and solitude; and I knew precisely where I would find them both.
Just past the birch grove the trail skirted the broad sinkhole and angled across a grassy clearing. The sounds of home and neighborhood were far behind me now, replaced by the croaking of frogs pulsing from the collection of ponds on the clearing’s far side – less insistent, to be sure, than during the height of summer, but insistent nonetheless. I continued on, though, across the dirt road heading south from the Gerhardt mansion, down into a shallow swale and up the other side to the middle of the meadow rolling down from the ball field.
The ravine was invisible to anyone approaching from the west, hidden by the tangle of wasting wildflowers spilling over its edge; and the fact that there were only businesses off to the east made it unlikely that I’d have any company for as long as I chose to stay there. I scrambled down the earthen wall and settled into a cupped space along the opposite bank. The bare earth felt warm on my back, having soaked up the sun for at least a few hours prior to my arrival. It cushioned me, and supported me, and surrounded me – even as the sky above remained as deep and open as ever. The sun felt warm on my body, and the air was still. It was quiet, too, for the stirrings of what few insects remained up above in the dry meadow were directed skyward, away from my ears. Only occasionally was a red-winged blackbird loud enough to make itself known – its sharp trill piercing my awareness quickly before easing me back into silence as its subsequent elongated cry trailed away.
I studied the earthen bank, and felt the moist coolness below the surface as I dug my fingers into it. Occasionally an ant or some other crawling bug would make itself known and I’d study it for a time as it went about its business seemingly unaware of my presence. I studied the sky – milky blue, with wisps of clouds that seemed to barely move. And when my eyes grew tired of studying what was going on around me I simply took to studying the way the sun shone through the red flesh of my eyelids. No, nothing much was going on at the bottom of that ravine, which was good, for too much was going on back in the world from whence I came. That world wanted something from me and I wasn’t sure what. My beloved realm, on the other hand, wanted nothing from me but my ability to observe.
The passage of time becomes interesting when there’s nothing much going on. It becomes difficult to measure. Everything that is has a certain rhythm and duration to it that we make use of in order to gauge how long it has been from then until now. The call of a bird, the chirrup of a cricket, the wriggling of an earthworm – each measures time in its own way. But when there’s nothing much going on, our experience of time becomes more subtle. The pace of our thinking slows down and likewise ceases to be an accurate measure. In the absence of anything else our very own breath creates our minutes, and the beat of our heart ticks off our seconds. Time ceases to be something that we move through and instead becomes something that we create. And so it was that I sat there creating time for almost the entire afternoon.
At some point I looked up and noticed perhaps for the very first time a little bulb midway up a dried goldenrod stalk angling over the edge of the ravine. How odd, it occurred to me. Why would such a thing come to exist? I climbed up and snapped the bulbous formation off of its stem and returned to my place. I tapped it on a nearby rock to determine its density and firmness. I rolled it around in my fingers and scratched it with my fingernail. It was a widening of the stem – almost woody, yet fairly light. But even though I could readily ascertain the what of its existence, I couldn’t for the life of me fathom the why. Why did such a thing form in the first place?
Notwithstanding this great mystery, I took to creating time by filing off the little nubs on either side where the thin part of the stem entered and exited the bulb. I rubbed them against a flat rock that happened to be beside me in the ravine until what remained was perfectly spherical – like a large wooden bead. And when I was finished I sat with it in the palm of my hand – watching the clouds drifting slowly past, and watching my own being creating time from moment to moment.
I spent the afternoon that way – at times merely watching, at other times meticulously crafting another wooden bead from one of the odd stems that I’d come to realize were much more common than I’d thought. I had four of them in my pocket by the time I finally climbed out of the ravine for the walk back home. It was growing cooler by then, and I was getting hungry. Back home my mother would be fixing dinner, and then I’d be able to watch a little television. No, the circumstances that had prompted me to take leave of civilization and go off to be alone weren’t any different, but at least a little bit of the stillness that I’d known out there in the ravine came back home with me.
I don’t know what ever became of those beads that I carried with me as I left the ravine behind all those many years ago. I kept them in a little bowl on a shelf in my room for a time, and then I lost track of them somehow. Nonetheless, I carry them with me to this day. They represent the great mystery that we carry with us day in and day out – the mystery of our very existence. Perhaps we keep it tucked away, only occasionally to pull it out to ponder and appreciate before tucking it away again. Perhaps we think we’ve lost it altogether, but it never loses us. It’s still here, and it will remain forever that which we already know.
By the way, I did finally learn the origin of those strange bulbous formations growing on the stems of some of the goldenrod. They are called galls and they are created by the goldenrod fly laying its eggs inside the stem. As the hatched larvae begin eating of the plant, the plant responds by creating a woody formation around them. If the larvae are fortunate, they will eventually make their way out into the daylight as fully grown flies. Without such good fortune they become a meal for a woodpecker or a chickadee. Curiously, however, even the luckiest of goldenrod flies don’t live very long. The fully mature adult does not even have the ability to eat! Indeed, no matter how much we learn the inherent mystery of life remains.
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:
Erosion by Marshall Brain via:
Goldenrod gall in autumn courtesy of BioKIDS via:
Goldenrod Gall Fly via:
Copyright 2014 by Mark Frank