Friday, April 18, 2008

Mississippian Era Mud

The earth is still very alive. Early this morning slipping outside and pissing in the overgrown grass before spreading a cup of bird seed on the little wooden platform. Mowing late this year and offering free brunch has attracted more birds than usual. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak couple has recently nested in the neighborhood. I came back inside, turned on the 'puter when Dechen leaned over the railing above and asked if I'd felt the earthquake. Really? I hadn't felt a thing. She awoke at 4:37 a.m. with the bed shaking, the rod iron design on the wall above her pillow rattling. She wondered if the roof was going to blow off from a low pressure cell, (not an uncommon feeling around here) and then realized it wasn’t a storm at all, maybe density waves from helicopter blades? Recognition that the entire house was moving gave rise to a transcendent sense of place. She was feeling the release of great pressures deep in the earth's crust in a fault zone associated with the New Madrid earthquakes of 1812. Turtle Hill rises about 200 miles SSE from the epicenter 7.2 miles below the Wabash Valley of southeastern Illinois, but the shift woke her up. Tenkar felt it too, thought it a hellacious wind and drifted back to sleep. A harmless earthquake is a bit like a good entheogenic opening; a powerful reminder that things are not as solid or permanent as they may appear.

I was fast asleep for this one and have not experienced a good temblor for nearly thirty years. We were living in the hills above Lake Atitlan in Guatemala experimenting with soybeans and amaranth. In nearby Nicaragua, Sandinista Rebels had recently deposed the intolerably corrupt second generation dictator Anastasio Somoza. An electric surge of emotion accompanied this news as it spread through the highlands with the poor in good humor and the rich sweating new fear. The ongoing civil conflict in Guatemala was about to enter its most violent years. Tenkar was pregnant with Zoe, our third child. I was digging a hole for an outhouse. Progress stalled in the subsoil, where a layer of highly compressed volcanic clay required an initial breakup and loosening with a pick before filling buckets with chunks of tal-petate to deepen the hole. I was on my knees in the rubble a few feet below ground level, filling a tin when a wave passed which seemed to turn the ground to jelly beneath me, lifting and dropping one knee and then the other as the earth rippled like a snake and folks came tearing out of the main house hollering.

As the unquestioned abstraction of a solid earth persists in spite of the occasional quake or gamma ray blast, mind tends to casually equate a reality and stability to objects they do not possess. Basking in the seeming permanence of life, paying easy homage to idols of worldly happiness and counterfeit spirituality, the worship of fabrications, the fruit clinging to a seed of assumed existence; the separate self located within the infinite multiplicity of a world machine. We do not refer to real objects but deal in psychic artifacts, relative classifications of phenomena, manufactured according to user needs with no real borders; adopted and abandoned at will. Mind looks to relations and things, rituals of seeking through knowldege, friendships and possessions -- for keys and fulfillment, clinging to familiar forms and habits, reference points to continually recreate and identify a center of control, to re-affirm a sense of self-existence.

Inseparable from all of that, Mayapple groves simply appear on the lower slopes of Resistance Ridge and tulip poplars climb straight up toward the clouds. An old bearded friend who favors a beret lives up top, his movement and conversation hidden behind a thick grove of dark green bamboo. It is the same way on this side. This great hillside mass of organic silence and resistance between us offers vision and privacy and most years, hosts the play of barred owls.

Dechen, Tenkar and I walked further up into the hollow this afternoon, past magnolia, down the road below unimaginably pink redbuds afloat in the understory, an intensity long natural to this forested place, nameless hollow in these low hills of southern Tennessee. The gray gravel path runs beside a thick mat of watercress thriving in a spring called virtue. Further up red road identifying leafless trees by bark alone hackberry, sycamore, sweet gum, cherry and beech growing down out of small islands in multi-braided creek. The path leads around the biggest white oak on the land curving upon a ledge, creamy narcissus looking civilized among old foundation stones where the blacksmith's family settled long ago. Small pale yellow-green flowering dogwoods tweaked contrast under overcast skies at catkin time, a thousand baby junipers showing promise, chickweed, purple phlox and coils of fiddleheads laughing on mossy paths with a dozen other kinds of wildflowers blooming everywhere through the woods transforming clear light above into multi-color life below before the canopy mosaic fills in warm green summer shadows. A lizard scampers up a drain pipe and two black snakes, one coiled with head lifted and tongue flickering in bamboo, another gliding across dry leaves as we pass through a scattering of deer bones. "A charnel ground," I mutter as satin gray slithers off into a brush pile.

Descending out of the woods toward the soft dirt around the edge of the pond we come upon plenty of deer tracks. As beautiful and attractive as such open places can be, the water hole is notoriously dangerous. Nobody but human beings and their dogs drink at ease here. Dechen calls me over to look at a large footprint and what certainly appear to be bobcat tracks. They usually walk with their claws retracted so this one must have been on the move. First time I've seen those in these parts. I’ll bet I know what he had for dinner.

Bobcat track next to deer hoof print in soft Mississippian era mud (shot by Tenkar). According to Wiki, "The Bobcat's range does not seem to be limited by human populations, as long as it can still find a suitable habitat; only large, intensively cultivated tracts are unsuitable for the species. The animal may appear in backyards in "urban edge" environments, where human development intersects with natural habitats."


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