Sunday, November 12, 2006


Like Melville's Ishmael, I'd been feeling a damp, drizzly November in my soul -- so, to keep from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off, I took a day off and headed to the woods.

I'd never been to the Assabet River federal wildlife sanctuary; it's one of those ironic "sanctuaries" where hunting's allowed, and I was happy that the parking lot was empty lest I, sans blaze orange, be mistaken for a grouse. The sanctuary, I had learned, was a decommissioned military base, so, even hunterless, the aura of ordnance hung heavy over the land.

It was fine with me. I was in a pissed off mood, and had been for weeks. Downright surly, in fact. I skulked about, muttering curses under my breath, going straight for the ugly parts of the psalms that the lectionary segregates in discreet parentheses and designates as optional.

O, that you would slay the wicked, O God !


Happy shall be he who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock !

I was glad that the woods were proving me right about the murderousness of the world. The concrete ammo bunkers with their rusted iron doors gave mute testimony to the ascendency of instruments of death and destruction.

There were also scattered piles of military-base detritus awaiting removal. Over one ran a tangle of razor wire, mimicking the late autumn thrust and tangle of invasive vines.

I contemplated it. It was a device expressly designed to cut human flesh. To keep people in, to keep people out, to hurt them if they tried to break out or in. Somewhere, I thought, a factory churns this stuff out as other factories churn out guns and bombs and related paraphernalia.

How many Iraqis have died ? 650, 000 ? 150, 000 ? Sunnis, shiites, soldiers, police recruits, men, women, children; some by the sophisticated ordnance of the armies of freedom, some by IEDs, suicide bombers and roving death squads; and each party with its favorite methods of torture, even if some prefer to call it something else.

Praise the Lord and pass the ammo, oh ye captains of industry and ye holders of stock.

Innocent ?

Oh, really ?

And what about myself, then -- heart as closed as a bunker, and well-stocked with hurtful munitions. Head full of scripts worse than what even the vilest of psalmists ever sang. I walked along the deserted road. Not innocent. Really.

It was a fine day -- cool, nearly cold, but with sunlight that still could warm. The roadside weeds were skeletal and sere; there was a cidery smell of decay in the air. I relaxed; I felt a few small chinks open up in me, and a little light, richly undeserved, spilled in.

I hadn't come to the woods to photograph broken safety glass. It was, however, strangely beautiful, more beautiful broken than whole. There was something compelling, after all, about brokenness and decay,

in the aging and attenuation that precedes death,

the death that must occur to prepare the way for new life.

I stooped to photograph some translucent little pods, tiny, papery lanterns on a thread-like vine coiling up a dried stem. I imagined my own body, dead, smutched with fungus, food for microbes, then resurrected, piecemeal, spring after spring.

It was fall, but things were still upright, reaching skyward out of the ground,

out of the water,

out of the mossy forest floor.

I, too, fallen, broken, want to reach skyward, earthward, humanward. There's death and rebirth in every single moment, all for the asking,

if only I can escape the airless, bomb-filled, razor-wired bunker of the self !

Mine ! Keep Out !

What could be more simple, or more difficult ?

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