Strangers in the earth

Lost in the woods, a thousand possible avenues opening among the trunks and thickets, panic rising in the throat. Stuck in a shopping mall, fascination at the initial strangeness of it turning sour in the stomach. Is alienation always a bad thing? Isn’t it possible that some very necessary lessons come at the price of a certain disassociation from oneself, from one’s safe nest of habit and comforting thoughts? Perhaps I am groping for a word that doesn’t yet exist, somewhere in the hair’s breadth of difference between alienation and ecstasy, strangeness and intimacy, nothingness and Ein Sof.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears;
for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner,
as all my fathers were.
Psalm 39:12

Not for love as the sweet pretend: the children’s game
of deliberate ignorance of each to allow the dreaming.
Not for the impersonal belly nor the heart’s drunkenness
have I come this far, stubborn, disastrous way.
But for relish of those archipelagoes of person.
To hold her in hand, closed as any sparrow,
and call and call forever till she turn from bird
to blowing woods. From woods to jungle. Persimmon.
To light. From light to princess. From princess to woman
in all her fresh particularity of difference.
Then oh, through the underwater time of night,
indecent and still, to speak to her without habit.
This I have done with my life, and am content.
I wish I could tell you how it is in that dark,
standing in the huge singing and alien world.

Jack Gilbert, “Don Giovanni on His Way to Hell.”
Monolithos, Graywolf Press, 1982, 7.

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world.

Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is the reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.

Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain.”
A Sand County Almanac, Oxford UP, 1987 (1949), 129.

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