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holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Walking up the road, I hear a soft tapping sound & wonder if something has come loose on my coat, or even inside my skull. Of course not! It’s just a downy woodpecker working over a punky snag. Stopped thus in my tracks, I take out my pocket notebook & jot down a few notes about a dream I’d just remembered from the night before. Writing this now, a week later, I think about the rusty nail heads I found clustered in the bark of the big birch, how I had so quickly rejected the first explanation that popped into my head – witchcraft – in favor of something considerably more humdrum. But nailing up a sign that says No Trespassing, Keep Out or, more reflexively as the fashion is these days, Posted – can you think of a better example of apotropaic word magic, a formal curse?

What makes dreams dreamlike is the way we inhabit them, half abstracted from our foolish bodies, which can never run or fly fast enough but which somehow always escape destruction. This morning I was walking quickly through Roman-style ruins of a city on a wild coast, past decapitated colonnades and rooms without walls or roofs, everything lit up strangely from within. Tourist hotels on a once-popular beach, devastated by some new Vesuvius. Then there were people in a classroom on the hill & I became a sudden imposter. We were somewhere waiting to be bombed, & I convinced everyone to hide under their desks so the pilots wouldn’t spot any soft targets.

That’s all I remember clearly enough to arrange in any kind of consecutive order. I wish I could remember how & why at one point I came to be kissing a beautiful woman who, I sensed, was working actively toward my destruction. I can recall everything about how that kiss felt & tasted. What I don’t remember is whether I had introduced myself as “Bond. James Bond.”

This time of year, with the nights so long, the line between dream and waking seems especially thin. On Christmas night we sat in the darkened living room of my parents’ house for an hour and a half looking at the tree full of lights & mysteries. It was a smallish tree, a Douglas fir, but the shadows of its branches on the green walls were enormous & made us imagine a spirit forest right there in the living room, as we talked in soft voices. Then around 9:30 I went for a long walk down the hollow and back along Greenbriar Trail in the light of the almost-full moon. Although there was no snow on the ground, a heavy frost sparkled in the moonlight as I walked along. This was my second walk of the day: such silence as one gets on Christmas doesn’t come but once a year. Even the trains weren’t running, and only a very occasional jet marred the stillness.

Out in the field, the moon’s reflection glimmered in every weed & blade of grass. I stood still for a while, looking at the familiar landscape turned strange & entrancing, a place I could never tire of, I thought. Perhaps this is what it’s like to be in love, to feel that one will never really get to the bottom of someone or something – but to have perfect assurance that the deeper one goes, the more beautiful she or he or it will become.

If I moved my head ever so slightly, the moon would dance from one set of crystalline mirrors into another. This prompted a brief chain of abstract, Nagarjuna-esque reasoning ending in the totally underwhelming realization that the moon’s reflection – & in some sense, the moon itself – was not actually in the field but in my eyes, in my mind. Or perhaps I could make it live a kind of half-life in a poem that I didn’t propose to write. (Because, let’s face it, the world doesn’t need another goddamn poem about the full moon!)

Yesterday, the day after Christmas, was anything but magical: a dull white sky above a brown and frozen earth. I sat inside moping & thought that, if my dad weren’t sick, we might as well have joined the throngs crowding the stores to return gifts & buy replacements at half price. The superficial excitement of all that noise & bustle seemed suddenly attractive. Instead, I spent hours inside surfing the Internet.

Dream and illusion are often treated as synonyms, but sometimes I wonder if they have anything in common at all. Say what you will about their use in psychoanalysis, the fact is that in dreams we relive or rehearse contacts made with real beings and real landscapes – that is to say, with things experienced as possessing their own will or logic apart from our own. Illusions, by contrast, arise from daydream, from the sunlit world of the conscious imagination. They are essential attributes of all games, & if we believe in them too strongly, we might come to think that the whole universe is nothing more than a vast game, a cunning contraption, the result not of time & chance (as the Bible so eloquently phrases it) but of some Intelligent Design.*

Dreams connect & reveal; illusions distract & obscure. I can think of no better illustration of the difference between the two than to quote the Biblical passage I just alluded to – preceded by George Orwell’s brilliant rendering of it into the language of the modern bureaucrat. This is language at its most ensorcelled, designed not merely to obscure but to intimidate. See if it doesn’t fill your head with a blank grayness:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
(“Politics and the English Language,” 1946)

It may not be immediately obvious that this is a translation of Ecclesiastes 9:11:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Orwell says he chose this phrase because of its familiarity & admirable concreteness. But I doubt he could have been insensitive to the fact that it expresses a common truth – common in the sense of easily available to anyone, whether through the analysis of dreams or through fully awake contact with greater-than-human realities – that architects of grand illusions everywhere have regarded as anathema.
__________

*Before you inundate me with comments suggesting that the Bible does, in fact, postulate such Design, let me remind you that, in Genesis 1:1, the universe was already in existence, and time and chance were already in operation in the primordial tohu-bohu. “In the beginning” is a mistranslation; what it really says is, “When God was beginning to create the heavens and the earth…” And as Stephen Jay Gould noted in one of his last essays, the subsequent Biblical creation is largely a process in which fundamental order is discovered or revealed. Yahweh, in other words, creates as an artist or a craftsman might; he is no engineer.

Cheer

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

After yesterday’s post, readers might get the impression that I am lacking in holiday cheer. Far from it! In fact, I have a mugful of “cheer” right at my elbow – enough to make me sing mindlessly to the computer as I click through my blogroll. Don’t be thinking it’s some Christmas carol, though. For some reason, the tune stuck in my head right now is “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”

*

My major Christmas present from my parents this year was a new, super-adjustable desk lamp with incandescent and florescent bulbs. It’s basic black and highly functional in design – the kind of thing favored by graphic artists, one suspects. It will replace the funky little lamp I have been using to save my eyes from the glare of the computer screen. Yes, my parents have become enablers for my blog-addicted lifestyle.

*

On our way back from getting a Christmas tree on Tuesday, we swung by the Amish store where we buy many of our staples (whole wheat flour, brown rice, basic herbs and spices, etc.). My mother gifted the women who run the store with a loaf of chocolate tea bread, which prompted immediate reciprocal gifts of a large jar of canned peaches and a little jar of hot pepper jelly. Then, just as we were about to leave, S. came running out and asked if wanted some of the ornamental kale from her garden before she got rid of it. “Sure,” I said, and took the better part of one, big plant.

The kale was limp from having been through a couple months of freezing weather, but it still smelled and tasted good and strong. I thought its festive colors would be perfect for a light, Christmas Eve supper, and in fact I was rather pleased with the recipe I came up with. I like to think of this as a brand-new holiday tradition, as I recently heard someone on NPR describe something or other.

Ornamental Kale and Walnut Sauce with Pasta

Clean and chop into 2-inch squares 4 – 6 c ornamental kale, striving for roughly equal quantities of green and purple leaves.

In a large saucepan, sauté a hellacious amount of minced garlic, about 1/4 t dried red pepper flakes and 1/2 c ground English walnuts in 1/4 c olive oil at medium-low heat for several minutes, until kitchen begins to reek. Then add kale, a couple glugs of red wine and about 1 1/2 c canned tomatoes, chopped, with juice (about 1/2 c). (Fresh tomatoes are tasteless and virtually devoid of nutritive value this time of year. Save your money.) Lid the sucker and let ‘er steam for a bit.

Meanwhile, cook pasta. I used about 12 oz whole-wheat shells, but other chunky sorts of pasta would probably work just as well. When kale is pretty much wilted, add salt (not much) and black pepper, 8 kalamata olives, slivered and half a can of reduced-sodium chicken broth. (Vegetarians can try substituting soup stock or, better yet, a good miso broth.) Give it a minute or two to heat up, then mix in the drained pasta and a buttload of parmesan or romano cheese.

*

I might’ve added something else, but I think that’s all. Some of my culinary experiments prompt my parents to say things like, “Well, that was very, um, interesting!” But this time, they both went back for rare second helpings. However, I must admit that the pairing with a raw cabbage salad was slightly unfortunate. Last night I had to be careful to keep the blankets tightly pinned to my body every time I turned over in bed, if you get my drift.

*

Now that I’ve largely gotten over my childhood greed, and prefer actually to receive boring presents so as to avoid all excitement and the loss in sleep that entails, my favorite part of holidays like Christmas is the feasting. Well, O.K., maybe I’ve just substituted one kind of greed for another. At any rate, the other new recipe I’m inordinately pleased with this year is also my own invention, though I fancy it’s fairly similar to what my medieval European ancestors may have consumed this time of year: wassail! I served it to some visitors on Wednesday night, and two out of three were highly enthusiastic. (The third objected to the high licorice content – a fair complaint, if you don’t like licorice.) I won’t give the entire recipe, since it won’t mean anything to anyone who isn’t a homebrewer. But for those who are, here’s the gruit (herbal mix used instead of hops):

-> loose-packed pint dried mugwort
-> 2 oz dandelion root, roasted
-> 1/2 oz coriander seed, crushed
-> 1/2 oz Indian sarsaparilla root (Hemidesmus indicus)
-> 2 oz wild ginger root (Asarum canadense)
-> 2 oz licorice root (“dry-hopped” in primary)
-> 1 c (4 oz) dark baker’s cocoa

I’ll probably post the complete recipe in the homebrewing section of my other website at some point. In the meantime, anyone who wants to learn more about brewing traditional, unhopped ales should persuse my misleadingly named Short Treatise on Homebrewing and the True Meaning of Gruit.

*

I feel confident in recommending this gruit because my friend Chris, who is a trained beer taster, was one of my guests on Wednesday night. He regaled us with a number of fascinating tales of his exploits in Africa, of which (owing to the lateness of the hour and the strength of the brew) I remember only this:

During a tour of a paper-making cooperative in Malawi last month, Chris said, the guide kept pointing to these very large, dark sheets hanging up to dry and saying “This paper made from the elefandong!” And each time he would laugh uproariously. Chris smiled and nodded, unwilling to admit he didn’t know what the hell the guide was saying. After the third time it happened, however, he decided to follow up. “Now, what exactly is this ‘elefandong’?”

“Elefandong? You know – elephan’ poo-poo!”

I now know what I want my first, commercially published book of poems to be printed on…

*

My older brother called yesterday with, among other things, some news about his first offspring, expected in mid- to late-January. “They’ve decided on a name!” my mother informed me last night over the purple pasta repast. “They’ve decided to call her Elanor, after a character in Lord of the Flies!

I’m sure William Golding would be proud.

Nick at night

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Flying quickly becomes tiresome, you know. I was watching the clouds: low and fast moving, an ever-shifting panoply of dark and light. As dusk came on I heard a few scattered calls of tundra swans. I scanned the sky, spotting the “V” just a few seconds before it shot behind the ridge. Talk about a tailwind!

Then to work. I descended the tree, brushed the soot from my suit, walked quickly through the middle distance into the foreground until the landscape became too small to hold me any longer. Since my mood was clearly favoring a “breath-taking sense of elemental fury,” as an art critic once said, I chose something by Martin Johnson Heade – no dark Satanic mills, if you don’t mind! Nobody was in the hall when I stepped down out of it and headed for the exit. Of course, technically, for me this world is All Exit – pace my friend Jean-Paul – but let’s not go there, as the kids say.

Screw the teenagers, though. Christmas is for children – gotta get ’em when they’re young and impressionable and ready to swallow any story that lends a bright red glow to the satisfaction of selfish desires and calls it magic. Ah, the lights, the carols, the smell of gingerbread, of a freshly cut fir! Ah, the sweets!

Here’s a young mother who takes the spirit of Christmas to its logical extreme. She’s shacked up in this dingy motel room with her two little kids to escape a court order awarding custody to the father, who sits at home staring at a half-decorated tree and a pile of unwrapped toys, weeping tears of pure frustration. The girl – let’s call her Gretel – she’s only four, a cute blonde thing, too young to really know what’s going on. But her older brother Hansel watches through big, dark eyes as their mother bends over the mirror, vacuuming the little trail of white crumbs into her ravenous nostrils. Let it snow, ha ha!

Yes, that’s right, children, Mommy lives in a magical house of sweets in the middle of the dark forest. Well, as I said a moment ago, the world is full of exits. Here’s a newly homeless guy still struggling with the mayor’s new math: 2000 beds for over 4500 people, 23 percent of them veterans like himself. Illegal to sleep in public, but they won’t jail you for it – that would defeat the purpose, now, wouldn’t it? So our Odysseus is contemplating an act of armed robbery or a mugging – anything to get him arrested and out of this cold and biting wind. But he pictures the stricken look on the faces of his victims and he just can’t do it, can he? No, not without flashing back to scenes of that bridge in Baghdad, the cars that wouldn’t stop, the shattered bodies of children looking so much like his niece and nephew back in St. Louis.

But he’s got his ticket, you see, and the Marines trained him very well in its use. It’s been so long since he’s had a good night’s sleep that the mere thought of it drives him half-crazy with longing. He remembers the snug Christmas Eves of his not-so-distant childhood, visions of dancing sugar plums and all that. You see how simple it is to distort a person’s memories with just a few words whispered in the wind? Because in reality, of course, he never slept on Christmas Eve, but lay sleepless with excitement as the clock ticked and the hours crawled by.

Something of that excitement, that electric current in the veins lingers even now, as he fits the cold muzzle of the gun into the hollow under his chin. Only an idiot would risk a side-of-the-head placement. The notion is offensive for aesthetic as well as practical purposes. Well, I’d love to stick around and watch his magic disappearing act, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover tonight. Where’s that asshole Rudolf?

While shepherds watched their flocks

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

This morning I am mulling over the sheep/shepherd imagery that so thoroughly infects the Christian tradition. What might the popularity of this imagery tell us about our relationships with each other – and with the divine Other? According to eco-philosopher Paul Shepard (The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, University of Georgia Press, 1973),

Among animals, suitable candidates for domestication are social, herd-oriented, leader- or dominance-recognizing forms. Their response to their own species (possible sex partners) and their own habitat is more a matter of learning and less of fixed responses to fixed signals. Husbandry seeks out and exploits three characteristics of these animals: the tendency of the young to follow whoever is caring for it by imprinting – the process of irreversible attachment; the gradualness of the transition from nursing to eating; and the way in which different social relations may be mediated by different senses. For example, mother-daughter nurture relationships may be based on imprinted taste. A Scottish milkmaid lets the cow lick her bloodied hands (as well as the calf) at birth, and thereafter the cow will “let down” – give milk – for the milkmaid and the calf, but only for them.

Inborn metabolic errors condemn wild animals to swift destruction. In captivity such cripples are sometimes not only protected but prized. These flaws (“hypertropies”) in growth result in the production of extra meat, wool, silk, eggs, and milk. All such freaks carry a burden of genetic weakness. The nurture of these weaklings is a large part of modern animal science, which may be defined as the systematic creation of animal deformities, anomalies, and monsters and the practice of keeping them alive.

Another mutant trait common to domestics is excessively delayed maturity and sexual precocity combined with rapid growth. In culling out the irascible and stubborn individuals, the hard, mature, lean line is sacrificed for animals with submissive and infantile responses. Individuals maturing at slower rates are favored. Cows and horses have long-enduring mother-child relationships just as primates do. By exploiting this relationship, new social interdependencies can be created. Infantile animals are less attached to their own kind and readily join other barnyard animals or the human household. Children are eager to adopt them as “people” and adult humans are attracted by their helpless appeal and immature faces – for juvenile qualities are as apparent in face and body as in behavior. The effect of all this is that domestic breeds are creatures who never grow up in spite of their sexual precocity.

By contrast, animals that have not been domesticated, but are simply caged for human amusement or edification, frequently suffer mental and physical breakdowns, because they

lack the extensive range of choices necessary to a healthy physical or social existence. Some species simply cannot be kept alive, necessitating a constant flow of “living material” to replace the dead or dying.

Domestic animals who also live in restricted environments are not stir-crazy and malnourished because they are the survivors of hundreds of generations of captives. They are the well-padded drudges, insulated by blunted minds and coarsened bodies against the uniformity of the barnyard, having achieved independence from the demands of style by having no style, coming to terms with the grey world of captivity by arriving at the lowest common denominator of survival….

Occasionally man himself [sic] is included in lists of domestic animals. But man is civilized, not domesticated.

In fact, human beings are still genetically wild, suffering a variety of mental and physical ailments as a result of artificial confinement, literal or metaphorical. The irony is that many of these diseases stemming from an over-civilized condition are interpreted as signs of weakness, whereas in fact – if Shepard is right – the individuals least adapted to zoo conditions are those with the most wildness, the most vigor. Allan Ginsburg was not imaging things when he “saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, / starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…”

It’s practically a truism that the sentimentalized objects of many a self-professed wildlife lover’s concern have little in common with true wild animals. What worries me is the possibility that many Christians might hold a similarly infantile conception of God. More than any specific dogma, it’s the abundant sentimentality of Christianity, along with its insistence on herd-like submissiveness, that I find off-putting. For many believers, it seems, God is simply an all-benevolent servant of their desires, an idol, a Santa Claus writ large.

Needless to say, it’s this side of the religion that is most on display during the Christmas season. Nativity scenes resonate with our deeply acculturated appreciation for domesticity. Instead of the random and frightening noises of untamed nature, angels sing in harmony. Their message: fear not. Everything is safe and snug and cozy. Barnyard and hearth, shepherd and benevolent king are symbolically united in this adoration of the Lamb.

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My mother just stopped in as I was typing this to ask if I’d heard the coyotes last night. Unfortunately, my computer is so loud that I didn’t hear anything until I went to bed, shortly before 10:00. Just as I was dropping off to sleep, I heard what sounded like the world’s loudest screech owl right outside my window. My mother informs me that the coyotes were yipping and barking up in the field around 8:00, then began singing volubly not too far up Laurel Ridge a little after 9:00, continuing off and on till at least 11:30. “I can understand now why they call them song dogs,” she said. “These coyotes are much more musical than the last bunch!”

There was a pack in residence on this end of the mountain for a couple of years, but a year or two ago they all disappeared – probably the victims of hunters in the valley who don’t appreciate the perceived competition, and who believe any number of horror stories about coyotes’ viciousness toward their precious deer. Members of that pack had been, perhaps wisely, very infrequent singers.

Then in mid-November we started seeing abundant coyote scat on the trails again. It’s exciting to think that a new group has adopted this mountain as its refuge, and has survived the regular rifle deer season – but what is Coyote, after all, but a master of survival, the ultimate habitat generalist, civilized humanity’s most resilient foil? Something tells me I’ll be spending a lot less time on-line in the coming months. I’m already imagining long snowshoe walks on moonlit nights, feeling the ache of cold air in my lungs, keeping an eye out for the northern lights and an ear cocked for another outpouring of wild, anarchic music from the animal the Christianized O’odham Indians still rightly call God’s Dog.

Eyes in the wood

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Sunday, late morning, and I’m moving slowly along the side of the ridge through the laurel. The sun is a fuzzy yellow spot behind a thin screen of cloud. At the edge of a small group of pitch pines, a screech owl takes off from the lowermost branch of a small beech less than ten feet away. Had I been more alert I might’ve seen it before it flew. Instead I get nothing but a momentary impression of squat head, gray plumage, absolutely silent wings. Was this the same bird whose trills and quavers I drank in with my morning coffee at 6:00 a.m.?

A little farther along, I find a log with a line of tracks in its thin coating of snow: gray fox. A crow caws from the other side of the hollow where the owl flew.

Crows are never out of earshot of other crows, it seems, because within five minutes fifteen to twenty more have flown in, by the sound of it. The snow, too, has suddenly grown more serious. I hunker down, pull up my hood. The snowflakes falling through the laurel make a soft, rustling hush – not that the crows are listening. As visibility diminishes, their mobbing rises in pitch. I picture the stolid owl looking out from a thicket of grape vines, the crows whetting their fury against its stony gaze. As the squall eases, the cawing too diminishes. In a short while the sun is weakly shining once again on a mostly quiet hollow.

I descend the slope to the stream and scramble up to the road on the other side. Most of what I do, on this walk as on every walk on the woods, is look at trees. I look at trees the way other people look at people. Today, for example, my attention is drawn to a tall white ash below the road with a large patch of smooth bark about 20 feet up. As I stare at the patch, I find myself looking at a big-headed, white bird with long tail feathers and wings bent back, fighting against both gravity and its prison of wood like a tree’s dream of a soul.

A quarter mile farther, I pause beside the huge black birch tree on the road bank across from Margaret’s derelict house and notice something truly strange: an array of rusty nails of varying sizes poking out of the bark from about chest height to head height, mostly facing down-driveway. What’s strange is that I have passed this tree countless times in the last thirty-three years without ever noticing these nails. I count twenty-five of them, the remnants, I decide, of some ancient sign that probably read “No Trespassing,” or “No Hunting Beyond This Point.”

In the woods across from my front porch, a nuthatch is calling vociferously from the dead half of a lightning-struck oak. Around on the still-living side, I notice a limb scar: bark gathered like a noose around a brown, pinched face. The face of something like a weasel, displaying a ferocity all out of proportion to its size.

How could I have forgotten – so close
to where I sit morning & evening
with a mug of something dark & bitter,
marking how the darkness thins
or thickens among the trees –
these eyes of wood?

We interrupt this blog to bring you a public service message from the ACLU

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

I may be suffering from writer’s block today, but at least nobody’s sticking lit cigarettes in my ears.

A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as “torture” and a June 2004 “Urgent Report” to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.

“These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers.”

God bless the Freedom of Information Act – for however much longer it lasts.

UPDATE: Helena Cobban’s analysis of the released documents is here.

Above the brim

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Do you remember the Frost poem, “Birches”? I was that

boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

I learned to do that in my late teens, not with the white birches Frost had in mind, but with black birch and red maple saplings, neither of which were in short supply on this mountain. But I confess, it was the poem that put the idea in my head. Frost’s language was just accurate enough to provide all the direction I needed.

I used to climb trees a lot back then, but I don’t think it ever would have occurred to me on my own to purposely shimmy up a thirty-foot-tall tree that couldn’t quite support my weight. A few feet from the top it would start to tip. That’s when I’d turn and, facing outward, reach above my head, put the thin trunk in a stranglehold and leap. If the tree was the springy sort and I hadn’t miscalculated, it would bend gracefully and give me a good, swift ride back to earth. But sometimes it would snap and I’d land in a heap with half the tree on my head. I guess it helped that I was thick-skulled and only weighed 150 pounds. Just enough to be a living hell on birches, and not a dead one.

Do you remember the first time you realized, as viscerally as you can know anything, that words are, in the end, unsuited for carrying any burden but their own flowering, their individual crops of fruit or mast? Christmas of 1986 was a strange time. First came a visit from my long-distance girlfriend, then a visit from my brother’s. Both women were beautiful and had unique, vaguely angelic names to match. Break-ups were imminent in both cases, but that didn’t stop these two young women during their one day of overlap from taking each other’s measure in a not-so-subtly competitive way that all of us would later remember as hilarious.

Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

I was nearing the end of my 21st year on the planet, and life seemed, by and large, a sweetly tragic affair that required much too much effort to make go. Some Caesar or another was always decreeing that all the world should be taxed. You go for a walk in the woods and you have two basic choices, it seemed to me then: out and back, or a big circuit. I remember the desperate energy with which I scrambled up one poor sapling after another, launched myself into space and returned more rapidly than I might have wished to the brown, unfrozen ground, until one day shortly after Christmas when the snow finally came and covered everything.