Friday, January 24, 2014

Ice dreams. The snarl. Straight lines.

(Image: not mine)

Some days ago I was out in the woods, standing at the creek bank by the incongruous fir. The limpid half-moon winked up at me from the sheet of ice at my feet.

It seemed that if such a thing should be so unexpected and amazing to me, I am not outside nearly as much as I need to be.

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On the tail end of the polar vortex I visited the pond. The surface was frozen quite solidly for several inches down, permitting me to walk from one bank right to the other.

Standing on the creek that feeds the pond from the west, I looked down and observed the perturbations of the leaves on the creekbed as the water flowed on beneath the ice. I couldn't say why it struck me as such a remarkable sight.

(Image: mine)

Still viable in spite of the freeze. Where there is potential, there is everything that needs to be. For what else but possibility do we go on living?

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I visited Jason at Earthdance last week. Although rural Massachusetts this time of year is as cold, still, and barren as everywhere else outside of paradise this time of the year, Earthdance is a place that is never quite bleak, even in the darkest and most dysphoric of seasons. Speaking generally (or stereotyping, if you will), a small and closely-situated community of hippies is like a wool blanket—although it may chafe, it is something to be sought out when you need something to warm you up.

I guess I needed warming up, and I guess that's why we checked out the sauna.

Earthdance's sauna seems somewhat low-tech, but it's very effective. The whole thing is a two-room wooden shack with a wood burning stove and a heat-conducting metal chimney. You start the fire, slam and lock the door on the chamber, and enter the next room, which all the heat floods into. At Jason's tacit insistence, we opted for the steamless experience.

We entered the sauna room with our towels and water jugs as the thermometer needle ticked over 180° F. Jason tends towards overzealousness in most things.

A bent square of light, cast through the window in the door and thrown by the incandescent bulb in the vestibule, partially lit the nearest corner—but the tiny room was otherwise windowless and quite dark, containing nothing but the wooden benches and the stove pipes.

I'll confess that as I sat down I found myself thinking about something that fiend Svidrigalov says in Crime and Punishment, but couldn't remember it exactly, or in its completion.

("We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that.")

So we sat and sweated and thought to ourselves in the darkness. Jason was doing some sitting stretches; I sat and tried to meditate, which I've never been good at doing even when it's not some 90° F past the threshold of uncomfortable. At 180° your mind vaults to an excited state. You're pouring sweat. The hair on your head becomes painful to the touch. It's like taking a first shot of everclear, but the burn is better distributed, and the taste is less unpleasant, and it's always the first shot, when it shocks you into focus before it makes you sloppy.

A hot, dark place where all you can be aware of is yourself, your thoughts, the sensations of the space upon your body. And that space is straight lines, right angles, and flat surfaces.

After a while it became a bit much. I had to cool off. I got up and leaped through the vestibule, outside into the snow and sleet.

Earthdance is out of the way, but not so remote that it doesn't light right up during a snowstorm. The light from the nearby towns bounced down from the overcast sky, bounced back up from the fallen snow, and the woods were bright enough that I could watch the steam rising from my body. I was completely naked—but had enough excess heat to shed that for several minutes the 27° F air didn't feel uncomfortable in the least.

Maybe it was because I wasn't in my normal mind, but when I looked up and around, I could have believed I was standing on the surface of an alien planet. In partial silhouette against the clouds, the forest canopy seemed like some ctenophoric bloom that Haeckel could have glimpsed in a delirious fit. Woods and weeds and rolling hills, uneven, asymmetrical, desultory, multifarious, indifferent to all our vaunted human consciousness or spirit—a haphazard snarl of space, motion, and estranged life that defied description.

(Image: not mine)

It astonished me that humanity could carve and bend so much of this primeval maelstrom into right angles, straight lines, and flat surfaces. And I felt reaffirmed in my conviction that those who would reason or swear that this maelstrom had an intelligent architect who designed it solely for the use and benefit of homo sapiens either pitifully foolish or dangerously insane.

In those moments, the spaces humanity has carved out for itself seemed both miraculous and profoundly terrible to me. From a chaotic tangle to right angles, flat surfaces, straight lines. Vitiating the planet to vitalize ourselves. Humanity's genius is a dream of right angles, flat surfaces, and straight lines. We remake reality into something less of itself so it won't roll over us, smother us, consume us. . .

The pain preceding numbness stabbed through my feet. I felt myself beginning to shiver.

There wasn't much I could do, being what I am, but I turn around and retreat back into the relative comfort of the shack in the woods. Into the straight lines, right angles, and flat surfaces. Into the burning, self-absorbed darkness.

*          *          *

It is very cold tonight.

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