Monday, March 18, 2013

The Setting -- and Settling Berclair Sun

The sun doesn't set in Iowa; at least not in our part of it -- not like this. Yes, the day comes to an end; yes, the sun goes away. Night eventually envelopes us. But there is no “sunset” on this scale. Perhaps it is the trees that veil the view. Perhaps it is the rolling topography that interrupts the horizon. In the city, to be sure, there are all the buildings reaching up like fingers in front of a baby’s eyes, curtaining everything on the other side.

Or it could, of course, be that the problem is less “Iowa” and more “home” wherever that may be -- home, where we are busy, moving to and fro; indoors and preoccupied with our weariness alongside we have or have not accomplished and all that needs to be done.

It's too bad. There is something almost medicinal about the setting sun -- meditative, I suspect, even for the non-spiritual. That settling fire becomes a vortex, hypnotically focusing and drawing all it touches into its own mellowing transformation from hot yellow to warm orange to confectioner’s striations of pink and lavender and mauve. Before we are even aware of it we, too, have settled. And with that, it's work somehow complete, it drops below the horizon, out of sight as in an instant, until tomorrow’s rising -- somehow knowing, I suppose, that its work is never done.

It will be hard to leave this evening ritual -- drifting out to the circled chairs under the trees out back, taking our places on the east side of the arc, instinctually facing west; offering ourselves, as it were, into the dusky ministrations of God’s first creation.

And being somehow recreated, ourselves.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

La Bahia Goliad

La Bahia Goliad by Taproot Garden
La Bahia Goliad, a photo by Taproot Garden on Flickr.

Dance music incongruously blares from the historic courtyard where a DJ is testing his sound system for a wedding scheduled later in the afternoon. It is a jarring disruption, and strikes us as a singularly curious choice for nuptials, here where almost 177 years ago -- on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836 -- 342 soldiers lost their life. “Here” is the Presidio La Bahia at Goliad, Texas where once again we have made pilgrimage. I suppose one could argue that our presence is as odd as the bride and groom’s. We have, after all, been here before. Many times. And as I mentioned, it isn't a happy place.

La Bahia is not the site of a battle. The soldiers did not die in combat. They were prisoners of war slaughtered, in a dramatic presumption of ends justifying means, by their captors. Having surrendered a week earlier, at the Battle of Coleto Creek, under the written assurance of favorable treatment, Colonel James Fannin and his fellow independence fighters were marched back to the fort they had previously occupied as defenders. A week later, under orders from the Mexican President Santa Ana, they were marched back outside, circled and fired upon at close range. A couple dozen managed to survive and escape. A similar number were spared for practical reasons. The bodies of the massacred were simply abandoned where they fell. 342.

It isn't a moment in the popular lore of Texas history that has sustained the high profile mystique of the Alamo -- John Wayne never made a movie about Goliad, nor anybody else in Hollywood for that matter. It was, nevertheless, a galvanizing episode in the Texans fight for independence that was eventually won, a few short weeks later, at the Battle of San Jacinto. But if I have ever been to San Jacinto I don't remember it; and though I have visited the Alamo a few times it feels compelled by a sense of obligation; a historical duty of birthright.

I haven't quite fathomed these pilgrimages to Goliad. Perhaps it is mere proximity or the quietude’s lack of other things to do. Perhaps it is the nostalgic lure of my family’s roots in this area just 15 miles away, making it “ours” in a way only abstractly and collectively true of the Alamo some 90 miles away.

I can't help but sense, however, that the story itself is the hook and line that draw me back again and again -- fathoming the cold calculations of the brutal orders; imagining, or perhaps hoping for, the ambivalence of those carrying them out; channeling the apprehension of those prisoners first rousted and then rustled outside; smelling, even after all these years, the gunpowder and the blood; both hearing and feeling the wing-beats of buzzards descending in subsequent days; and grieving, yet again, the capacity of humankind to treat our fellows as nothing.

I don't know why a couple would choose to get married there -- there among such memories and echoes. But I rather appreciate the symbol of it. In the same way as a dog marks its territory -- overriding the scent of a previous presence -- perhaps a wedding’s declaration of love and hopeful creation is the perfect mark to spray on a site whose prior scent was a noxious and nauseous cocktail of arrogance, ambition, and brutal disregard for the sacredness of life.

I hope the happy couple lives happily ever after. And has lots and lots of kids. 342.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Berclair Morning

Berclair Morning by Taproot Garden
Berclair Morning, a photo by Taproot Garden on Flickr.

The music of birds I can't identify chirp the Berclair morning through the heavy haze cloaking the trees and into orange light. What had been night’s near-silence crescendos in a seeming instant to morning’s lively chatter. Whistles from branches, dew drips from the eaves, ratcheting from insects hidden in the field, and off in the distance a passing car. It is a wondrously busy transition this creep from night to day. I am seemingly the only life quiescent, the slight rocking of my front porch chair channeling the lulling breeze.

We will have our own activity in the course of the day -- a water pump to assess and its timer to verify, a nascent crop to appreciate and coax, a new fence to confirm. But the real work of the day -- the more pressing business for which we traveled to this family farm almost a country and a lifetime away -- is to ebb, for awhile, the relentless waves, settle into deeper grooves, listen again to long-dead voices, and to stand submissively aside while nature and our souls do the talking.

The dawn’s orange has dissolved into morning’s white; the sun is on the verge of cresting the trees. With a good part of my day well underway, it’s time for a second cup of coffee. And maybe a pancake or two.