He was in the hospital. Seems like he spent too much time there between malaria, tuberculosis, and the birth of his children. The doctor said he had phlebitis, and they had to strip a vein in his leg. Later I would learn about that pain — diagnosed with it at the ripe old age of sixteen. (I did not need the knife)
My Dad was a reader of stories. Mama had purchased a small pile of paperback books, ammunition for the hospital duration. Somewhere during the phlebitis episode he handed me a small 1950s size paperback with an orange cover and the photograph of a hunter. He had finished the volume and was passing it on.
“You need to read this. You are going to think it is about hunting, but it is really a book of philosophy.” Uh, sure. Always wanted to read philosophy, but at least there was going to be hunting. A red-stocked, single-shot, Harrington & Richardson .410 shotgun was my first gun at age nine. It would be the only shotgun I ever owned until my grandfather died, and I got his a ragged .20 gauge double barrel he bought in a pawn shop. If I had to gag down a little philosophy to be immersed in the hunt, I was all in.
Robert Ruark’s The Old Man and the Boy became the epigraphical touchstone of my adult life. Revisited as a college student; annotated; passed on to adult friends; re-received in a new edition from those friends so I did not have to lend the precious aging paperback with my Dad’s fingerprints on it; and the forge of a bond with a colleague who shared Ruark’s and my experiences hundreds of miles from my youth. (Thanks, Jack M.)
Now much out of favor with many because it is built around hunting (thus killing) wild animals, echoes the racist, gender-biased culture of the 1930’s American South, and does not resonate with the hyper-speed, i-phone, non-reflective experiential learning culture of 2018. The book adheres to the soul of those who still wonder at Orion in the winter sky, wait for the green sky of hurricane season, and feel the curve of a hand built wooden boat. Ruark continues to speak to the pilgrims who know that the natural quiet of an estuary at dusk delivers a more profound sermon than the screeching brimstone hammered down from an American Express-driven mega church pulpit. To wit:
“As I remember the Old Man, he never said anything at all that you couldn’t walk away from three ways and still find a fresh idea in it. I got to where I could listen to him with only one ear, separating the meat from the philosophy, and it wasn’t until a lot of years later when I grew up to be a man that I found I remembered more philosophy than meat.” —-Robert Ruark, The Old Man and The Boy
The lord’s minister entered the space and the occupant, a lone figure yellow with light; gray with mood; read without pages.
“You are “ronin”? He asked.
Stiffly, “Your sword is required.”
“Does your master not have many sharp loyal blades? I am “ronin”, with no lord.
“You are sought.”
“My question begs.”
“The need is specific. Loyalty alone will not suffice.”
“How did you find me? ”
“You are known, but not cast out, nor yet in a far land.”
Solemnly, “You will continue to roam.”
“Ah, condemned to the dungeon of freedom!”
“We are all condemned to one space or another.”
“The task has my blade. Your lord has my thanks.”
The yellow and the gray loitered.
“But down here under heaven
There never was a chart
To guide our way across
This crooked highway of the heart
And if it’s only all about
The journey in the end
On that road I’m glad I came to know
My old friend.”
—–Emmylou Harris, “The Road”
He was a man of little wealth, but great taste, infinite jest, a mind and wit of Toledo steel, with a beautiful sense of the darkest irony; a master of the classical allusion. The sort of man whose tide of personality invited you to surf the big waves of life’s winter storms or sent you clamoring up the beach to remain a shy observer; erudite with a restless curiosity not uncommon to those who live on the crests of the storm tide. He lived in many forms, in many eras, but always as himself. He was my colleague, a chum, a friend. And yes, he had sympathy for the devil.
“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose site of the shore for a very long time.”
—Andre Gide, 1926
“Now there’s ghosts along the highways
And there’s storms out on the seas
My only hope is somewhere in that heaven
Some one is saying a prayer for me
I been ridin’ stone blind horses
Never seeing a reason to believe
Hey sweet Genevieve say a prayer for me
The wild young cowboys, old drunks, paramours and thieves”
—-Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Stone Blind Horses”
When you were a rock, at the cryogenic moment you sensed your immortality what could you know?
Did you see it coming? The growing reaching shadow. The smut-black shade. The narrowing lightless margin of your unchosen world.
Did you hear the growing silence created by the rushed voices phrasing an indecipherable new language as your space moved off-center?
Did you feel the creep in the room? The silent floating, then slinking, then lightly scratching, effortlessly encroaching inevitable behind your back approach.
Did you touch the stretching hardening inelastic distance from the then to the now?
Did the smell of loss find you unprepared? Malodorous, old-weight imposing unsurvivable thickness to your air?
Did the taste shock you? Bitter, uplifting, alien to your palette, non-lethal but final.
It always comes, bringing the second cryogenic moment and the reality that you are not a rock. That damned human thing!
“I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of years that these waves must’ve been breaking here but until this day no one had ever ridden one. Think of the thousands of waves that went to waste… and the waves that are going to waste right now at Cape Saint Francis.”
“THE ENDLESS SUMMER”
“I can’t believe the news today
I can’t close my eyes and make it go away”