We, The Oak Leaf and Our River.
Like ocean waves, we are nothing but flashes of energy that tessellate within the gapless and perfectly whole rhythm of stardust to souls to stardust once more.
“The faithful witness … is at his best when he is questioning and clarifying and avoiding the specialists obsession with solution. He betrays society when he is silent...He is true to himself and to people when his clarity causes disquiet.”
- John Ralston Saul
Well, it is Saturday and my eyes are occupied by the waves that splash violently on the empty sand beaches of South Carolina. A storm and its corresponding cold front has ungently settled and lightning strikes some untold and unknown structure miles offshore. The kids are napping and so my fingers work.
This is the preliminary essay of a collection that seems preliminary to my life’s next work. I turned 30 last week and I feel that, although three published books are behind me (two of which are award-winning and one of which is an epic failure according to its Amazon reviews), my life is leading to a new moment. And so I write and my writing works through me and occupies the life alongside my dirty and bloody and tired farming hands. Enjoy, my friends.
These collections are an honest attempt at saying something. It is a hard thing, you know, to say something. Talking is commonplace and familiar for most, but the uncommon among us arise when something is actually said. Not arise as though it is new from the soil beneath our feet but arise as the ascension of what we already know into that holy sanctuary, tinseled in the triumphal sublimity of holism—of all that is.
If there is a stream of thought listed here it is a stream that more like a babbling brook of humbly riotous but altogether wasted energy that tirelessly searches for a new home—or maybe, a home it knows but cannot yet find.
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Rivers are notorious conveyers of that which they do not own, and this collection is your standard river. The gravity subjugated rush of mountain water, the family-urged and upward surge of trout, the debris silently denting the depths, which finally finds a home when the beaver builds its dome. This is the river—it is everything because it is first and always nothing.
We live in illusory times—we are told the climate is changing but we have the unique power to stop it; we are told that our food is killing us but big business is here to help; we are told that technology and its master, the industrial machine, is destroying our lives but better versions are going to provide better outcomes; we are told that agriculture is to blame but also this same agriculture can be the solution; and we are told that we are powerless in the face of political and scientific prowess but we completely trust our governing elites and their scientific puppets like we trust our own toe’s ability to heal after we stub it on the roughage around our perfect and well-watered lawns.
We are told to relax and let the experts fix this “thing.” We are told to relax but perhaps, I think, we are meant to recover—patiently preparing to escape the bounded banks of Mother Culture for the embrace of home, the bosom of Mother Earth, the reawakened riverbeds of yesteryear.
Like ocean waves, we are nothing but flashes of energy that tessellate within the gapless and perfectly whole rhythm of stardust to souls to stardust once more. We the people are we the trees and we are also the ocean waves that are nothing but momentary bursts and glimmers of the moon’s not-so-distant energy.
No, forget the ocean waves, they are too strong, too large a poetic form. The river motif is also too strong. Let us leave that behind us. Rather, we are the silence of the floating oak leaf, whose bronze-stained shimmer hooks the eye of that ungulate who is grazing the richness of the riverbank—a ghost silently passing in the morning mist from here to there and also to nowhere. But the river runs and often forgets, as rivers have the tendency to do, about flow and the timelessness of rhythm and us, that undulating oak leaf’s silence that only the undulating ungulate nods at—notices.
During the Late Neolithic Period, the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) emerged, as languages have the tendency to do. It is believed to be one of the first written or at least first known to be written languages of the world.
Its word for the Hebrew book of Genesis is*ǵn̥éhti, a third person singular, which means quite literally, to know. It is constructed from *ǵneh-, which means to recognize and *-né-, which forms transitive imperfective verbs from perfective intransitive roots.
Said another way, *ǵn̥éhti is the word for recognizing what we already know but, through that recognition, it is made more whole when it is known together. That is, when it becomes less lonely. Knowledge and her Creation, to be good, cannot be lonely. Truth must be founded in Community. To know something yourself is not the same thing as knowing something together, the latter making the former more full and somehow also more real—more good. The ancients are telling us that knowing is a community endeavor, but for it to be a good endeavor it must also be a divine venture— a cosmic struggle against loneliness, a terrestrial collision of the conscious and subconscious. The good requires holism, that is the unification of heaven and earth. Yes, that is very good.
To denude is to “strip something of its covering,” and the illusion is the story that the clear cut forests and the eroding riverbanks and the chemically-infused water ways that our journey passes through is just technological progress that civilization, in its wisdom, has purposely planted—in other words, the story that this is all okay.
Denuding the Illusion is a challenge to this story. It is my prayer that it is worthy of the river’s carrying.
We are one Creation and the Creator is waiting. Life, I believe, is the attempt to find this Spirit, the divine, who I address, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד׃, (Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad), or Adonia eloheinu. But not they in person, for I doubt they want to be found—could be found. No, regeneration, I believe, is the journey to find their spirit—that which emanates as the unseen energy but entirely perceived hush of the old-growth and oaken forest, covered and cloaked in the cathedral of the mother mycelia; that inaudible pounding of the meadows melodious and beating heart after a rainstorm; that succulence of spring after the last snow’s melt; and the silent flutter of bees and butterflies and wafting webs detached in summer’s gentle flush.
In order to denude the illusion of the machine, to borrow this idea from the wonderful Paul Kingsnorth, regeneration is necessary. But regeneration is the journey to find truth but not the finding of the truth, for that can only be revealed and never found—a gift. Life and its regeneration, therefore, is a journey, and it requires dropping your shears and opening your ears.
It begins by taking off your shoes.