This Thing Called Courage

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday, March 3, 2006: Falling Water, Not the Wright Stuff


When Fionn and I went out walking last night, we headed north on Main Street to do 'Long Night Walk.' Two houses down from us (a gay househol;d by the by with an amazing terraced garden out back, complete with pond and waterfall) we noticed water-- lots of water!-- issuing forth from a bump in the buckling sidewalk-- as if Moses had just come down by a minute ago and tapped his staff upon it; or maybe we were in Lourdes. A copious amount of twice as much hydrogen as oxygen was running down the street, and pooling at the bottom of the hill. No one was around and The Authorities, apparently, hadn't been notified, so we called and told them all about it. By the time we got back from our walk an hour later, one truck was there; then another came, then another, then a bulldozer, then a digger, police, traffic people with big electronic signs diverting traffic, men with jackhammers-- a real public works extravaganza! The digging went on apace throughout the night, and work continues this morning. We have no water, ergo we have no operational furnace, ergo we have no heat. Not so good! It's always warmer somehow when you are cold outside rather than cold inside, so we took an extra-long walk this morning, down to Happy Land (aka the Middlesex Fells Reservation) and then all along the wild chunk of woods in between Spot Pond and the Stone Zoo. There are many lovely, ledgy cliffs overhanging the pond from a pretty good height, and these we explored to our hearts'-- and noses'-- delight.

In the middle of this: suddenly we had a flashback, (no, not that kind) and had to stand still to experience the flood of memory: a certain slant of slight coming through the pines, the broad expanse of ice-covered pond beyond-- this scenes must have triggered it: when we were little our mother used to bring us to as many places as she could that hinted of 'cul-cha,' and one of these on one such occasion was the Museum of Science. We were in the Natural History Wing and eventually found our way to this dark, wide, high-ceilinged hall, full of diorama behind glass. Each diorama showed a different mammal of North America in its 'natural' habitat. The displays were basically rooms behind glass, but because of the skill of the designers, the darkness of the huge room, the brilliant natural-ish light illuminating the displays, and the power of a little boy's imagination, they literally took my breath away.

For here was Moose at the edge of a vast cerulean sheet of water, majestic mountains in the background; and here next door was Beaver, several of them in fact, gnawing down yellow-leafed white birch, guiding logs through the water, or arranging branches big and small on their dam, as fastidiously as any queen fussing with pillows before a dinner party; here was Heron, standing stock-still on one impossibly skinny leg (I think-- or am I confusing this avian memory with a sighting of a real heron once while landscaping in Sherborn? As Dylan Thomas wrote so wonderfully about childhood memory in A Child's Christmas in Wales, did it "snow for six days when I was twelve, or for twelve days when I was six?") Certainly though there was Moose and Beaver-- and also-- The Indian Family.
As I proceeded through the darkened hall (I'm stuck in bold by the way and can't get out), one tableau vivant was more breathtaking than its predecessor. But the Indian Family! A Stoic, hawk-nosed father; a pretty squaw mother with appropriately downcast (this was the '60's) eyes; and a boy and a girl, amusing themselves with something organic-- stones? Shells? The family was doing something-- making a campfire? Sitting around the campfire? And I remarked to myself how absolutely still they were being-- as if they were following instructions; (Be stoic, be still, for the people); for--yes-- I believed, wondrously, that these diorama were just windows, looking out at a back outdoor part of the Museum of Science that bordered Canadian Woodlands and Wilds of Maine-- and why not? Certainly it was a big place-- I asked my mother if we could go 'out back' and see the real thing, or rather, see the real thing outside-- finally she made it known to me that these were constructions, reasonable facsimiles thereof-- this wasn't any less wondrous, that someone had done all this-- it was just differently wondrous. I wanted to immediately move in to these places, to wander from Beaver to Moose to Indian Family (surely they wouldn't mind another, temporary son? I could help them gather kindling) and then when I was tired or hungry, hey presto!- I could come through the glass, as it were, and rejoin the normal, dreary-- but dependable-- world.

Anyway-- a particular arrangement of the pines on a clifftop this morning, the vast water beyond, a certain blueness of sky, must have resembled one of these displays, for suddenly I was back there again-- and I had to sit down with the power and beauty of this memory. A smile pulled involunatarily at the edges of my mouth.

It's never out of vogue, for better or worse, to blame one's sires and/or dames for the various neuroses that, like bats flitting home at night, rattle around one's head at different periods of our lives-- but let me state for the record-- thanks Mom for this beautiful memory-- and so many more like them. If we didn't get 'cul-cha,' we certainly got 'wun-dah.' And, as the poet said-- that has made all the difference.
Vive la diorama!

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