Friday, August 21, 2009

Forlorn Riches and the Wayside Rich

First corn country, then cougar country. The past month has been an hour's drive in the morning - not me doing the driving - east to Chilliwack's mountains to work a defunct property, now up for sale, belonging to the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

It's just within the mountains and the view of the higher, farther mountains while working is enough to make the most strenuous labour a breeze. Though the heat of summer sinks in around us, there are, up at their peaks flush against the cobalt, the small open faces of the snow fields.

The property has six hundred feet of snaking driveway and it and the rest of the place was overgrown with grass and weeds. So it was mowing and weed-whacking and heavy pruning; tearing out huge shrubs from the front of the house.

Swallows are everywhere, lunging in and out of the vacant carport and equipment barn (equipment no longer there). On the low branch of an old Japanese maple there is a robin's nest with wan fledglings in it. On the open ground, a sudden toad appears, like a cake of dirt only a minute ago woke with life and legs. Snakes in the folds of grass.

While the immediate grounds assure one of their year or more of emptiness, with the drowsing back porch and lichen-ridden trees, bushes, the rotting fence posts, rusty water from the outside tap and vestiges of forgotten children's toys, there is a redounded age to the estate, in the way of outliers; in the realm around the failing fences, like border watchmen looking in upon the land's core of abandonment: they are the massive red cedar stumps. An archipelago of them throughout the nine acres, among the waist-wading waves of the field grass. Huge trees long ago cut down, their vast rooted seats still annunciate, through the decades of decay, the clear steeple-flow, fissured shape of their living years, widening in great girths towards the veiled floor.

And from each one of them, from the truncated top of each, a whole new, slender tree stretches up - or a clump of them - and sends down tethering roots like fossilized tentacles, along the fodder walls of the stumps.

Some are hemlocks that grow on the old red cedar stumps; some are alder or birch. Some are of the same kind they grow on. A few have virtually encased their pedestals.

At this terrible thickness of the Old, and not knowing how much of it and what of it has vanished, and not knowing how old exactly is the New that grows on it: this is where you arrive at life.


The other night I had a dream in which it was discovered that I had not the full amount of credits necessary to my high school graduation, and that I had to go back to high school, strangely almost eleven years now after the fact, for half a year to make them up. But at school there was of course none of the people I knew in my secondary school years. Even the ones who I was not on acquainted terms with would have been preferred. For all the people were somehow fallow and insubstantial, and none of them breaking, either desirably or undesirably, into the sphere of my own little world.

No wonderful sense of having attained seniority after the initial years of abject fear, when the old high school was still standing next to the newly built one, not yet being torn down, and which was still used for gym. The one which we walked to - from the new to the old - where the locker room was permanently permeated with decades of dirty sweat smell from countless teenagers and young men before us, and which was home to certain horrors: the towering seniors having their raucous ways. While I managed to escape for the most part their showmanship of strength, I still remember the awful sight of one featherweight kid receiving such a bad wedgy that his head pushed up the ceiling tile.

No gawky, zitty tall kid giving you your weekly Charlie Horse passing by.

No occasional thrill - and nicotine rush - at the smoke pit between classes.

No sense of emergence after the first early dark years.

No headlong crush on a girl who was so mature you thought for sure she was two years your senior; and then the smiting of bewilderment on discovering that she was in fact one grade below your own.

No quiet chuckling with friends in class over the physical habits and body language of the woodwork teacher, having discovered that all of you have observed the same thing for some time; and then the teacher doing that very thing you were chuckling about in front of you and your friends right there and then, seeing it all at the same time, and then the bemusement turning into louder, quaking laughter; and then the teacher continuing in his observed habit before you all for an extended period of time, unaware that he is becoming timelessly burned into your faculty of pure observation and giddy awe, as grand and clear-cut as any renaissance painting, and then the laughter so full and so hard it was like your guts were going to split open.

No sense of first time achievement in school history, when, behaving so badly as a whole class on one of those musky rainy afternoon's, the substitute teacher simply abandoned ship and went home, thereby forcing the principal himself to take over.

No discovery that you actually love English class - and Shakespeare.

There was, needless to say, none of this, nor the accompanying feelings, in the dream, as everyone in the dream seemed very conscious of not doing anyone offense, though not in any sensitive neurotic fashion. All the foibles of my own soul and personality that normally would butt against the foibles of others were, through the very absence of that ordinary jostling, not thereby dissipated, struggled with, or grown out of, but imprisoned within me and focalized so acutely it was as if everyone was aware of the aspects of my inner being. But they regarded it silently amongst themselves, coldly; not conspirationally and maliciously, but with common, steadfast indifference.

It was like they had attained to something we have been seeking which we need, and attained it with some kind of horrible perfection, but everything else about them, at some point in time, had been completely sucked out. And so, in spite of this emulative unity, there was through it all a sense of a great watchfulness, closing in.


As I drove home one night after Adoration I turned onto a four lane highway; two going in one direction, and two in the opposite. I was in the fast lane doing 80 (that's kilometers) steadily. It is the posted speed limit. A truck had come to behind me, tailgating.

Typically I pull into the right lane, if I'm not already there, which I usually am, but this person was pissing me off. So I stayed in the left, and kept it precisely at 80. There was a semi-truck in the right lane beside us, (which was part of the reason why I was not in the slow lane, as I was originally trying to get around the truck, possibly without speeding) so the truck behind me couldn't pull out and get around me.

The driver flashed the high beams, filling the rearview. This only hardened my will and I slowed down, a bit, and then went back to 80, keeping it there, on the nose. The driver flashed the high beams a second time. Still I didn't budge. The whole time the driver was behind me, he was tailgating in a way one would call aggressive, interrogative and endangering; the driver was as close behind me as any tailgater could get. He punched the high beams a third time. I refused.

Then, instead of high beams, police lights exploded in the rearview. I pulled over, fighting off a jab of panic and fear. Strangely as I waited for the cop to come up to the car I was quite at peace. The cop came up to the right side of the car and tapped hard on the passenger window. I opened the door.

He asked for my license and after some words which I forget, started on the reasons why he pulled me over. He was a medium-weight cop, with a certain nasally tone; but these two characteristics did not in any way subtract from the sense of power he wanted to exude. He talked quite loud in what was something between an air of tamed devil-may-care and aggression:

"You didn't like the way I was driving behind you like that, huh?"

"Well uh…"

"Is that why you slowed down like that, you didn't like the way I was driving behind you…why didn't you pull into the right lane?"

"Well, I was going to, but the semi-truck was there and I was waiting to get behind him…"

Which was sort of a lie. Though the fact is, once I had turned onto the highway my intention was indeed to get in the right lane, which is the lane I always drive in, detesting the ludicrous speeds which people drive at.

At no point did I even attempt to mention that I was doing the maximum speed limit and that if I had sped past it he could have given me a speeding ticket instead, and are you just pulling me over to show me who's boss, and are you saying that I should have gone over the speed limit? Okay, okay, I could have gone into the right lane after slowing down to get behind the semi-truck, but what, may I ask, was with you doing the endangering driving right up my rear, when I was in fact doing the maximum speed limit? That is after all what the fast lane is for: doing the maximum speed limit, without going over it, though nowadays doing the ultimate posted speed limit in the fast lane doesn't cut it for most drivers who I mostly regard - as far as they are in their vehicles - as batshit nuts, animalistic and oblivious in their squint-eyed minds. I had no reason to do anything to correct the situation since I was doing the maximum speed limit in the left lane, while it was you who needed to correct the situation by slowing down - sir.

I'm not that stupid.

When he had gone through all the motions of authoritative power and found that I was not going to offer resistance to that power, he went into soft lecture mode, once of course asking me where I was going [home] and where I was coming from [White Rock] and- White Rock? Were you drinking tonight [no] and what was I doing in White Rock?

"I was at church."

Four syllable terms for worship of the Blessed Sacrament that resides in perpetual exposition would simply have prolonged the ordeal.

"Yeah? The church is open this late?"


The adoration chapel is part of the church, not separate from it. You get to the chapel along the side of the church, going under eaves that look east on slightly down-gradating grass, almost a knoll, dotted with evergreens, and after the sward there is a forest.

There have been many nights in recent weeks when a little coyote would run about on the grass, sometimes keeping his distance, sometimes coming up to the eaves warily and the lights under them, before darting back quickly to the cool darkness under the shades of the spruces to resume his skipping.

The coyote would prance about, suddenly doing hairpin turns, then springing back again in a hopping romp, beyond the St. Anthony statue, seemingly loathe to leave.

One time it looked like he had a bird in his maw, and seemed truly delighted, skipping about with his prize, or his toy, forgetting it was also food.

I like to think of that coyote by the adoration chapel at night, while the neighbourhoods that surround the church grounds remain so, so silent and empty. Rich homes; furnished homes; newer homes; homes with expensive cars and television lights; homes deathly silent under the streetlamp light.

I like to think of that coyote because he makes me think of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, having made Himself so small and accessible, abiding in the remotest corners. That institution of His Eucharist with his apostles in the upper room goes to the furthest corners where He knew He would be most abandoned, neglected; not just in missionary shacks being visited by the clutch that lives there, but the greatly populated places where He would desire the greater number of souls, and yet receiving so few.

Those neighbourhoods! He Himself, the body and blood and full presence of Jesus Christ is just down the quiet street! And the stupendous silence of the tomb that greets Him in return!

The power of He who boomed the top of the sacred mountain that struck anyone dead who touched it; that power diffusing itself so to reach our own human hearts, instead of that mountain top - our hearts taking the mountain top's place!

After the sacred thunder: the silent gift of His own real flesh for us to eat and adore that is even more a mystery of increase. Does this shock you?

It receives an impotent, barely audible guffaw from the suburbs; and the distracted mind thinks elsewhere, lest it be thrown over in the face of reality.

So I like to think of that lone, lean coyote, dancing before Our Lord.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I heard the coyote call my name. I wait for my friend to go dancing by and he tells me to go on and sit with your friend. So I go and sit with my friend and I can only think of the inglorious bastards exacting vengeance for the world greatest injustice to humanity? I try to focus on my friend but there is something appealing about the feeling one gets after a film on vengeance. It makes me cry for my own justice. I realize I sense that it is my ambition to be a hero that crowds out my time with my friend under cover. I like the idea of historical justice rather than paying the present cost. I wish the world was more magical. I feel God more lately.
Barston’s Native Hermitage