Mountains as Venn Diagrams

15Feb15

I found the following passage from an old journal, about trying to know the mountains that I can see when I look across the Puget Sound and how that relates to trying to know people. It fits my mood for this day-after-Valentine’s. I was solo (not because of a break-up, but because of divergent travels) for this Valentine’s day, so I found myself thinking about love from a distance, and love that is multi-faceted:

Every day, in different light, at different temperatures and different angles, The Brothers look different. To know them truly, I would need to climb them, but then their closeness would cause me to lose their shape. If The Brothers are seen on a topographic map, then the two peaks might be more clear. But everyone knows that a map is a severe reduction. Its clarity is helpful, but not accurate to the complexity of actually being in a place. As it is, the two peaks appear to me, across the Puget Sound, more as 3 1/2 peaks. And this feeds into my purposes well, as a mother of three sons. Knowing a person– even one closest to you– is not at all unlike this difficulty of ascertaining a mountain. Part of the process is a matter of finding contours, and slipping them, often temporarily, into a category. But each contour is approximate, each category permeable. As a mother, I have a common practice– that of identifying characteristics in my sons in order to understand and know them. Part of this is a constant and evolving compare/contrast exercise. What aspects do all of them share? Which similarities are shared by each pair? What traits stand alone in each boy? I group and name, only to be foiled by their complex natures. They defy my labels; they prove me wrong. Every day, in different light, at different temperatures and different angles, The Brothers look different.

Image of The Brothers from summitpost.org

The Country Of Marriage

I.

I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.

II.

This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth’s empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.

III.

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

IV.

How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.

V.

Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen tine and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.

VI.

What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.

VII.

I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy–and this poem,
no more mine than any man’s who has loved a woman.

Wendell Berry
Dark to Dark

“Dark to Dark” Gala Bent: A piece I made based on Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Country of Marriage”

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3 Responses to “Mountains as Venn Diagrams”

  1. 1 danielimburgia

    Enjoyed your thoughts and I am an ardent admirer of Berry. Much obliged.

  2. 2 Shawna

    I have felt this similarly, this knowing of a place up close and far away presenting interesting aspects. . . and it is remarkable. I love your ponderings over your children, such truth.

  3. Remembering to put your upcoming lecture on my calendar — and send an artist colleague of mine a link to your site — I stumbled upon this blog post just now. Thank you for your ruminations on perspective, distance, and atmosphere. And how uncanny to link the Brothers to your sons, brothers of each other. From where I grew up, looking west across Lake Washington to the Olympic Mountains, the Brothers’ 2 peaks always meant my two brothers to me. Oh! And it’s a sweet little climb, btw.


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