Smoking some briskets, drinking beer, and sitting around the pool listening to Jimmy Buffet. He made it to the Labor Day weekend show. 🏝️🍹🍔🦈🌴⛵️🎶🍺
Guilty, defiant, and ejected from the pool…for their own safety since the salt and chlorine will do them in. Back to the wild with you.
…in August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and—from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone. . .the title reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization.
— William Faulkner
I was glad to stumble across this quote; I’ve seen the light he describes and have been chasing a way to describe it for years. The shadows fall just a certain way and the light takes on a sort of golden rosiness. It’s natural counterpart is a similar moment in an afternoon of late winter, and only in the woods. The lowering sun will illuminate some patch of moss, brilliant gold light on intense green against all the brown earth, snow and ice around it. It might still be frigid cold, but here’s the barest hint of spring and rebirth. Heading into fall there’s that one day you look up and the sky is has taken on that cobalt blue of fall, no matter how warm it still is outside. For spring it’s usually the first time I spot an insect; some tiny thing flying into a new world.
These little moments - almost like thin places, but in time - speak to us clearly in their silence and beauty, as if some ancient part of us reads these signs and responds in kind. This, we think, is what that poem or song was talking about. Here’s what that painter was trying to capture just so. Of course it is.
Enjoying the last bit of relative calm before classes resume this weekend. I’m ahead of the game on the reading and am very keen to stay that way. This will be the last time I will have to double up with an online class in parallel with in-person courses. After this semester, things will be serial-only and life will be good.
I wish I had more hours in the day. The preparatory reading for one class takes a glancing blow off of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, and as much as I’d like to read it in its entirety, I don’t have the bandwidth at present for another ~900 pages. Perhaps over the holidays there will be some downtime. For the other course, I’m getting familiar with the role of supportive counseling and its associated models and goals. This one should be interesting.
This past weekend, we had a chance to meet the incoming cohort of men who are beginning their formation. It was a little weird being the “upperclassmen,” but there you have it. They seem like a good group and I look forward to getting to know them all.
Please pray for us, and for all who are discerning vocations of any kind.
Our parish celebrated our patroness today with a procession - this is one of the designs our students chalked on part of the route. A hot but joyous day!
Currently reading: Snopes by William Faulkner 📚
Finished Selected Short Stories last night. On deck: Snopes by William Faulkner 📚
I've been thinking a lot about fictional geographies lately. I don't mean fantasy or sci-fi worlds - Middle Earth or Tattooine. I mean fictional places which are meant to exist in the real world.
A few years ago, I re-read Conrad's Nostromo and found myself looking more and more at the weirdness of its setting, the fictional South American country of Costaguana. Plot aside - and I confess that Nostromo is not my favorite Conrad novel - something about the setting always seemed sort of off to me. Distances to places are not terribly consistent, making for occasionally odd timelines. His occasional use of Spanish is also not-quite-right. The whole package feels very much like what it is - a novel written by someone who had heard and read a bit about the area and then decided to write a novel set there. This was annoying at first, but then I came to consider that - at least in terms of Costaguana's geography - the topographical fluidity was more of a feature than a bug. The country sort of wavers between minimalist set-dressing, like the production of King Lear, in which the action takes place solely in and around a mockup of Stonehenge, and a sort of mythical landscape along the lines of Toto's "Africa" I thought about this for a long time, and dreamed of producing mock-vintage travel posters in the style of the Pan Am glory days advertising Clipper service to Sulaco.
Costaguana hovers in the back of my mind as I'm starting to dig deeper into Faulkner's works, most of which are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, MS. Comparing the two geographies is probably grossly unfair; Conrad set a single novel in South America and it's not clear if ever personally set foot in Colombia or Venezuela, the likeliest inspirations. Faulkner based Yoknapatawpha on his native Lafayette County, substituting Jefferson for real-life Oxford and setting nearly all of his intergenerational novels and short stories there. He lived there, and other than the place names and general topography, the descriptions of the landscape, trees, and birds all have the ring of truth that only an eyewitness can give. The county itself feels like an additional, silent, omnipresent character. I also find myself developing deep attachment to particular places and maybe that's one reason why Faulkner's attention to location/place has gained such mental purchase with me. The general region of northern Mississippi isn't far removed from our home in Middle Tennessee. There might be less limestone in Oxford, but the pine hills, cultivated fields, and river bottoms are about as universally Southern as things get. When he writes about "a grove of locusts and mulberries across the road," he might as well be describing the front quarter of our yard.
Science we can all get behind.
One of his studies had led him to an unusual conclusion: Among diabetics, eating half a cup of ice cream a day was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. Needless to say, the idea that a dessert loaded with saturated fat and sugar might actually be good for you raised some eyebrows at the nation’s most influential department of nutrition.
For 20 years now, I have been heading from my native Vermont to the American West—Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Southern California—to hike and camp in the desert. Or, as the New Testament would have it, the eremos. That is the ancient Greek word for wilderness, a lonely place of naked rock, blazing sun and humming silence. And maybe, if you pray and pray, if you genuinely open yourself, it is a place of divine presence, too.
Camping with the Desert Fathers, Leath Tonino
Overheard in the frozen food section of the supermarket today:
Little boy: Oh! Do we need ice cream?
Dad: Nooo we do not need ice cream. pushes cart faster
I nearly interrupted with “Young sir, at our house, in accord with divine law, there is always a need for ice cream. Please select one, stash it in our cart, and drop by later today to help eat it.”
Currently reading: Selected Short Stories by William Faulkner 📚
I finished The Gulf last night, and it was great. I felt like I was reading the history of an old childhood neighborhood - so many familiar places came up, and now I've got a quiet urge to go see the Texas part of the Gulf Coast and punch the last few places on the ticket. The last few sections on oil spills, industrial pollution, mindless development, and estuarine degradation are depressing as hell, but the recovery/restoration success stories give me hope.
We were just blessed with a couple of breezy, low-humidity days, lack of nearby mountain peaks notwithstanding. Still a bit to go until August, but the annual cicadas around here are well into Their Summer Noise Thing, and the sound called to mind this bit from Works and Days:
When the thistle blooms and the chirping cicada
sits on trees and pours down shrill song
from frenziedly quivering wings in the toilsome summer,
then goats are fatter than ever and wine is at its best;
women’s lust knows no bounds and men are all dried up,
because the dog star parches their heads and knees
and the heat sears their skin. Then, ah then,
I wish you a shady ledge and your choice wine,
bread baked in the dusk and mid-August’s goat milk
and meat from a free-roving heifer that has never calved -
and from firstling kids. Drink sparkling wine,
sitting in the shade with your appetite sated,
and face Zephyr’s breeze as it blows from mountain peaks.