Recovering Place

Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill

Mark C. Taylor
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Recovering Place
    Book Description:

    Mark C. Taylor recounts a poignant love affair not with a person but with a place that, paradoxically, cannot be easily localized. For many years, Taylor has lived in the Berkshire Mountains, where he writes and creates land art and sculpture. In a world of mobile screens and virtual realities, where speed is the measure of success and place is disappearing, his work slows down thought and brings life back to earth to give readers time to ponder the importance of place before it slips away. Taylor extends reflection beyond the page and returns with new insights about what is hiding in plain sight all around us. Weaving together words and images, his artful work enacts what it describes. Things long familiar suddenly appear strange, and the strange, unexpected, and unprogrammed unsettle readers in surprising ways. This timely meditation gives pause in the midst of harried lives and turns attention toward what we usually overlook: night, silence, touch, grace, ghosts, water, earth, stones, bones, idleness, infinity, slowness, and contentment. Recovering Place is a unique work with reflections that linger long after the book is closed.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53644-8
    Subjects: Religion, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xi])
    (pp. 1-6)

    MAY 1, 2012. Southeast corner across from my apartment on Broadway and 103rd Street. Starbucks. The name, pirated fromMoby-Dick, is intended to “evoke the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.” Who could have anticipated that the Broadway debut ofMoby-Dickwould take place at Starbucks? Herman Melville wrote the greatest American novel in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts a few miles south of Stone Hill and then retreated to New York City, where he spent the last forty years of his life anonymously working in a customs house and roaming...

    (pp. 7-9)

    THIS IS the story of a love affair, a love affair not with a person but with a place—a place that is present here and now and yet, paradoxically, cannot be simply localized: Stone Hill. For many years, Stone Hill has been teaching me the value of place in a world where it seems to be disappearing. Looking back over several decades, I now realize that for me Stone Hill is where the theoretical has become practical; the abstract, concrete; the useful, useless. Artists, writers, and poets are right—life is best understood as an ongoing work of art...

    (pp. 11-11)

    CAPITAL HAS entered a fourth and, perhaps, final stage:

    Agricultural → Industrial → Consumer → Financial

    This development leads to the transformation of both the tokens and the networks of exchange:

    Stuff → Image → Code

    There is a discernible trajectory to these changes:

    Concrete → Abstract

    Material → Immaterial

    Real → Virtual

    For capital to keep flowing, it must constantly expand. This expansion can take place in three ways: spatially, temporally, and virtually. As markets reach their spatial limits, expansion occurs through the acceleration of the rate of exchange. When all value becomes exchange value, everything is commodified; for...

    (pp. 12-13)

    THE EXPANSION of capital leads to globalization, which leads to the expansion of capital:

    As networks spread around the world, capital is deterritorialized and the rate of exchange accelerates exponentially. These developments transform time as well as space. Time becomes real time, which is really unreal. When past and future collapse in a present that is virtually real, the ancient dream of simultaneity seems to be technologically realizable.

    Globalization transforms space in contradictory ways:

    Space displaces place until the process reverses, and, like the real, place returns at the very moment it seems to be disappearing. The transformation of space...

    (pp. 15-15)
    (pp. 16-16)

    TO BE modern is to be on the move—everyone and everything is in motion. In this world, to be on the move is to be on the make—mobility is a sign of progress, growth, even sophistication. When we stay in one place for too long, life becomes boring and eventually stultifying. The local is parochial, and if we are to get anywhere in life, home must be left behind.

    But not all mobility is the same—for many today, mobility is imposed rather than chosen. Circumstances conspire to uproot people from familiar surroundings and drive them to distant...

    (pp. 17-17)

    THE PROGRESSIVE disembodiment of life is creating a new condition—global displacement. Humanity, if there still is such a thing,

    is losing its place and its self, detached from its counties and the whole earth. Not only because of its fluctuating movements and its chance felicitous mixtures, begun before the Neolithic age, but because of its new global emigration from space to signs, from the countryside to the image, from languages to codes and from cultures to science. It leaves behind places of work—mines, quarries, rivers, building sites, grassland, ploughed fields—for interiors without windows; sitting and counting, it...

  10. PLACE
    (pp. 18-19)

    PLACE IS not a thing but an event that can never be placed precisely. It marks boundaries, yet exceeds every limit. Place is older—infinitely older—than the space it opens. Always defying the logic of non-contradiction, place is the nexus in which being/nonbeing, presence/absence, inside/outside, and here/there simultaneously emerge and withdraw. As such, it is a clearing that clarifies nothing; this is a strange, even uncanny nothing. Nothing evertakesplace because place is alwaysgiven.Place gives being itself—to be is always already to have been placed, and what has no place is not. And yet place...

    (pp. 20-20)

    PLACE IS being displaced by non-places of errancy, vagrancy, and transit. No longer here but not yet elsewhere, non-places are sites of passage where travelers are constantly in motion but never get anywhere. Transience creates an anonymity that is strange in its familiarity. Though all is perpetually in motion, time stands still to create a cruel parody of eternity. Non-places are where we are apart by being together and together by being apart. Although seemingly local, non-places are all the same and, thus, are really nowhere....

    (pp. 21-21)

    DIRECTION IS not the same as orientation. Direction has a goal, an aim, and an end; it tells us how to get away from this place and head somewhere else. When we have no direction, we do not know where we are going. Orientation locates us in a place by establishing coordinates. Heavenly and earthly axes intersect to mark the spot: X. When we lose orientation, we do not know where we are. And when we do not know where we are, we no longer know who we are....

    (pp. 22-24)

    FROM CAVE to cathedral and temple to laboratory, the means change, but the end remains the same: life eternal. In the era of the posthuman, technology becomes eschatology. Neuropharmacology, genomics, nanobots, therapeutic cloning, somatic gene therapy, neural implants, brain porting, exosomatic memory, brains in vats, downloaded consciousness. Priests in white coats rather than black robes declare that “immortality is within our grasp.” All life becomes second life—immaterial, synthetic, virtual. To enter this New Age, we must leave body and earth behind. Fleshless redemption: mind without body, spirit without flesh, form without matter.

    This dream is as ancient as it...

    (pp. 25-25)

    “NIHILISM STANDS at the door. Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?” More than a century after Nietzsche posed this prescient question, the answer appears to be that the will to power has turned deadly with the deployment of unfettered technological reason that seeks total control by transforming the world into an instrument for the fulfillment of human desires. Earth, air, fire, water, plants, animals, even other people have become commodified resources that are exploited for human gain. In this game, however, success is failure and winners eventually become losers. The will to mastery inevitably subverts itself by destroying what...

    (pp. 26-27)

    THIS WORK, which is not a work, is called nexus. It will not have been a project, nor does it have a method. There is no plan, program, or design first envisioned and then progressively realized. I do not know why I began and have no idea how I can end. It is beginning to seem more my undoing than my doing.

    A project projects—by calculating everything in advance, it seeks conformity by imposing form designed to create order. Such order is not self-organizing but is imposed from without by an agent who is a manager rather than a...

    (pp. 29-29)

    ON STONE HILL, I have learned thatwhatwe think is in large measure a function ofwherewe think. For centuries, philosophers have been thinking indoors, sitting at a desk confined to an office that is a cell. This cell is a sensory-deprivation chamber where the body atrophies and the mind relentlessly pursues the view from nowhere. This style of thinking—and itisa style—is allergic to the outside. The only way the outdoors appears to the philosopher is through a window or in Windows. Sealed in his cell, everywhere the philosopher turns, he discovers a mirror...

  17. neXus
    (pp. 31-32)

    Binding—Unbinding—Double Binding

    neXus: the bond, link, or tie existing between members of a group or series; a means of connection between things

    Latin, fromnextere(past participle,nexus), to bind, connect

    Ned, to bind, tie

    Latin,nodus, a knot, node

    Abstract/Concrete, Active/Passive, Agitation/Stillness, Ancient/Modern, Apollo/Dionysus, Appearance/Essence, Archaic/Postmodern, Articulate/Inarticulate, Artificial/Natural, Autonomy/Entanglement, Awaiting/Waiting, Balance/Imbalance, Before/Behind, Beginning/Origin, Beside/Between, Binding/Unbinding, Bone/Flesh, Business/Leisure, Calculable/Incalculable, Care/Careless, Clean/Dirty, Clearing/Forest, Closed/Open, Closure/Disclosure, Comprehension/Apprehension, Concealing/Revealing, Conceptual/Sensible, Concern/Indifference, Conserve/Waste, Control/Release, Death/Life, Debt/Gift, Depression/Elevation, Depression/Euphoria, Destructive/Creative, Deterritorialization/Reterritorialization, Discontentment/Contentment, Disembodiment/Embodiment, Displacement/Place, Disproportion/Proportion, Dissipation/Integration, Distant/Proximate, Distraction/Concentration, Draw/Withdraw, Dusk/Dawn, Elements/Elemental, Emptiness/Fullness, Exile/Return, Expansion/Contraction, Expectation/Surprise, Explicit/Allusive, Expose/Envelop, Exterior/Interior, Fake/Real, Familiar/Strange, Figure/Disfigure, Fixed/Fluid, Forgetting/Remembering,...

  18. X
    (pp. 33-33)

    X MARKS (the) place—the crossroads, site of a crossing and doublecrossing through which meaning both emerges and is eclipsed. “Chiasma” derives from the Greekkhiázein, which means “to shape like the letter X”.

    When the word is at stake, the chiasmus is a figure of speech in which clauses are reversed. The simplest form of this rhetorical device has the structureabba, where the letters stand for grammar, words, or meaning. When the body is at stake, the chiasma is the crossing or intersection of two tracks of nerves or ligaments and the point of contact between homologous chromatids....

  19. GOD
    (pp. 34-35)

    WHAT IF God were place—notaplace but place/placing as such? After all, the Hebrew Makom, the name of God, means “Place.” If God were place, the disappearance of place would be the death of God. And, of course, vice versa. Perhaps this is the mad-man’s point:

    “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you.We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we...

  20. ART
    (pp. 36-37)

    DEED PRECEDES WORD: the practice of art is the theory of life. Far from a limited activity, art is infinite, though its occurrence is always local. The in-finity of the work of art is the unending process of its own production. The work (verb) of art is the creative activity through which particular works (noun) emerge. Art takes place by giving place to everything that is. As the endless figuring of figure and forming of form, art reproduces itself in all its productions. Like life, art is purposeless or has no purpose other than itself. The function of art is...

  21. CRAFT
    (pp. 38-38)

    CRAFT CAN be fine art. Traditionally anonymous, craft, unlike so-called fine art, is more about the art than the artist. It is not the work of genius but the product of skill cultivated over many years of apprenticeship. The craftsman is more concerned to make it right than to make it new. His work is deliberate and patient rather than spontaneous and improvisational. Masters teach apprentices ancient lessons to be passed on to future generations of students. Since the hand is essential to craft in a way that it is not for much contemporary art, the craftsman never allows others...

    (pp. 39-39)

    EVERYTHING THAT exists emerges in and through the process of figuring. The imagination puts figures in play by tracing a margin that bestows identity by defining difference. Human creativity is forever surrounded by a creativity far greater than itself. Philosophers and theologians have had it wrong for centuries—God is not the creator; creativity is God. The good news is that creativity is embodied, even incarnate, whenever and wherever figuring occurs. Never limited to or by the human imagination, creativity is at work throughout the cosmos—from the lowest to the highest, from the inanimate to the animate. Divine and...

    (pp. 40-40)

    FIGURES AND FORMS are inevitably disfigured. Discourse, Kierkegaard and Freud have taught us, is always indirect, even—perhaps especially—when it claims to be straightforward. Language is shadowed, strained, soiled by what it always leaves out. Forms are fractured, fissured, fragmented by what they necessarily include but can neither contain nor incorporate. By making a virtue of this necessity, disfiguring opens us to what we persistently overlook and deliberately strain to avoid....

  24. FAULTS
    (pp. 41-41)

    WHAT IF all forms are faulty: fractured, fissured, fragmented? open rather than closed? imperfect, not perfect? incomplete instead of complete? perhaps perfect in their imperfection, complete in their incompletion?

    Forms that seem pure and proper are always tainted, even dirty; far from defects, such faults make forms viable. If forms are living rather than dead, they cannot be closed but must be cleaved in ways that allow flows to circulate freely. Vital forms are worldly rather than otherworldly, immanent rather than transcendent—they emerge within the rifts and drifts of elements. While endlessly figuring shifty patterns, faulty forms leave gaps...

  25. DAWN
    (pp. 42-44)

    DAWN SLOWLY breaks on the Berkshire Mountains, gradually dispelling lingering darkness. The most intriguing moment in this eternal drama is not when the sun’s rays first touch the hills but the instant just before dawn when all of what will be creation hovers on the edge of emergence. It is never clear whether light makes the mountains visible or the mountains make light discernible. In the twinkling of an eye, betwixt and between not appearing and appearing, all things seem possible. Such is the hope of dawn.

    But this moment never lasts, for it appears only by disappearing. As soon...

  26. NIGHT
    (pp. 45-46)

    THERE IS not one night; there are two. The first night is the night, opposite of day, which is familiar to everyone. At the end of a long day, we welcome this night and look forward to the renewal it brings. The other night is within as well as beyond what we ordinarily know as day and night. Far from familiar, it is forever strange; never reassuring, it is endlessly fascinating. If day marks the beginning in which light dawns ever anew, the night beyond night is the origin from which day and night emerge and to which they return....

    (pp. 47-47)

    NIGHTS ON Stone Hill are so dark that you see nothing. The depth of this darkness makes sounds more vivid. If you have not heard coyotes howling on crisp autumn nights, you have not fathomed darkness. One night years ago, I heard coyotes shrieking near the house; but by the time I cast the floodlight on the field, they were gone. The next morning, our cat did not return.

    Determined to see what I cannot see, I bought an infrared, motion-sensitive camera to take photographs at night. Night after night, I carefully mounted the camera on a tree and scattered...

    (pp. 48-49)

    “GARDENS ARE as much an intellectual space as the library.” This is in large part because gardening is a form of writing. Hoes and rakes are pencils and pens cultivating furrows that are rarely straight. Each garden has its own grammar, vocabulary, and style. Trees, shrubs, and bushes frame the work; herbs and flowers—some annuals, others perennials—provide the words; placement and arrangement create the style. Why one shrub or tree is right and another wrong, one place is right and another wrong remains a mystery. The beauty of a garden is not only how it looks but also...

    (pp. 51-51)

    THE PLACEMENT of rocks in a garden remains as mysterious as the earth from which they come and to which they return. Odd, never even. Four inches to the left is right; six inches to the right is wrong. Eighteen inches high is too tall; fourteen inches, too short; sixteen inches, just right. Never mix, always match—no limestone with quartz, no marble with granite. Neither too close nor too far, but someplace in between. Why does one placement work and another does not? There is no rational explanation, nor does intuition answer the question. Something else is at work...

  30. FOLLY
    (pp. 52-52)

    ALL OF this is, of course, (a) folly—a peculiarly contemporary folly. Totally crazy, an obsession bordering on madness. No Roman or Chinese temple, no Gothic towers, no Romantic ruins. There are, however, pyramids, though they are flawed—broken and inverted. It all has become so excessive and extravagant. I did not plan it this way; somehow, things just got out of control. Hours, days, weeks, years of unproductive labor. And for what? It’s all useless. Then there is the expense: the books do not balance; there will be no return on this expenditure. But I have no regrets because...

    (pp. 53-53)

    WHAT BEGINS with abstraction and formalization ends with digitization and virtualization: from pyramids, cubes, spheres, and cones to code and polygons. Matter becomes form; stuff becomes code; sense becomes concept; place becomes placeless. The garden is invaded by a machine that is first mechanical and then digital. When numbers are all that count, what can be neither calculated nor coded seems unreal. Abstraction seeks an Archimedean point from which everything can be comprehended. But this ideal can never be realized—forms and codes eventually lose touch with what really matters. “A placeless world,” we discover, “is as unthinkable as a...

  32. BODY
    (pp. 54-54)

    THERE IS no body without place and no place without body; body and place are extensions of each other—one makes the other what it is. Never complete or proper, the body is leaky, porous, permeable—an open enclosure and enclosed opening. This tissue of tissues is a nexus that channels the circulation of vital elements, at least for a while. These flows always become excessive—they cannot be contained or controlled and, thus, inevitably leave the body messy and dirty. A clean body is a dead body. Inner and outer are folded into each other like a Möbius strip...

  33. FLESH
    (pp. 55-55)

    FLESH IS not a substance—it is the tissue that holds things in place by weaving them together until all is entwined, enmeshed, sometimes even enamored. Although bodies are always local, flesh is the universal fabric that lends life its texture. Organic and inorganic are woven together in pulsating rhythms that never cease....

    (pp. 56-56)

    WHO IS parasite? Who is host? The cat eats the mouse; the coyote eats the cat; the hunter shoots the coyote that was eating his steer before he could slaughter and eat it.

    Parasite ↔ Host ↔ Parasite ↔ Host ↔ Parasite

    Every meal is the Last Supper until the earth consumes all....

  35. SENSE
    (pp. 57-57)

    SENSE IS not sensible but is what makes signification and meaning possible. Sense apprehendsthatsomething is without knowingwhatit is. Neither word nor concept, sense is the blind spot of thinking that clears a place for consciousness while leaving it incomplete. To be sensible is to be exposed to what is never at your disposal because it always arrives from a distance too close to be present. We do not make sense; sense makes us....

  36. COLOR
    (pp. 58-58)

    COLOR BAFFLES. It is neither outside nor inside, neither world nor eye, neither body nor mind, but someplace in between. Neither substance nor accident, it is a constantly changing interactive event. No color can be itself by itself. Where or when does one color end and another begin? Color is (a play of differences that is) always local. Watching constantly changing colors on Stone Hill, I have come to realize that it is not so much that places are colorful but that color is always placed. Color belongs to place as much as place belongs to color....

  37. TOUCH
    (pp. 59-59)

    WE HAVE lost touch with touch. When the real appears virtual, matter no longer seems to matter. Reality loses its gravity, thickness, and depth and becomes a pale shadow of what it once seemed to be. Although this loss may be mourned, it is impossible to return to the real unless the real first returns by touching us. The sense of touch breaks the spell of solipsism by restoring the texture of things. To touch is always already to have been touched—like earth rising to meet an extended hand and leaving its dirty trace as a reminder of what...

  38. SMELL
    (pp. 60-60)

    THE SCENTS of Stone Hill fill my mind with memories that transport me to times long forgotten. There are people and places whose images I cannot remember but whose smells I recall. When we are deep in thought, an unexpected odor can disrupt concentration yet deepen reflection. Some smells are pleasant—newly cut grass, damp pine needles, freshly turned soil. Others are not—a rotting deer carcass, a skinned fox, a startled skunk. Smell not only recalls the past but also grounds the present and even transports us to the future. If I close my eyes and cover my ears,...

    (pp. 61-61)

    WE APPREHEND things we cannot comprehend, and, thus, thinking always remains open to the unexpected. Apprehension is an ambient awareness of a tacit dimension charged with latency. Since boundaries, borders, and limits are always porous, everything is surrounded by a penumbra of obscurity. Apprehension does not seek to grasp but responds to solicitations that can never be anticipated. Neither sensible nor meaningful, what is apprehended forms the matrix in which sense and meaning emerge. Thinking is the aftereffect of apprehension, and this enduring debt leaves us apprehensive....

    (pp. 62-62)

    THE THINKING that matters cannot be programmed or calculated. It not merely imposes order but also accepts what is given as given. Thought, therefore, is never original but is always an afterthought of some thing that necessarily eludes its grasp. This thing, which is not precisely a thing, is the real. There is no thought without the real, but the real itself can never be thought. Thus thinking inevitably is surrounded by a cloud of unknowing. Instead of pursuing what can be calculated in advance, real thinking endlessly figures its own impossibility....

    (pp. 63-63)

    WHEN APPEARANCES are no longer apparent, there is a depth to surface that renders it profound. Scrape away one surface and another emerges, until we eventually realize that it’s surface all the way down and all the way in. There is no bottom line to provide certainty, security, safety. Each surface has a new wrinkle that complicates what once seemed obvious. If everything is superficial, the problem is not the absence of meaning but the infinite proliferation of meanings....

    (pp. 64-64)

    EVERYTHING IS a matter of seaming: connecting and disconnecting, matching and mismatching, coming together and drifting apart—like a tear that does not tear. Seams mark and re-mark the edge of being and nonbeing. The more elegant the seam and tighter the fit, the more graceful the thing. When seams are carved in stone, they breathe life into what had long seemed inert objects. If you listen to the silence of seams, you can hear the breath of stones....

    (pp. 65-65)

    THERE IS no other world of which this world is a faint shadow, no perfect world from which this world has fallen. Appearances are not apparent—appearing as such is real. Worlds beyond are created by those who cannot bear the reality of this world of appearances. The real is not elsewhere—it is here and now as what is always appearing and disappearing. This is the truth of incarnation....

  44. HUMAN
    (pp. 66-66)

    TO BE human is to be mortal, and to be mortal is to be of the earth. “Humanity is not a species; it is a connection with the humus.” Humus—earth, ground, soil. But not just any earth; humus is a black organic substance consisting of partially or wholly decayed vegetable matter that produces nutrients that allow plants to grow. The human is the nexus of life and death—never one without the other. Perhaps this is why Kierkegaard insists that “death is a good dancing partner.”

    With death forever haunting us, the challenges of life should be met with...

  45. REAL
    (pp. 67-67)

    THE REAL is what remains when I do not and forever withdraws in my presence. Resisting my resistance without opposition, the real is the limit that makes creativity possible. Thinking is always after the real, which can never be properly comprehended, calculated, or controlled....

  46. GRACE
    (pp. 69-69)

    “WHEN NOW and again a stone falls into a place that is utterly inevitable,” master craftsman Dan Snow reflects, “I feel I am suddenly standing under a shower of grace. For an instant I become inevitable, too. I share the compatibility that stone finds with stone. If I’m lucky, it happens a lot. Then again, some days it doesn’t happen at all. Grace may fall in the next moment or never again. I know only that if I put myself with stone, it may happen again.”

    Although seemingly inevitableaprès coup, grace is always gratuitous, completely a matter of chance....

  47. BLISS
    (pp. 70-70)

    “BLISS IS not whatcorresponds todesire (what satisfies it) but what surprises, exceeds, disturbs, deflects it.” Like the subtle shades of dawn falling on a mountain seen through the prism of a tiny melting icicle....

  48. POINT
    (pp. 71-72)

    . . . EVERYTHING begins and ends in a point. Tzimtzum,Bindu, Degree Zero. It is a matter of drawing and withdrawing. Point becomes line becomes plane becomes solid becomes plane becomes line becomes point. Expansion and contraction mark the place where placing occurs. The lure of the point is what is always missing . . ....

    (pp. 73-73)

    THE SCANDAL of particularity is the delight of place. The particular has an eloquence that the abstract lacks. Such-and-such a place, such-and-such a time. Never repeatable, always new; never the same, always different. The particular is so specific and so fleeting that it must be glimpsed, never grasped. The closer we look, the more we realize that the particular is not set apart; its fingers stretch into its surroundings, whose fingers stretch into it. Nothing is itself by itself; everything is related in an endless play of differences—like ever-shifting hues on an endless spectrum or constantly changing notes on...

    (pp. 74-75)

    WHAT GIVES when a photograph is taken? Photographing does not produce pictures that represent what is no longer present but creates images that trace the presencing of presence. In the blink of an eye, the photograph exposes appearances as appearing. Place and time intersect in the photograph; for images to be effective, aperture and shutter speed must be carefully calibrated. The tighter the focus, the greater the resolution; the greater the resolution, the deeper the insight into the unfathomable play of surfaces. Even though it is still, the photograph is the medium for the event of appearing. The camera not...

    (pp. 76-77)

    WITHOUT WHY, without use, without purpose, without end. Uselessness, purposelessness, and endlessness lend wildflowers—and everything else—their beauty. This “without” harbors an absence that is not a void but an excessive fullness. Wildflowers are not planned or planted but are justthere. Although seeming to have been deliberately designed, their beauty is utterly gratuitous, completely superfluous—a matter of grace that can be accepted only as an inexplicable gift. What makes this gift so baffling is that such ostentatious display is given even in the absence of anyone to receive it. The moment in which the glory of a...

    (pp. 78-78)

    THE INFINITE is not opposed to the finite, nor is it elsewhere—above, below, past, or future. It is always placed (here and now). If it were opposed to the finite, the infinite would not be infinite but would be limited by whatever it does not include. Immeasurably grand and incalculably minute, the infinite is infinitesimal and the infinitesimal is infinite. Always double, the infinite and the finite fold into each other like intersecting Möbius strips whose loops almost meet. What is the value of infinity when it is doubled?...

    (pp. 79-79)

    THERE IS no visibility without the invisible and no invisibility without the visible. The tear in vision is the opening that simultaneously makes sight possible and leaves it incomplete. What we see is never all we get; there is always more, and this more, which is less, is what keeps us coming back again and again and again. The shadow of invisibility makes the visible both inexhaustible and infinitely intriguing. When art works, it reveals the specter of blindness without which insight is impossible....

  54. HOLES
    (pp. 80-80)

    HOLES ARE what the pit is about. Stone can never fill the hole because holes place stones as much as stones displace holes. Hole and stone: Which is figure, and which is ground? The oscillation and alternation between stone and hole is the trace of another hole:

    The cutting blade of sunlight shaving Africa;

    Pipe smoke curling slowly upwards, a cobra’s ghost;

    The child’s black pupil with its coffin shine.

    A hole within a hole that’s through a hole.

    This “hole within a hole that’s through a hole” is the pit that is the place of the real....

    (pp. 81-81)

    SHADOWS ARE shades of difference that lend everything and everybody substance by rendering them double. Duplicity reveals the lingering obscurity in all transparency. The play of the infinite: shadows figuring ground figuring shadows. Is shadow the absence of light or light the absence of shadow? Shadows define the real by tracing the seam between the visible and the invisible....

  56. NEAR
    (pp. 82-82)

    WHAT IS near is never present, nor is it absent. It approaches by withdrawing and withdraws by approaching. The near is not opposed to the far; rather, distance is folded into proximity in a knot that cannot be untied. There is an intimacy to nearness that eludes words. Who can speak clearly about what is nearest to her? The closer we draw to the near, the more it slips away; the closer the near draws to us, the more restless we become....

  57. TRACKS
    (pp. 83-83)

    WHERE DO the animals go when winter snow drifts? Deer, bears, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, groundhogs, turkeys—all disappear. But they leave tracks that trace their absence. When the snow is deep, the night is silent, and the woods are still—nothing moves on Stone Hill. Holes are dug deep in the snow, and on some mornings fresh tracks surround them, but the mice, squirrels, and chipmunks are nowhere to be seen. As the creaking and cracking of thawing earth give way to the rush of flowing streams, fresh tracks appear long before the creatures that left them. One night the...

  58. GHOSTS
    (pp. 84-85)

    THE MEMORY of a place is not so much our memory of it as its memory of us. We do nothavememories; rather, memories surround, invade, and possess us. Never floating freely, memories are bound to a place and borne by ghosts—some holy, some unholy. Although not silent, ghosts never talk to one another. Drifting here and there and looking for someone to haunt, they ceaselessly stir without leaving a trace. Their desire—yes, ghosts do desire—is not to talk to us but to speak through us. Before we realize it, these specters from the land of...

  59. NOT
    (pp. 86-86)

    WHY NOT? Why so many nots? Not this, not that, not anything? The question of the not is older than thought itself, for it is impossible to think without already having thought not. To think not is to think what cannot be thought, which is not the same as not thinking. The not binds thinking to the unthinkable, which marks the limit without which thought is impossible. Real thinking thinks (the) not....

    (pp. 87-87)

    WE LIVE in the Age of Distraction, when thoughtful reflection has become almost impossible. Churn and buzz keep mind as well as body constantly in motion, with no place to land. Like water striders skimming across the surface of a pond, we are afraid to stop lest we sink. Fast rather than slow, short rather than long, loud rather than quiet, easy rather than difficult. Chatter does not cease, even if the plug is pulled. When always online, to focus too long or concentrate too hard is to miss the real action. What people most seem to fear is the...

    (pp. 88-88)

    SOME DAYS on Stone Hill are boring—nothing happens, and, thus, nothing matters. But what does it mean for nothing to happen or nothing to matter? When we are bored, time does not just slow down but is suspended—as if eternity had shattered the moment, and the world as a whole slips away. This nothing is not merely the absence of this or that, the lack of what has been or might be there; it is more profound, more elusive, more troubling. The nothing that matters is the void in the midst of everything that renders (the) all meaningless....

    (pp. 89-89)

    OUR AGE is addicted to speed—not speed for the sake of efficiency, not speed for the sake of productivity, but speed for the sake of speed. According to the gospel of speed, the quick shall inherit the earth. The ever-new new thing creates insatiable desire, even though there is no need. As division infinitely multiplies, nanoseconds create unreal real time. Patience gives way to impatience; delays and deferrals become unbearable. Everything keeps accelerating until we approach escape velocity, which seems to leave the material world behind. At the outer limit of speed, an unexpected transvaluation of values occurs. The...

    (pp. 91-91)

    THE REAL is hiding in plain sight—like a purloined letter sitting on the mantle or a stone outcropping long covered with moss, grass, weeds, and brush. Showing by hiding, hiding by showing. Strip away the surface, and another surface is folded into depths that are insecure and unfathomable. Being always exceeds manifestation. The rock appears unexpectedly like a monstrous leviathan bursting from the depths of the ancient sea that once filled this valley. Waves are frozen in petrified lines hidden longer than scientists can calculate. Revelation comes not only from the heavens above but also from what has always...

  64. FUZZY
    (pp. 92-92)

    THE LOGIC of place is fuzzy—not clear, not precise; or, perhaps, clear in its obscurity, precise in its imprecision. The principle of non-contradiction (either/or) does not hold because every place is contradictory, even self-contradictory. When opposites mingle without uniting, lines of separation cannot be drawn cleanly. If thinkingaboutplace is to be precise, it must be rigorously fuzzy....

    (pp. 93-93)

    WHAT IF biology were geometric and geometry were organic? Angles would no longer be right, and figures would lose their edge; lines would twist, bend, curve, and turn but would not break. Forms would no longer be abstract, closed, and fixed but would morph in unexpected ways to create unimagined shapes. Order would not disappear but would be different; calculations would be recalibrated, measures changed. We would have to learn to yield, not force; respond, not react; comply, not compel....

  66. TIME
    (pp. 94-95)

    TIME IS not one but many—times are layered on and folded into one another, overlapping without coming together: linear/cyclical, mechanical/organic, digital/analog, cosmic/earthly, prehistoric/historic, modern/postmodern, global/local, inhuman/human. Which time is real, and which is not?

    Saint Augustine once confessed, “What then is time? I know what it is if no one asks me what it is; but if I want to explain it to someone who has asked me, I find that I do not know.” The longer he mused, the more puzzled he became until he finally concluded, It is incorrect to say that there are three times—past,...

    (pp. 96-97)

    TO BE is to be on edge. Imbalance, not balance; disequilibrium, not equilibrium; disproportion, not proportion. Every point is a tipping point where pleasure and pain become indistinguishable. Tension creates vitality; restlessness keeps things moving. When tomorrow is yesterday, life is over. Com-place-ncy is death....

  68. SNOW
    (pp. 98-98)

    THE COLOR of nothing, I suspect, is white. White like the whale:

    Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind, with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?


  69. WINTER
    (pp. 99-99)

    WHEN WINTER comes unexpectedly early, it appears as sheer grace. Radar cannot see everything—predictions sometimes fail; surprise, astonishment, and wonder are still possible. Snow falling before the lawn’s last mowing covers tall grass and bright autumn leaves, bending branches to the breaking point until they snap and release what sounds like gunshots that echo through the woods. Apples and pears not yet fallen are capped with snow and look like ice cream cones awaiting giddy children. The suddenness with which fall’s rustle gives way to winter’s stillness is jarring. Something is ending, and something is beginning. Snow blanketing the...

  70. SPRING
    (pp. 100-101)

    CHANGE. As always, it’s a matter of light or its absence. Morning and evening light change so gradually that we do not notice it, until one day we realize that spring is near. Its approach breeds impatience—spring delayed is desire deferred. Often I hear spring before I see it. Red-winged blackbirds return and perch on last year’s cat-o’-nine-tails in the upper pond, calling to mates they cannot see. The surest sign of spring, however, is the sound of peepers. When days grow warm, a single chirp quickly grows to a melodious chorus that fills the emptiness of night. My...

  71. SUMMER
    (pp. 102-102)

    IN LATE afternoon, the heat steadily rises, and high billowy clouds drift over the mountains from the west. As night falls, distant thunder begins to rumble softly, and the horizon flashes intermittently like strobe lights at a disco party. Around midnight, the storm arrives. Thunder explodes, bouncing off the hills and rattling the windows; bolts of lightning dart across the sky, and the whole valley—cast in a strange light that is neither heavenly nor earthly—flares before our eyes. Like crooked arrows seeking their target, heavenly fire takes aim at the eye of the pit sunk deep into the...

  72. FALL
    (pp. 103-103)

    FALL ON Stone Hill is unlike the season anyplace else. It begins when a monarch butterfly gently settles on a milkweed pod, gathering nourishment for its long trip south. While Canada geese fly low, honking at dawn and dusk, squirrels and chipmunks gather nuts and seeds and noisily hide them in the walls of the barn. Deer return from summer vacation until hunters drive them back to the mountains. Coyotes leave their lairs to stalk unsuspecting flocks of turkeys. Days shorten, nights grow colder, and stars draw closer until you can almost reach out and touch them. Kant was right...

  73. EXCESS
    (pp. 104-104)

    NATURE’S EXCESS is terrifying. It is too much, always too much. Too many seeds to produce a tree, too many worms to work the earth, too many tadpoles to create a frog, too many sperm to fertilize an egg, too many people born to die. Fecundity, profusion, and abundance pushed to the point of absurdity. This wasteful economy renders life so cheap that redemption seems all but impossible....

    (pp. 105-105)

    THE WRINKLED surface of rock long buried beneath the earth is the anonymous face of indifference. My life does not matter to this rock of ages. It was there long before my birth and will be there long after my death. The indifference of rock puts us in our place by disclosing a place that can never be our own. Although dreadful, this indifference may be the only remaining comfort in a world the gods long ago deserted. There is, after all, freedom in accepting that we will be forgotten....

    (pp. 106-106)

    THE COUNTENANCE of stone is the guise of the inhuman. It is not so much the anonymity as the indifference that is haunting. Creases and crevices are wrinkles in a face that stares at us but sees nothing. Tiny fossils of life from ancient depths are mere blemishes that rain and wind gradually wipe away. This past is our future. Every rock is a gravestone awaiting an inscription that will be erased....

    (pp. 107-107)

    BEFORE THE beginning, there is abandonment. I am, we are, abandoned, not once but again and again and again. Being comes to pass as abandonment—to be is to have been abandoned. Nothing abandons, yet there is abandonment; abandonment occurs as having taken place without ever taking (a) place. Always already past, abandonment remains shrouded in oblivion. I can no more remember the primal event that allows me to be than I can anticipate the ultimate event that allows me not to be.

    Since abandonment happens before the beginning, I am forever after—after the past that was never present...

    (pp. 108-108)

    THERE IS no culture without cultivation. Thinking is an art that remains grounded in earth, even when it tries to escape its material conditions. The more cultured the person, the farther he tries to distance himself from humble beginnings. When local dialect gives way to cosmopolitan speech, it is impossible to know where anyone comes from. The more refined the person, the more rarefied her airs, until she eventually loses touch and forgets who she is. In cultured society, words all too often are pretentious, and language is a web woven to deceive. To unravel this tissue of deceit, thinking...

    (pp. 109-109)

    THERE IS much that can be known only through practice. Practice cultivates an awareness that eludes words but shapes thought. Thinking has a rhythm of its own that can be courted but not coerced. Practice is where physical work and mental play meet. Repetition attunes body and mind to alternative registers that can be communicated only indirectly. Practice always requires a specific place—there is a place for practice and a practice of place. We do not know a place until it becomes part of our practice....

  79. RAKING
    (pp. 110-110)

    RAKING IS a ritual that attunes us to the earth’s patterns and rhythms. It is best done alone and in silence. As the to-and-fro of the rake follows the lay of the land, the mind slips into a meditative state in which motion becomes rest. In this moment, it is no longer clear where body ends and earth begins....

    (pp. 111-111)

    WE HAVE forgotten how to walk and, thus, no longer know how to think. Some of the most arresting modern philosophers have thought most perceptively on their feet—Kierkegaard, Kant, Rousseau, Benjamin, Heidegger, Serres. Walking paces thought by setting the body in motion and giving the mind enough time to stray, wander, err. “Saunter,” after all, derives fromsanteren, which means “to muse.” We cannot know a place until we walk it. The best time to walk on Stone Hill is late afternoon when the sun is setting. Not just any walking will do—the walking that matters most has...

  81. STONES
    (pp. 112-112)

    “HANDLING STONE,” the poet Gary Snyder once told Jack Kerouac, “is a way to pay attention to the earth.” For those attentive to what is usually overlooked, a mysticism of matter is revealed in stone: “The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, fire, wood, the more spiritual the world is.”Tat tvam asi. Minerals circulate through our bodies, and our bodies eventually nourish the earth that nourishes us. Individual stones seem solid but when artfully assembled, flow freely. As with so many things, the beauty of stone is in the details. Subtle colors, imaginative shapes, curious cracks, and...

    (pp. 113-113)

    WHAT IF God is found in earth rather than heaven? Perhaps even on or in rock:

    Moses said to God, “Please show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

    Rock. Rock of Ages. Hard enough to stand...

  83. MARBLE
    (pp. 114-114)

    THE SURFACING whale turns out to be marble. The dusty beige skin is chipped to reveal ancient whiteness. Not just any stone but Stockbridge Marble thrust westward from ocean depths off the coast of Nantucket, where Ishmael, Ahab, and Starbuck once lived. Nearby Stockbridge, where Thoreau visited and Wharton, Melville, and Hawthorne lived and wrote. Did they collect fragments of this stone as they climbed Mount Greylock? Did Melville first see the whiteness of the whale in the face of this marble? Is this the marble that Hawthorne’s Ethan Brand burned in his lime kiln on the other side of...

    (pp. 115-115)

    NOT ALL streams and rivers flow with freshwater from falling rain, hidden springs, or melting snow. Some are dry rivers of stone filled with debris gathered from glaciers, mountainsides, and valley floors. Although seemingly static, they flow imperceptibly, slowly eroding hard edges and carrying even the heaviest boulders with them. Moraines are where the striated and the smooth are woven together to create moiré patterns vibrating with intensity. To the patient eye, this tapestry never remains the same....

    (pp. 116-116)
    (pp. 117-117)

    “THE VOICE of stone,” the seasoned waller tells us,

    is an echo from the depths of time. The language is lost to our ears but something of its essence can be translated through touch. Stone speaks through the hands when a dry stone construction is created, because touch, being the oldest of our senses, is most sensitive to its language. Seeing is really just a way to touch beyond the arm’s reach. Having an eye for stone, and it’s said dry stone wallers do, is to have sight that has been schooled by the fingertips. With every stone lifted from...

    (pp. 118-119)

    WE LONG for the elemental more than the elements. The elemental is the beginning and the end figured and refigured by earth, air, fire, and water. A primal, even archaic, source that is always receding, the elemental is the vanishing ground of whatever is and whatever is not. Sending every present, it is always on the way, yet never arrives. That is why we are forever after it—always in its wake, ever in its pursuit. The elemental is not the sub-stance of the world because it lies between rather than beneath. Neither event nor stuff, the elemental is the...

  88. EARTH
    (pp. 121-121)

    THE LONGER I dwell on Stone Hill, the more I realize that earth is a place that is a condition. It is the abyssal ground through which (the) all everlastingly flows. Nothing is stable, nothing static; everything is hollow at its core. Earth is alive—it gives and takes and gives again, living through us even as we live through it. Like an ancient alchemist laboring in underground furnaces, earth transforms humus into humans, who, in turn, become humus for others. If hope is unearthly, it is unreal. To be of earth is to be mortal, and to remain faithful...

  89. AIR
    (pp. 122-122)

    “THE MEASURE of a garden is the air that clings to it.” The magic of a garden makes the invisible visible without dispelling its mystery. “An ocean of air, miles deep, slides, swirls, and curls around the skin of the planet. Garden atmosphere is a bubble of refinement in the sea of air that washes over us. It is a permeable capsule clarified by the absorption and reflection of the garden colors, textures, and aromas.” To see these colors, feel these textures, and smell these aromas, we must let the garden circulate through us....

  90. WIND
    (pp. 123-123)

    HOW DO you capture wind? It cannot be photographed; video shows its effects but not wind itself. Try to record it, but, when played back, the sound is never right. In fall, it whistles; in winter, it howls; in, spring, it stirs; in summer, it rustles. Sometimes wind’s bursts are short; other times it howls relentlessly for days and nights. Wind defies gravity by increasing speed as it rises; it wears away the hardest rock and fells the strongest trees. Some days when it hits the house, it explodes like a rogue wave crashing on a rock-strewn strand. One Memorial...

  91. FIRE
    (pp. 124-124)

    ON THE shortest and longest nights of the year, axes are aligned, the perfectly symmetrical pit is prepared, and wood is collected. As the sun slips behind the mountain, family and friends gather, a match is struck, and a fire is ignited. Gods and spirits ancient and modern join those gathered around the flames to reenact a ritual as ancient as humanity itself. In this fire, the terror of the universe has not yet fossilized, and heat generates passion that is never satisfied. Creation and destruction, Eros and Thanatos, life and death, altar and pyre, purification and pollution, heaven and...

  92. WATER
    (pp. 125-125)

    MEDITATION AND WATER are forever wed. Water is older than creation and, perhaps, more ancient than God. Always there, yet having no place of its own, water is thefons et origioof life itself. There is no life without water; indeed, life itself is a fluid medium. That is why ancient philosophers regarded water as the creative essence of everything.

    But that is not the whole story; water destroys as well as nourishes. Ancient myths represent water as the monstrous source of chaos that must be monitored and mastered. Marduk creates by slaying the water monster Tiamat, and God’s...

  93. RAIN
    (pp. 126-126)

    IN LATE JULY, the grass turns brown and brittle, and the earth cracks like peeling paint on a plaster wall. Day after day, the sun beats down until ponds dry up and wells run dry. Some nights bring thunder and lightning but never any rain. Plants shrivel, and many die; leaves fall from trees far too early. Dust from the parched streambed swirls in clouds that offer no relief. In the West, wildfires burn for months, each year worse than the last. Summer turns to fall, fall to winter, and winter to spring—and still rain does not come....

  94. ICE
    (pp. 127-127)

    ICE IS a lens that exposes the fuzzy by magnifying flows. When we glimpse the world through ice, things are distorted in ways that refocus attention. Depths appear deeper and darker; mountains fade to sky and sky to mountains until the two seem to be one. The enigmatic color along the erased horizon is neither earthly nor heavenly but something far more mysterious. A winter stream rushing over rocks beneath ice comes alive with morphing forms that seem to be living. Looking at rather than through ice, we discover intricate designs that no human hand could have drawn. Surfaces become...

  95. WOOD
    (pp. 128-128)

    FORM AND MATTER—morpheandhyle. Trees and roots, etymological and genealogical as well as biological. Aristotle named the primordial soup from which the world was formedhyle, which in Greek originally meant “forest” rather than “matter.” For reasons that remain obscure, the Romans translated Aristotle’shyleasmateriainstead ofsilva, thereby setting off endless chains of association.Materiaderives from the same root asmater, which means “mother.”Hyle. . .silva. . .materia. . .mater. Wood becomes matter, which, like a blank page, awaits inscription.

    This story is as ancient as it...

  96. FOREST
    (pp. 129-129)

    ON STONE HILL, the forest is not primeval. Growth is always second growth, third growth, fourth growth . . . : “a piece of land worked on, lived on, grown over, plowed under, and stitched again and again, with fingers or with leaves, in and out and into human life’s thin weave.” Trails that the Mohawk cut on Stone Hill while making their way to the Hudson River have long since disappeared. The remains of the fort that once guarded the western frontier of the territory cannot be found. But traces of pastures where sheep grazed less than a century...

  97. FLOWS
    (pp. 130-131)

    PERHAPS WHILE hiking up Mount Greylock, Thoreau paused to write,

    All things seemed with us to flow; the shore itself, and the distant cliffs, were dissolved by the undiluted air. The hardest material seemed to obey the same law with the most fluid, and so indeed in the long run it does. Trees were but rivers of sap and woody fiber, flowing from the atmosphere, and emptying into the earth by their trunks, as roots flowed upward to the surface. And in the heavens there were rivers of stars, and milky-ways, already beginning to gleam and ripple over our heads....

    (pp. 132-132)

    HARD OR SOFT: Which is more powerful, more effective? Hard is stubborn, but soft is relentless. Stone and rock, or water and wind? The inorganic becoming organic, the organic becoming inorganic. Lichens eat granite, the hardest of stones. Hard turns soft. Rain and wind slowly wear away rocks protruding from the earth until silt washes down streams and rivers and settles on distant ocean floors. As years pass, soft turns hard. But then the ground unexpectedly trembles and plates erupt, bringing everything full circle without closing the loop. Hard or Soft? It’s always a draw....

    (pp. 133-133)

    SILENCE IS as rare as it is essential. When was the last time you really heard silence? How long has it been since you saw a person sitting alone in silence? How often do you leave earphones and cell phone at home? Silence is disappearing as fast as the darkness dispersed by city lights. This loss is no accident—people have come to fear silence because it rends the veil of distraction that noise creates. But not all silence threatens; indeed, sometimes pauses are pregnant. In some places, silence can be an emptiness that is, paradoxically, full. You do not...

    (pp. 134-134)

    SOLITUDE IS what everyone has in common and, as such, constitutes our essential humanity. Isolation separates and individualizes; solitude relates and universalizes. Far from suppressing singularity, solitude cultivates the singular as its necessary condition. While singularity makes each of us unique and thus irreplaceable, it is not the source of our identity because the singular can never be identified as such. It is utterly idiomatic and, therefore, is inevitably lost in translation. Since the untranslatable cannot be communicated, what I hold in common with others is the incommunicability that binds us together by holding us apart. The silence of the...

  101. WASTE
    (pp. 135-135)

    MUCH OF what matters most in life is considered (a) waste—a waste of time, a waste of effort, a waste of money. Like spending years composing a symphony that no one ever hears, spending a life writing a book that no one ever reads, or spending thousands of dollars creating gardens and sculptures that no one ever sees. Senseless.

    But what if values shift between noon and the evening of life? Perhaps the prudent calculation of life’s noon is the real waste of time, and the expense of pursuing the incalculable as evening draws near is all that makes...

  102. PYRAMID
    (pp. 136-136)

    THE PYRAMID—so complex in its simplicity. From prehistory to the New Age, the pyramid has been the locus of power. Its form is pure, even primal; its matter is stone, sometimes metal. Mathematics, some maintain, was born in the shadow of the pyramid. What is this shadow? Where is this shadow?

    A place where opposites meet: light and darkness, death and life, tomb and altar.

    Pyramid: Latin,pyramis, pyraGreek,puramis, pura—funeral pyre

    Some have a point; others do not. Some are labyrinthine tombs whose sealed crypts render everything cryptic. Others are altars of sacrifice where meaning is...

  103. PIT
    (pp. 137-137)

    EARTH AND SKY meet in the eye of the pit whose axes are celestial as well as terrestrial. The X of the pit locates place by measuring time and marks time by tracing the place of shadows. A circle within a circle, this eye is open to both heaven and hell. This is the margin along which life is lived. Not merely an object among objects, the pit refigures Wallace Stevens’s “poem within a poem,” which, like a jar placed on a Tennessee hill, “assembles a world”:

    The wilderness rose up to it,

    And sprawled around, no longer wild.


  104. SIGN
    (pp. 138-138)

    THERE IS a pit in the midst of the pyramid—a place that remains open even when it is sealed. A closed opening and an open closure is the sign of the sign that is the grave. If we are patient enough to listen, words tell stories. The Greek wordsemameans both “sign” and “grave.” Sign as grave—grave as sign. The death or the rebirth of meaning? Is the grave empty or full? If the stone cannot be rolled back and the seal broken, all remains uncertain....

    (pp. 139-140)

    THE FIRST snow of the season covered rocks and stream, creating an image reminiscent of an impressionist canvas. As dusk began to fall, the huge owl that hoots loudly on moonlit winter nights swooped down and settled on the snow. After a few minutes, the owl began a strange hopping movement, and a red squirrel dangling from his claws appeared. For more than half an hour, the owl struggled to drag the dead body across the snow-covered rock garden and eventually disappeared into the nearby woods. The next morning, the owl’s tracks and a thin trail of the squirrel’s blood...

  106. BURIAL
    (pp. 141-142)

    WE DO not know who we are until we know the place where we will be buried. For the first time in history, most people have no idea where they will be buried or where their ashes will be scattered, and, thus, they do not know who they are. The placelessness of the dead is a symptom of the nomadism of contemporary life. To regain our bearings, it is necessary to mark the place of our own burial. Not “Here I stand” but “Here I will lie.”...

  107. BONES
    (pp. 143-143)

    BONES ARE what remain—what remain of the remains. Even when bodies are consumed in sacrificial fires or funeral pyres, bones or their fragments are left over. Bones embody a disturbing coincidence of the personal and the impersonal. Nothing is closer to us than our bones. Indeed, bones are the substance of our very being; for those who know how to read them, bones tell the stories of the lives they once supported. And yet, for all their individuality and idiosyncrasy, there is something terrifyingly inhuman about bones. They allow silence to speak through their anonymity. Instead of recalling the...

  108. RELICS
    (pp. 144-145)

    My necklace and ornaments are of human bones; I dwell among the ashes of the dead and eat my food in human skulls. . . . We drink liquor out of the skulls of Brahmans; our sacred fires are fed with the brains and lungs of men mixed up with their flesh, and human victims covered with the fresh blood gushing from the dreadful wound in their throats, are the offerings by which we appease the terrible god [Maha Bhairava]....

  109. DEATH
    (pp. 146-146)

    DEATH IS not merely the end of being but hides within life as its necessary condition. It is impossible to affirm life without embracing death. Death, coiled in life, is forever fraught with paradox. Although sometime in the future I will undoubtedly be dead, dying is impossible. I never die because when I am present, death is not; when death is present, I am not. Death always occurs in the blink of an eye. Never actually present, it borders life as the horizon that approaches without ever arriving. Paradoxically, death is the future that cannot become present but someday will...

  110. PRAYER
    (pp. 147-147)
    (pp. 149-149)

    GOD IS not the creator—creativity is divine. Never merely an intentional act, creativity in the absence of the creator is an eternal process immanent in earthly events. Individual agents and occasions are the vehicles rather than the origins of creativity. Coming from an elsewhere that is always near but never present, creativity circulates through us like the air we breathe and the water we drink. Perhaps this is why creativity has long been associated with spirit. Its rhythms are its own—arriving unannounced and departing without notice. The event of creation cannot be planned, prescribed, or programmed; it appears...

    (pp. 150-150)

    THERE ARE two economies—one profane, one sacred. The first is rational, practical, and prudent; everything is planned, programmed, and calculated in advance. No investments without the expectation of reasonable returns, no risk without the probability of reward. It is a matter of counting and accounting, and at the end of the day the books are supposed to balance.

    The second is irrational, impractical, and imprudent. Never thrifty, it is profligate and expenditure is always excessive. Nothing is calculated in advance, and no matter how great the investment, there is no expectation of any return. Beauty lasting an instant that...

  113. WAITING
    (pp. 151-152)

    TO REMAIN open to the unexpected, it is necessary to wait without awaiting. Awaiting, like fear, is directed—it has a specific object or objective. Waiting, like dread, is undirected—it has no object or objective. Waiting awaits nothing by remaining resolutely open to the void of the future, which is a terrible gift....

    (pp. 153-153)

    “TO DO nothing,” Oscar Wilde avers, “is the most difficult thing in the whole world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” Doing nothing is essential for thinking to occur. Many of the most important thoughts are unintentional—they can be neither solicited nor cajoled but have a rhythm of their own, creeping up, arriving, and leaving when we least expect them. It is important to cultivate the lassitude of mind that clears a place for the arrival of what cannot be anticipated. Idleness allows time for the mind to wander to places never before imagined and to return transformed....

    (pp. 154-154)

    PLACE IS where we dwell. Dwelling is a lingering and tarrying that errs and wanders, all the while staying in place. Those who dwell travel far without moving. No place is too small, no time too brief for dwelling. Dwelling requires the patience to forget tomorrow for today and the willingness to follow paths that lead nowhere....

    (pp. 155-156)

    WHAT IF we became discontent with discontent—gave up longing for what is not and accepted what is? Perhaps it would then be possible to “arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” Only then might we understand Zarathustra’s lasting lesson: “Happiness should smell of earth and not contempt for the earth.”...

  117. NOTES
    (pp. 157-158)
    (pp. 159-160)
  119. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-164)