Saturday, October 31, 2009

October, or On Animals

     Every season has its signals, on earth as well as in the heavens. Certainly the bird is a harbinger of spring, or indeed anything that flies; Cupid himself is winged in the spring, and all of the animals that bring in spring have wings, whether they are larks, swallows, butterflies, or, as stated, Love itself. Summer is the season of the elements, the sun, wind, water and earth, and therefore pertains to elemental beings, such as nymphs and rusalkas and vodníks and he bird of fire and the Noon Witch and the Wild Girl, ethereal, bare, nude creatures which cannot be conceived of in inclement or bad weather. And finally autumn shows itself in thickly-pelted beasts, covered in sorrel coats or those of chestnut brown, like the autumn leaves, like every ripened thing of autumn; it is the time of stags, fawns, boars, and foxes, the time when the men stop scaring the girls and start hunting hairy beasts instead. All Souls' Day signifies the mark which reminds us that the year is moving into a time focused on the home and hearth; like the souls of the departed, the imps of the home, pig-sticking, fire crackling, and books.

     I have never shot an animal as long as I have lived, but whenever I meet a squirrel in the October woods, or a fox or a stag and fawns, I have the feeling that I have somehow stepped into another world, into their world, for October involves them more secretly than any other time of the age. In summer coming across a buck is like coming across a pretty girl; may God keep you, girl, you needn't fear me. But coming across a deer in autumn is like coming upon a god or something altogether ancient; you hold your breath and stand still so as not to commit sacrilege; you are ashamed to give your astonishment its true name, which is reverence.


     I tell you, every stag is something like the stag of St. Hubert, when its stands, head raised, crowned with a massive and shaggy cloud of antlers, ears pricked up, frozen in noble watchfulness, it is as if there actually were something like a cross glowing atop its head. Yes, if I were a holy Christian man, I would certainly see a glowing cross there as well, but since I am a confused man of little faith, I see no cross, but some sort of large and unclear sign. O hunter, do not aim at the buck's forehead, for that would be a sin, aim for the heart instead, and fire, your heart constricted with horror and passion. Do not disturb the crown on that animal's head and do not break the symbol off its forehead; and when you hang those antlers on the wall, do it like a conqueror placing he stolen crown of a vanquished king into safekeeping. For even a stolen crown is an subject worthy of its own reverence.


     This did not happen to me, for my vocation can be described as being somewhat more puerile and uncertain--but there was this solid, firm man, keen as a knife and hard as stone, I tell you, there are few molded from such clay as this. So right in front of him in an October glade there appeared twenty, fifty, a hundred of the lightest and unhurried deer, with royally-antlered stags on guard; and there that man held his breath and almost trembled in awe or reverence and whispered that it was something out of a myth, something out of the past; he stood there so long and then left so quietly, more quietly than he would ever have trodden in a chapel or any holy place; and a good hour after this apparition he spoke in hushed tones like never before. I bear witness to you, that beasts in October have carry some great and godly secret with them.


     It is perhaps because of this that hunters, when they return from waiting, speak in exceptionally loud and boisterous tones, to shake off that strange and silencing magic. "Here's what happened," one cries at full volume. "A deer approached me, a hundred and fifty paces off; I watched it for an hour and I couldn't get a shot. God, boys, you should have seen it!" "And I had one for half an hour; right when I got to the spot it was right across the glade." "I had mine in the heart from seventy paces, but that's not much of a shot. What a time we had today. God, I wish I'd gotten the buck I saw yesterday!"

     Yes, for the most beautiful deer are always the ones that got away. Obviously St. Hubert saw his most beautiful buck, the one with the cross, from a hundred and eighty paces; know that otherwise he would have certainly bagged it and the burning cross on its forehead. Right in the heart.



[Seasonally appropriate. Outstanding. I had to skip about thirty/forty pages what with the months of inactivity, but I've gotten back on track. This thumb injury's been good for footnotes today, St. Hubert and the rusalka can be found on Wikipedia, I'm sure.]

Friday, October 30, 2009

Golden Land

     It is gold, red, violet, green. Again, it is golden, purple, blue and brown like brown ocher, sienna or sepia, the red of cinnabar, carmine, Venetian or Puzzuoli red, sulfur yellow, chromium yellow, Indian yellow, terracotta, mottled greenish-blue, yellowish green, blue, dark purple. Take a train through the woods of the Carpathians and stare like a madman at what October can do. When the sun is shining on it, the whole poplar burns like a yellow flame, the beeches spout their narrow orange flames into the sky; I don't know which plant burns the red of the forge. Gold, red, violet, green. Sacred, sacred, sacred! Our Father, who art in heaven--it is beautiful.
    It is sentimental, but I cannot help it; if one looks at nature in its sacred moments, the the other events seem suppressed and muted. The bureaucracy certainly does not look as nice as walnut leaves. When a government falls, it doesn't make the same sound as a chestnut falling out of a tree and plonk! its little eye peeks out from its green casing. And currency values do not fall as elegiacally and majestically as the beautiful golden foliage. Gold, brown, orange, red.
    Bless me, O beautiful fervor of old things. Face to face with nature like this, sir, and it awakens it you unusually conservative feelings (and do not try to deny it). May the durability of old things and pragmatic advice be praised. May what is not epochal and groundbreaking in humanity be praised, what is not yesterday's or tomorrow's, but what is eternal and unchanging. Namely: youth and maturity, rest, love, a good table, religion, heroism, sleep, and other old and wise matters. My handwriting cannot compete with you, O burning groves, but face to face with you I am content with my few gray hairs, my fatigue, and my strength. For everything is in order, as it has been for ages. Gold and green, white and black.
    And I will tell you, what it especially pretty now in October are the villages. They are bundled up in their golden and red apples, yellow lindens and chestnuts in a gentle and almost playful way. Red and gray roofs, and overhead some wise smoke. God, how grandly, how thoroughly the year proceeds in such a village! How firmly and sacredly each season nestles in here! Here with us in the cities a person scarcely realizes that things are transpiring, that things are changing. Spring and summer, autumn and all, they take on and put off an overcoat, put the umbrella in the corner, and take out their gloves. That is all. We have not stopped time, but we have concealed its tracks somewhat. We age, but without rhythm. Another year of life gone, but there were no four seasons; there was just the one year.
    Gold, red, cerulean, brown. Dried leaves. The enormous extravagance of nature, which shaped, crenelated, corrugated, and furrowed each of those beautiful leaves, and now it casts them off, crumbles them, and pulps them down. Then it begins to shape them, scallop them and furrow them all over again. That is as it should be. It's good when it is as it should be. Green, gold, and red. Dried leaves.
    There are still golden and violet flowers at the periphery, still tender and trembling honey mushrooms smelling sweetly in the damp clay, and the last apple still shines red on the branch. Lord, when I get old, when I really get old, give me the tenacity of flowers and fruit. Give me golden and violet blossoms, until I bloom in quiet and bright stars; grant that I bear solidly firm and red apples which will last through the winter. And when there is a new generation of growth, when the cherries are all eaten, when we've gotten to the last apples, they do wither, but they will await a new age, tough and dark. Let me once raise a few tough red apple trees that will survive to next summer, amen.
    Gold, red, broken brown. Lord, thank you for the beautiful course of the year.



[No one can say the man's not aggressively sentimental. Nevertheless, there's a niceness here. Perhaps it's a bit close to "Topsoil" in content, but these were originally published eleven years apart instead of two days.]

Thursday, October 29, 2009


     Humanity is never quite in step with nature. We think that the leaves fall and that is the end of it, with nothing but bare branches left over. But when we look at things over the course of time (several decades will suffice) we see what is left over on those bare twigs; what they have for character and personality. If we just start with the bark, which is purplish-read on the bunchberry, green on the broom, yellow on the willow, white on the birch, silver-gray on the beech, and on top of that we have brown, cinnamon, ocher, black, smooth, taut, shining, rugose, furrowed, scaly, sticky, peeling--every branch gives away what has grown on it, each has the character of the whole tree or bush. And that is not even mentioning the brachiation and the structure of the crown--the dictionary does not suffice to find us expressions for each growth pattern and composition of the branching. There ares forked branches and perpendicular ones and crooked ones and tenaciously thorny ones, firmly and tortuously affixed to larger branches, others lightly and fluidly sticking up as though teased out with a comb, or others shooting straight up into the sky, others spreading, others hanging down, stretched out, whip-thin or luxuriously thick, muscular or emaciated like a skeleton or resembling long locks of hair, flexible and fleshy, or hard and dry like dead wood. Every shrub and every tree does it differently, according to its cultivar and species, so even when the leaves fall we can still in due course regard the full and unceasing multiplicity of nature, and best of all when the frost comes.

     And I haven't even mentioned the roots, of which there is an amazing and peculiar distinctions in color and growth, what sort of hirsuteness, woodiness, offshoots and expanse; one cannot overvalue them enough and perhaps even the Creator looks upon them with favor and praises them, saying what a beautiful cluster of roots has this tree or that bush has. What a beautiful subterranean country there is.

     We look at this all in a very human way, which is to say fallibly, when we say that nature dies back in resignation, and similar nonsense. First of all, nature does fairly well for itself, because in the simple majority of cases it does not die at all, and second of all it does not give itself up to any such sentimental weakness as resignation. On the contrary, there is something resolute and active in it, as though its opinion was: Enough talk, we must prepare for this and mobilize all of or strengths to defend ourselves! It will not happen without sacrifice, we must give up all of our foliage, tighten our belts transforming ourselves, and stash our sugars, starches, and other chemical necessities into our roots. Let's go, let's go, whining and moaning will not help us at all, it could come upon us at any second, and it must find us with matured and capable wood to survive this, but also capable of blossoming and flowering when this damned winter passes us by. We've got to make hay while the sun shines, that is our motto.

     As you can see, if we describe something as autumnal, there is no resignation in it, but rather a stout exhortation.

     And one night a harsh and sudden gray frost falls. The bare branches suddenly gleam with an unaccustomed and beautiful clarity, which we have not yet noticed; how everything is at once frozen, severe, and austere, so much so that it is a wonder the do not ring out like iron bars or rails. Everything is prepared; each one of those bare, hard branches is an armored line protecting the life behind it. We call them bare branches, and meanwhile it is vegetation in a coat of armor.



(d64 gave me fifty-five lines to do today, and this piece was fifty-four. A decent coincidence.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


     It would be a beautiful thing if there were a map that faithfully captured the natural colors of our country. There would naturally have to be the dark green of the pines, the deep color of the spruce, and the light green blurriness of the leafy forest; but the soil would contribute most of the color as we see it now in autumn, freshly overturned, still unweathered, unbleached by frost and dryness. Such a map would of course largely correspond with a geological map, but it would not be so erudite and would serve to delight the eyes, for it would be beautifully colored and richly tinted like a work of art, which freely mixes all these clays on its palette, reliable colors that do not run.

     There is an orderly progression of colors from white sand to the thick black of the richest earth. Some places have whitish topsoil or a lightish gray, there are soils colored like milk chocolate, as if they were powdered or bleached dry, almost bluish, or like milk dripped slowly into coffee. Then there are yellowish clays with various hues of ochre and rust, blond and yellow soils, ruddy earth with streaks of Naples yellow or Indian yellow or burnt umber. The browns of course would have the widest range of colors, from the lightest straw to the darkest, richest sepia, from the sharpest tints to the rich reddish (almost chocolate-colored) hues, coffee brown, chestnut brown, the brown of burnt clay or the tanned brown of bread crusts, the dry and pale brown of shallow and stony topsoil, or the plump and juicy brown of loess or alluvial deposits. And finally scarlet earth, the reds from the color of rust to that rich red which toys with the violet, siennas of all intensity, the color of bricks burned in the oven, red edges or strata seemingly painted with blood or vermillion, as if burning with the color of the setting sun. Each region in turn, or even each village in turn has its own dominant color and its own shade of soil, and now that the harvest is brought in, the full map of cultivated land speaks directly to us.

     And think of everything that's been put into it: lime and heaps of black manure and ashes and powders; it is interesting that hundreds and hundreds of years of work cannot overpower or weaken the inborn color of the land. Humans have fertilized and overturned that thin little strip of topsoil for hundreds of years, covering it year after year with cultural accretions of labor, but a deep brown area stays deep brown and the yellow country stays yellow; the land will not permit itself to be re-colored; the ages cannot carry off its tongue, its hues. It cannot be done with the tractor or the spade, after light-colored wheat or dark-colored potatoes it resounds brown or yellow depending on its original shade. The ground is nowhere uniform; nations and cultures can bestride it and mix on it, but that which they tramp on cannot be taken away or intermingled on horseback. Perhaps that is why we like to talk about our native land; we want a piece of its constancy. Look about you, sir, what a solid and anciently-colored piece of work our soil is; it will outlast us.

     When one talks about the colors of autumn, let us not forget the beautiful and warm colors of the topsoil hidden by the plow. Even there are we a land richly blessed, endowed with a coat of many colors; we are an impression, so to speak, of all different types of soil, and all of the different geological eras have operated to bring about this small piece of land. People with their own shades and colors come off rather poorly, probably because they just got here yesterday, in geological terms. It will be a while yet before people look at the colored map of nations and states with the same joy as at a map of the soil.


[I rolled a d64 (you can also call it the "I Ching") to determine how many lines I had to translate today, and got #64. Hmm. Alternate title: "Čapek gets a new box of crayons."]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn or Planting

     Let's say that you have a little place among the meadows and forests, your cabin, bungalow, weekend place or whatever you call it; and around it you have a plot of land that you can call your own; or let's say that you don't have anything of that sort yet, but that you'd like to. In that case you should know that these autumn days are not the time in which the gentleman farmer stores things for hibernation, but it is quite the opposite. This is the time when the planter's blood is boiling, and only now does he begin to stick all sorts of bushes, saplings, trees, stems and bulbs into his staked-out plot. Spring is the time for flowers, while autumn is the season when the gardener deals with the pith of the matter and plants the future bushy crowns by way of digging holes in the ground and placing little bits of roots which one day will be a lush shrub or a hundred year-old tree; then he shovels the earth back on, tamps it down with his foot, and gives it a decent soaking. Then it becomes nature's turn to show what it can do.

    Yes, a currant here in the shadow of the wall, and a dark lilac over there; those lilacs always seem to go near pumps in the country. That'll be a whole row of lilacs, and it is impermissible to have their blue and purple clusters and not have the golden rain of broom and forsythia. Syringa, Laburnum, don't those names already sound like the peal of morning and evening bells? And you have to plant a sweet mock-orange over here for its sent on spring evenings, and the afternoon sun will sparkle off the white flowers of the Deutzia or the Spiraea; and nothing is more beautiful during a spring shower than the pink calyces of the Weigela, ardently and richly burning in the thick red foliage. Yes, we've got to have all of this, and maybe a Rosa rugosa and a vermillion flowering quince, and heather, yes, for what would life be without heather? That'll do for starters...

     But no, there's more than spring, after all; don't you want to have your beauty in summer and autumn as well? Just keep digging your holes, O gardener, you have to put a cotoneaster here and a barberry with its little red globules; here a little poison ivy will glow wonderfully in the autumn twilight, and a Tatar maple will look like the burning bush over here. Now we're getting somewhere; just dig on, gardener, to make sure there will be at least a little color for the winter, and make holes for the golden and coral-colored stalks of bunchberry, for the green stems of the Japanese yellow rose, and here, by the brook, for the lavender and golden stems of the willows. And you cannot do any more; the year is short and there are only four seasons in it.

     Wait, what's that weak little twig? Well, it's Prunus sachaliensis, a cherry from Sakhalin; and you had better find a big place for it, for this little twig will be a shrub thirty meters tall. And this tender little stalk, that's a Hisakura cherry, which will grow so big that you'd think you could sail along the sky on the rose-colored clouds of its blossoms, and this one over here will be a bird cherry as tall as a dome, a cherry from your childhood garden.

     And that's everything, isn't it? Well, praise be that the plot of land is now planted. The forests loom around dark and deep, the trunks of the white ash wave in the high distance, the golden crowns of the oaks are heavy and dense as granite in the autumn sun; but the gardener planting his saplings does not notice them at all; he looks at his staked-out plot, where a few thin sticks straggle up gauntly through the grass, and whispers to himself in profound and almost blessed satisfaction:

     "Well, it's not so empty here any more!"



[I love fall, or its nearest equivalent here. Skipped ahead thirty pages and am now re-situated chronologically. We'll see where this goes.]