Mud people (excerpt from Gargoyle)

fullsizeoutput_b93 The shallow hole the boy had dug became deeper with time as he scooped out the red colored clay the ground was made of. He filtered it through his hands, taking out stones, sticks, decomposed leaves and roots. Punching and smoothing it he compacted the clay to one block, thus slowly building up a monolith from clay. He devoted great care to this process, making sure that he would have a structurally sound mass with which to work. Over the course of building hundreds of small people from mud he had gotten quite skilled at this craft. Only when he was content with the sound that a slap against the block produced, a deep, saturated thud, would he proceed to sculpt. With deliberate slowness he worked from the general form to the details. Many times a form had collapsed when he had tried to overemphasize a movement or had placed the limbs too far outside the center of gravity. In the beginning he had tried to use sticks to support an arm reaching out or a leg stepping forward and though technically that solution had worked he didn’t like that the figure now seemed to defy the laws of gravity that nature put on the material and form. It was thus almost impossible by the mere use of sticks and clay alone to sculpt an outreached limb that looked natural. So he had returned to work from the inner core of the material and to rather hint at a movement that – though invisible – the eye would project into the empty space. He was always intrigued by what he could see without seeing it. He liked the way his sculptures randomly related to one another, all he had to do was to quietly look at both sculptures and discover this relationship of forms. Something deep inside him stirred when he looked at his creations and their silent endurance. He could see the form of the space in between two physical forms, it was nothing and yet visible if one cared to look, it changed constantly, stretched and diminished, even disappeared. It was actually easier for him to comprehend the properties of this in between space than the form itself. You could get out of the trajectory of any moving object if you controlled that space. If you made that space in between adhere to your inner voice you did not need sticks to build a figure. Why, you barely needed your hands, all you had to do was to look long and hard, look at the clay monolith and make some slight adjustments. Soon his people were crouching, stretching, running, turning. He took great pleasure from this.

His father began to take notice too. One night when he had returned home from the workshop the little garden patch had first caught his attention. In the twilight the clay sculptures his son had build in the afternoon had a strange quality of perfection. There were seven fresh sculptures, six of them crouching on the ground, the seventh a small figure in flight, emerging out of a block of brick-colored earth, running.
From a distance it had seemed that all sculptures possessed distinct personalities and bore individual facial features. Something about these features seemed oddly familiar to the stonemason. Upon closer inspection he realized though that the impression of an actually sculpted face dissipated from a nearer perspective – but reinstated itself the moment he stepped back like a magical trick. The inability to confirm his initial finding, to come closer to the truth, was intriguing to him. He asked himself how a not yet six year old child could have created such a sophisticated illusion. He didn’t ever doubt that the impression was created deliberately. He studied the people his son had made for a long time. Inside the house the light from the boy’s bedroom shone dimly through the drawn curtains.

One second of eternity at Lake Willoughby

IMGP1041Lake Willoughby, grated into plutonic rock by a deep glacier, is a 300 feet deep, water filled scar between two mountains with biblical names, Mount Hor to the West and the Eastern Mount Pisgah. If you stand on the North Shore of the lake, it actually has the appearance of a deep fjord, though there is no outlet to the sea. Instead there is said to be an underground aquifer connecting the basin of Lake Willoughby to that of another eerie body of water beyond Mount Hor, Crystal Lake. In my mind that acquifer had the form of a water filled cathedral, in my mind I saw swimmers gliding swiftly through a space abandoned by a people even older than they were. There was an incredible, inexplicable light the way I imaged this. You have to keep in mind that I imagined this within a dream without actually seeing it, two steps down and under. Even though my sober mind took offense with the inexplicability of the light.

While I was thinking and conjuring up images within the dream I stood at the waters edge of the lake as I had done many summers and the water exactly like the water of lake Willoughby as I remembered it acted like a mirror. The surface seemed to be like a sheet of glass of finest quality, separating the clearly visible underneath from the still world above, and the mirror image of this world like an incomprehensible fourth dimension in between both worlds. Again I saw the forms in the distance, gathering around precariously piled up, submerged boulders. Each winter these boulders avalanche down Mount Pisgah and roll into the lake to form the outline of an inaccessible stone city, creating an intricate mountainous terrain. I wondered how long it would take to fill the deep ravine of the lake with boulders and fleetingly thought of the old story about the small bird wearing away a mountain with his beak to mark the passing of the first second of eternity. In my dream I had this thought.

Po Tolo

“My grandfather, your great-grandfather, believed that there is life in the Sirius system. The Dogon, an African tribe with very acute astrological knowledge, have believed for centuries that there is life out there as have the ancient Egypts and the … Continue reading

time, oscillating

Station Clock

Station Clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the meantime I discovered the places “where the seams come undone”, as my mother called it. Every classroom in my school had a clock on the wall right over the door, and all the clocks had identical clock faces, and every one of them showed a slightly different time.

I don’t know whether clocks in classrooms today are all connected to one central, totalitarian time piece as I suspect might be the case, though I hope it is not so. I always loved the way time oscillated between classes, obstinately refusing to be tamed. Officially, students had three minutes to walk to the next classroom after a period ended. But for the way from science to math, for example, you’d better made do with 1 minute and 29 seconds – the clock in Ms. Kirsch’s class was as fast as our teacher’s ability to conjure numbers out of the back entrance to Hilbert’s Hotel and as inexorable as her refusal to admit to time measured outside her class room.

On the other hand, you could afford to leisurely stroll to French after that, using not only the 1 minute and 31 leftover seconds from math but also the 40 seconds the French clock was late, giving you an ample 5 minutes and 11 seconds (not counted the additional minute or two Mme. Petite rustled with her papers, ignoring her students’ ongoing conversation). The clock in language arts had the peculiar and infamous habit of stopping at exactly 12.01 pm every couple of weeks and could only be persuaded back into service by Superintendent Segrob who, for that very reason, was particularly fond of it, and year after year insisted on repairing rather than replacing it.

Every day for a few moments just before noon instruction in language arts paused and everyone’s eyes followed the unhurried second hand making its way from 11.59.59 am to just after 12.01.02 pm. It was almost like a pagan ritual, these approximately sixty-three seconds of silence, as if we were paying our respects to the spirit of the clock, Time. Time, sputtering, fleeing, stopping, resuming its course, divided itself up over the 79 clocks in our school according to its own preference. With other words, it seemed to be on our side and refused to be institutionalized.

I know that the language art clock did not stop on that day. I don’t think it would have been possible for it to stop while I was willing it on. Apart from Time herself though nobody noticed that I counted every second of the school day, 24,000 seconds in all, stops, gains and losses, until, at last, the 2.47 pm bell wrapped it all up hurriedly and dropped the leftovers for the time dogs.

… consequently there cannot be an edge over which to lean to catch a glimpse of eternity

English version / German translation

Few travelers have ever reached the end of the world, even in the days of the Aelvor, for it is such an awful long way to go and full of obstacles, too. Yet when my grandmother told me about the Willow as I tell you about her now, it had seemed to me that I almost remembered her as if I had seen her with my own eyes and touched her with my own hands but couldn’t quite remember anymore where or when that could have been.

Of course you know that the earth is a ball and that consequently there cannot be an edge over which to lean to catch a glimpse of eternity. And yet, our elders might not have been as naïve as we are told today by believing that the world is located on a disc and that you can walk only so far before reaching an end. In our hearts we are closer related to ways that must end eventually than the Aelvor were who soberly talked about the eternal cyclic renewal of all times and beings.

Wenige Reisende haben jemals das Ende der Welt erreicht, selbst in den Tagen der Aelvor, denn es ist ein furchtbar langer Weg dorthin, wie jeder weiß, und,  wie es die alten Märchen erzählen, voller Hindernisse und Gefahren. Und dennoch, wenn meine Großmutter mir von der Weide am Ende der Welt erzählte, eben so, wie ich Dir jetzt von ihr erzähle, belebte sich ihre sonst oft müde Stimme und sie sprach so lebhaft und anschaulich, als erinnerte sie eine Geschichte aus ihrer eigenen Jugend, und mir, die ich ihr zuhörte, kam es wirklich so vor, als könne ich mich selbst beinahe erinnern, dass ich den Baum einst mit meinen eigenen Augen gesehen und mit meinen eigenen Händen berührt hätte, auch wenn ich, gefragt, nicht mehr zu sagen gewusst hätte, wann oder wo das hätte gewesen sein sollen.

Natürlich weißt Du, dass die Erde eine Kugel ist und dass es also keine Kanten geben kann, über die man in einen Abgrund stürzen oder über den man  sich auch nur hinauslehnen könnte, um einen Blick der Unendlichkeit zu erhaschen, wie es in den alten Geschichten heißt. Und dennoch waren die Menschen früher vielleicht nicht so naiv wie wir es mit ein wenig Überheblichkeit heute gerne glauben wollen, nur weil sie annahmen, dass die Welt eine Scheibe sei und man nur so weit gehen konnte, bis man an ihr Ende kam. Wenn wir aufrichtig sind, ist uns auch in unserer Zeit die Vorstellung, dass jeder Weg schließlich endet, immer noch vertrauter, als es die Geschichten der Aelvor sind, die nüchtern von der Unendlichkeit und der zyklischening, Wiederkehr aller Zeiten und Kreaturen zu erzählen verstanden.Bild

She seemed to be right out of a historical reenactment society

 

I was so completely startled by this sudden change in behavior that I wasn’t even shocked to feel a hand grabbing my shoulder and yanking me down from my boulder and back to shore.
The hand was firm and muscular. It dragged me away from the shore a few steps, beyond the tree line and I had to oblige, stumbling backwards. When we reached the shelter of the tree, the hand let go. I turned around. The strong and determined grip had been misleading. Standing in front of me, inspecting me gravely with birdlike, black eyes, was a tiny, old woman. She wore a long rough shirt with an apron over a grey flannel shirt. Snow white hair done up in a tidy bun, her narrow shoulders wrapped in a grey woolen, triangular shawl, she seemed to be right out of a historical reenactment society. “And what did you think you were doing there, laddie,” she inquired with an authoritative voice. Apparently she mistook me for a boy, addressing me as laddie. “Speak up,” she demanded, quite clearly being used to be obeyed immediately and not one prone to put up with any nonsense. I shivered. She stepped closer again, then reached out and pushed my tangled hair out of my face. Taking a sharp look at my face she murmured to herself: “In a bad shape we are, aren’t we.” And inspecting me a few more moments she added: “A girl in a lad’s clothes, if I ever saw such a thing, lost too, I take it.” She put her hand on my forehead. I started shaking violently. “You are burning up,” she observed, again more to herself than to me. If I had had any more strength left in me, I might have inquired right there and then why she had yanked me away from the boulder. If I had been in my own time and place, I would have protested most decidedly about being ordered about by a woman who was a complete stranger to me. But here I was, meek, shivering with fever and cold and lost. The tiny lady took off her shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders. “That’s more like it,” she stated grimly, referring to my state of clothing, I am sure. Then she simply took my hand and pulled me along.

Woe to the unfortunate stranger who should come upon the gate they were keeping

For a brief moment also I did wonder now whether I was still dreaming. Yet the wet sand, the sea gulls of the lake circling overhead, the light on the water, the dark blue reflections of the two adjacent Mountains, Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah, in the misty mirror of the lake on the distant Southern shore, everything had a coherence that was not dreamlike. And yet the situation was surreal, not only because I had fallen asleep on my bed and woken up on a wet, cold beach hundreds of miles away from home. The sun, for example, was incredibly small, too small for our planet, planet earth. In the east the sharp crescent of a waxing moon, greeting the morning with disdain, was accompanied by a second crescent, a twin moon. And the surface underneath me was still breathing. And yet I knew the silhouettes of the twin peaks by heart. My mother used to tell us on warm summer nights, when the sun had already left the sky and only the patient outlines of the rock formations on both sides of the lake were still cutting into the advancing darkness, that the mountains were ancient guardians who were forgotten by their masters and not having been relieved of their duty had decided to keep their post to the edge of doom. Woe to the unfortunate stranger who should come upon the gate they were keeping. Lake Willoughby was an incredibly deep, glacial, water filled ravine, and there was some sparse folk lore about creatures living in the dark, about a connecting underground acquifer between the lake and its twin lake, Crystal Lake, to the West behind Mount Hor. It was a strange place, but being as remote had kept all stories at bay.

I sat still for a while, waiting for the scenery to change or disappear like dream images do, especially if you pay too much attention to the details, but the situation was as real as you can imagine, and not prone to change any more than Ms. Havenshire’s classroom during an especially tedious lecture on a philosophical concept that excited her. I stared around for a while, bravely ignoring the piercing cold, trying to take an inventory of everything. Except for the strange planetary constellations, the lake seemed real. I had never been up here in fall but I imagined it to look as lonely and cold as it did now. It is not exactly a lively place even in summer. And in winter, once the snow started, it would be one of those places that were cut off from the outside world for weeks on end, alas with the local people being prepared for it and not disconcerted by a few inches more or less of snow or even by massive boulders coming thundering down the mountains just like every winter. There was no skiing and therefore no seasonal dwellers in winter. Both, Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah were too steep and fully covered with trees.

I was shivering violently now, my clothes were as damp as if I had actually spent the night unprotected on the beach. When I finally stumbled up to my feet, it took me a moment to find my balance just as it would have on a big gym mat. I tried to disregard the breathing of the surface and made a few gingerly placed steps towards the water. What to do next? What to do if you are suddenly stranded in a place without any preparation or at least warning? Why was I here? In a dream, typically, events keep unfolding and you keep reacting but the lake was quiet with quick shadows dancing over the surface. I stopped at the water’s edge. Little waves arrived at the shore with a sweet sound. Light was dancing silver on the ripples. I was getting colder by the second, shaking most convincingly.

I had to find shelter. There was a colony of summer cottages at the North Beach, they would be boarded up for the winter, but maybe I could find a way in all the same to warm up and think. It seemed a reasonable plan, if you can at all call it reasonable that you have to think about finding shelter in a dream. Again I asked myself what I would do once I got inside. Maybe there would be a phone but even if there was, it probably would be disconnected for winter. Would it even make sense to call home and ask for someone to please come and rescue me? How ever to explain how I got here? And would it be possible to call home even if I found a working phone? I turned around to scan the tidy row of vacation cottages at the North Shore to find one that would suit my improvised plan and I faced an impenetrable row of trees. The cottages were gone.

Without opening my eyes, I carefully and with a sense of controlled terror extended my other hand…

I lay curled up like a cat and I could feel the curve of my spine, I could feel my knees against my chest and my hand underneath my cheek. Without opening my eyes, I carefully and with a sense of controlled terror extended my other hand to feel the surface of my quilt. I would know the stitching of its pattern, the softness of the filling having long since relaxed against the fabric. My fingers gently touched the surface. I hesitated. It felt grainy. Not grainy like cookie crumbles. Grainy, like sand. When I thought “sand”, I shoved my fingers deeper into the surface. They did not meet much resistance. I pushed easily into the sand like I would, aimlessly, on a beautiful day on the beach. All the while the surface underneath me was breathing. I had to open my eyes to find myself. I wondered whether I was still dreaming, and for a moment considered trying to drift back into nothingness, but I felt wide awake, too awake.

So I did. I opened my eyes. It was not dark at all as I had fully expected, yet the sun was pale, far away in the winter sky, just so illuminating the grey mists rising up from the water. I knew where I was. I was most definitely not on my bed in Summerville, NJ. I was curled up, like the sole survivor of a ship wreck, on the shore of a lake. I sat up, stunned, on the wet sand, numb with cold as much as with surprise. I knew the beach. It was small. I had spent many summers here with my family. I was sitting on the North Shore Beach of Lake Willoughby.

All things considered, it was strange that my mind accepted this truth so readily. I didn’t think: I must be dreaming. I didn’t look for an explanation.

the earth itself, underneath my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on

How hard my mind had to work to keep control, to still try to make sense out of a wealth on information that had long stopped to be apprehensible by any rules I had been led to understand applied. But only submission to the world of grown-ups would have you believe that they were – in general – truthful about the world. I didn’t believe this anymore but tried to rely on my own senses instead. It was treacherous ground.

For example that night. As I lay in the dark, eyes closed though wide awake, the surface of my bed felt soft as was to be expected, but it felt soft in the way I had experienced and shied away from before. It seemed to be soft in an organic, breathing way. I tried to distinguish between my own breathing pattern and the breathing of that soft, pliable surface I felt underneath my body.  It was an uncanny feeling – but just ask yourself how many sensations you can really clearly distinguish besides soft and hard, warm and cold, pain and pleasure. Truth is, you constantly rely on additional sensations and context to tell you about the thing you are experiencing through just one of your senses to make sense of something.

What was it that I was feeling? Something that I feared, but I didn’t know why I feared it or whether I had reason to fear it in the first place as I was completely unaware of its nature. All I knew was that last time I checked my bed had not been breathing. As before it felt actually – and it made perfect sense to think those words as irrational as they might seem – that the earth itself, underneath my feet, my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on. It didn’t make sense and I couldn’t explain to myself where that strange idea actually orginated. Nothing I had read or talked about lately had pointed in that direction. Remember, there was no internet and but little TV. None in our house, by the way.

And yet, I just felt it, right there and then, the surface underneath me belonged to something alive, and I knew I had to open my eyes to find out what was going on, but I was entirely too scared to live up to my own imaginative ability. All I could manage to do, pathetically,  was to continue breathing slowly just as I had done during those long ago nights when I had led some non-existing intruder to believe that I was asleep. And with each moment the sensation of a sighing, breathing surface underneath my body was getting stronger.