Arbreux, February 13, 2000. A page from my journal . . . acg
"It is supposed that the fruits of the ancient faith can be enjoyed without attention to its roots The terrible danger of our time consists in the fact that ours is a cut-flower civilization.
Beautiful as cut flowers may be, and much as we may use our ingenuity to keep them looking fresh for a while, they will eventually die, and they die because they are severed from their sustaining roots.
We are trying to maintain the dignity of the individual apart from the deep faith that every man is made in Gods image and is therefore precious in Gods eyes It is almost as ineffective as an umbrella in a tornado."
--Elton Trueblood, The Predicament of Modern Man.
The chilling grip of winter returned to our hills again yesterday with another snowstorm. Today dark clouds and below-freezing temperatures remind us that spring is still a few more weeks away. Meanwhile, I hibernate indoors a while longer and enjoy the silence of these woods. I watch the emerging sprouts of daffodils I am "forcing" indoors for a premature resurrection.
I occupy myself with discarding archives that once seemed but are now no longer important: academic research files that once consumed my energies, clippings about hobbies with now fading interest, and financial records no longer of value. Here, too, I find letters from family and friends who have left this world for a better place; I select a very few for remembrance and reluctantly relegate most to the fireplace. I also divert my interest to genealogy and tracing my roots.
But tracing roots goes beyond searching the pedigree of the Gray family. In the stillness of these hours, I close off the outside world no radio, no television only the sound of the winds banging of a wooden goose against the window of my front door. I seek deeper roots -- asking myself these questions: Where do you belong? Where now are you most at home, emotionally and spiritually? What now do you think is really important about life? What new truths have you garnered to sustain you for the rest of your days? What is the source of your stability and strength, your ultimate security? When you have done your best and are gone, what will you have given to others? These are the questions for which I earnestly seek answers and roots strong enough to keep me vital and at peace in our turbulent times.
I go through the book of Psalms and read those verses underlined over the years and they lift my spirit on these winter days.
"Great peace have they who love your law and nothing can make them stumble."
"I will lift up my eyes to the hillswhere does my help come from? My help comes from the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slipHe who watches over you will not slumber; indeed He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep."
"May my cry come before You, O Lord: give me understanding according to Your word."
And then I find this benediction outlined within a double box:
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Arbreux, January 31, 1995. A page from my journal . . . acg
I have just returned from Scottsdale where I had a wee foretaste of summer -- there in the desert. But when our craft touched down on the tarmac at Dulles, a full-blown winter snowstorm greeted me in my adopted Virginia. I was compelled to take shelter overnight and make my way to Arbreux the following morning. At home, for the first time this winter, a blanket of glistening snow.
I set about at once stirring a blaze in my fireplace, then settled down to watch the chickadees and juncos and squirrels. my closest neighbors and friends here in these mountains. The chickadees' chorus is cheerful and full of laughter -- these who know instinctively that Spring is just offstage, ready to make a grand entrance like Aida's march, filling these hills with the pinks of dogwoods and redbuds.
I've concluded that the titmice are the most intelligent feathered creatures alive, for at least mine hop in front of the door and beg for peanuts, even though I've been absent for a whole week. The first bluejay came, too, he or she of a pair who hastened northward early to find the most favorable nesting place. What misguided soul was it that came up with the disparaging epithet of "bird brain"to denote a lack of intelligence? He had not observed the bird families of Arbreux!
Yesterday was one of those gray days with snow falling lightly all day long. Today, the clouds have moved on toward the Atlantic and a canopy of starched blue sky greets a crispy winterish foretaste of March breezes.
I observe the relative peace of my hills and reverently feel that I also am a part of this universal magnificence, the times and seasons sweeping by, all as if by predestined clockwork, which instinctively I know it all must be. I suspect that the creatures who share these Arbreux woods with me know this, too, perhaps more profoundly than I do.
I feel my pulse and somehow know that I am a part of celestial rhythms as old as time. Then I thank the dear lord for all my senses: I see, hear, touch, taste -- both physically and spiritually. I had nothing whatsoever to do with these gifts, but everyday, as my friend Patty has written so insightfully, is like Christmas morning. So I take these gifts of priceless value and exult in them with humility, for I know that I am a millionaire a million times over.
If you are the fortunate recipient of this page from my journal, yell it from the rooftops that you have a friend who is a trillionaire, and even richer than that!
Arbreux, January 14, 1999. A page from my journal . . . acg
leaf and twig was this morning covered with a sparkling ice
armor; even the grasses in exposed fields were hung with innumerable
diamond pendants, which jingled merrily when brushed by the foot of the
traveler. It was literally the wreck of jewels and the crash of gems...
Such is beauty ever...wherever there is a soul to admire."
---Thoreau On Man and Nature
Several snowfalls combined with freezing temperatures have created a snowpack on the chalet's hillfront like a miniature glacier of the Ice Age. Just moments ago I put on cleated shoes, grabbed my ski pole and set out for the mail box.
Last night's freezing rain left my premises as dangerous for a pedestrian as a field of land mines. I gingerly backed my way indoors and will wait until the ice thaws to retrieve my mail.
Even the mail must wait, though somehow mailman Jim miraculously made it here. This is only the latest of several days this winter I've been snowbound. It's nothing to fret about. In fact, it's a blessing when time stands still and you realize that nothing is so urgent that it can't wait until tomorrow, or another day. It's a matter of acceptance.
There are plenty of things to occupy the mind and interest. I build a fire, chop up potatoes & carrots for vegetable soup, and busy myself with albums, files, archives, and remembrance of things past. Sifting through folders of former projects, I think of all the things I've done, the things I wanted to do but didn't, and the things I yet want to do. I make a quick calculation and decide that I'll have to live at least as long as Methusaleh did to get it all done. There are scores of books to read and write. I screw up the willpower to relegate a lot of sentiment-laden miscellany to the trash basket. Better that, I think, than waiting until moving day to decide what's important and dispose of debris. Gypsies like myself know that it's better to travel light and nothing is permanent, not even Arbreux, the most permanent place I've known.
Life is a series of passages.
But snowbound days are good for dreaming too...of the coming spring. I make lists in my mind of all the things to do when the thaw is complete and rhizomes begin to send up shoots on warmer days. Clear away last year's flower beds left for finches to feed on the zinnia seeds. Cut up the fallen tree branches for next winter's firewood. Get out the old rake again and tone the biceps.
Prisoner in my own house today, there's freedom in my captivity, daydreaming and learning to wait for the earth to tilt just a wee bit more on its axis.
Patience, I say. Spring draws nearer.
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Arbreux, February 1, 1999. A page from my journal . . . acg
On these crisp winter nights I can turn off the lights within the chalet and look through the glass windows to the constellations whirling in space. These past few days the heavens have filled me with greater awe and reverence than ever before because I am reading Johannes Kepler's Harmonies of the World from the Great Books of the Western World
In 1619 Kepler set forth his thesis that "God in creating the universe and regulating the order of the cosmos had in view the five regular bodies of geometry as known since the days of Pythagoras and Plato." in doing so he interjected the notion that God as Architect had created the planets and set them spinning through space in such exquisite mathematical precision that the planets "sang" heavenly music. This could be measured, he suggested, by plotting on a music scale the geometric movements of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn while observing their elliptical paths through the universe and their distances from one another as time elapsed in the solar/lunar year.
Kepler conjectured a remarkable congruence of planetary movements with the stanzas and notes of human song: Saturn and Jupiter "sang" the bass parts, Earth and Venus the alto, Mars the tenor, and Mercury the soprano. He proceeded to draw scales with clefs and measures of this heavenly harmony on a musical scale, calculating ratios of the arcs of their movements, and developing tones, pitches, and cadences for each of the planets. Kepler concluded that such universal harmonies could not take place by chance, "without the special attention of the Artisan: accordingly it follows that the Creator, the source of all wisdom, the everlasting approver of order, the eternal and superexistent geyser of geometry and harmony" was the "Artisan of the celestial movements Himself."
Fast forward to 1989. Astronomers announced the discovery of a new quasar, naming it P. C. 1158+4635, a story given little attention due to news headlines of the collapse of communism and fall of the Berlin wall. The quasar, astronomers believe, left the edge of the universe fourteen billion years ago and has ever since been traveling toward earth at the speed of 186,000 miles per second, its light only now visible to us.
Commenting on this story, Dr. Stephens Lytch said, "There's something that's connected to that light beaming at us from the beginning of time with [political] upheaval.. on the planet Earth when the quasar was discovered.... The connection is this (quoting Paul in Col. 1:16): '... in Him [Jesus Christ] all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers -- all things have been created through Him and for Him'... The Christ of the quasars gives us an enduring joy when we sit down to remember all the good things that we have."
Pondering again the wonders of God's universe,
I look out through these glass walls
with a growing assurance and gratitude
that the Master Artisan is still in control
of this unfathomable universe.
He always has been. He always will be.
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