Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Love of Place

Well, I'm back!–and keeping busy getting back into the swing of chores, etc. :-) Being able to travel was a tremendous blessing. We had a wonderful time visiting with family and old friends (and making new ones!) and also being able to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ at two sister churches. Our traveling weather was gorgeous, with beautiful snow in places yet clear roads for the most part–and we were able to get our glorious fill of mountains, pine trees, a hugeness of land, and wide open spaces. We went through (or at least very near) some of my favorite places and one highlight of the trip was being able to refresh and absorb quantities more atmosphere for “On David's Shoulders”. :-)
Coming home this time I realized something a little different than I had before–realized just how much this comfortable spot of fields and woods I live in flows into and is tied to all those panoramic sweeps of land we drove through; a further brush stroke to the east on God's canvas, perfectly harmonizing with all those western hills and mountain peaks.
Thinking of it–of place–and what calls and ties you to a particular place, I thought again of Greenwillow, one of my all-time favorite stories by B.J. Chute. It's the story of a small country village, the people who make it up, and the unexpected look of grace in their lives. Grace spilling over in the house of a loving, contented, hard-scrabble family and their adventurous old grandmother–in the lives of several old-maiden ladies (I’m sure she had read Cranford!) and of a young girl growing into womanhood in their home–grace breaking like lightning into the straight lined life of a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher. Add to all that a refreshing love story and Chute’s incredible poetry of prose and you'll begin to get the idea of one amazing read. :-)

I won’t give any spoilers, but the conflict revolves around someone being compelled to leave a place–a piece of land–when their very roots and heart reach deep. Here’s a delicious excerpt:
“He was aware then…of a great silence. The birds were still, the leaves hung quiet on the branches, there was no humming in the grass, no breeze through the flower petals. Gideon stood without moving and felt his heartbeat quicken. Out of the stillness, came the call.

It was very low and whispered, but if it had been as loud as rolling thunder it could have come no plainer. It was a voice and a cry and it said his name and called him without words. There was no holding back against it. Hoeing man laid down his hoe, digging man laid down his spade, reaping man laid down his scythe. Gideon, with nothing to put aside, turned his face toward the summoning and walked blindly, scarce heeding where he set his feet.
The call cried him out of the clearing and back through the woods, and he had no thought for the reaching brambles or the lost path or the tree trunks that would have barred his way. Nothing breathed about him, and even his footfall was soundless.
He came so to the edge of the meadow he had left, and he pushed his way through the tall grass, following the call, through the motionless flowers, the silence where the brown bees hummed. A white butterfly clung to a blossom, but its wings were as still as a winter’s frost.
He saw the house in the distance and he yearned toward it so terribly that his heart almost left his breast, but there was no turning back now and no goodbye.
The call was rising and he could almost hear his name–“Gideon, Gideon.”
He came to the heart of the meadow, and it was as if he stood in a bell-tower of sound so that the whole green stretch of it was shaken and the sky echoed. He stood still, not holding back but waiting to be told which way to turn to start on the journey that would leave all behind.
And, all at once, it was as if everything found voice, though nothing moved. The trees at the meadow’s edge cried out, and the birds waked from their trance of stillness; the bushes, and the brown bees, and the flowered grass, the small animals in the woods, and the clouds in the sky. They spoke his name, he could hear it clearly, and the call poured itself into them and they into the call like brook into river.
Gideon stood silent and in wonder. It’s like the land’s talking to me, he thought.
Over and above and around the call, he could hear every sound he had ever heard–hoot of an owl in a gray dawn, split and crackle of lightning at a gashed dead tree, murmur of the Meander coming down from the marshland, the cow lowing at milking time, the shush of the scythe and sigh of grass falling, brown earth gulping rain after dry times. He could hear the wind high in the tree branches, the ring of an ax and the wooden chunk of a log tossed on a pile, pig’s grunt and cat’s mew and hissing of geese, birds in full song and branches scraping each against each, skimmer-flies and bumblebees and grasshoppers in sunshine, and the clod and fall of earth turning under the plough…”
I promised no spoilers, so I won’t give any more, but it gets even better–much better, with a thoroughly satisfying ending–like breathing spring or wading in a clear, rock-bottomed, early summer Ozark river. :-)

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