hanee birch

Sandcastles at summer’s end

My summer vagrancy came to an end last week and I am now settled down in a new apartment and trying, as always, to ‘turn over a new leaf.’

In fact, for the first time in about a decade, we have the opportunity to make a garden. I had the chance to engage in some meaningful labor a few mornings ago, at dawn, digging up the sod in the landlord’s yard.

It is a very late, rather hopeful garden, but Rachael and I both appreciate learning through experience, and, late or not, we’ll get a bit of experience.

It now looks something like this:

I patiently await, not only the seedlings, but hopefully the bunnies to follow. I figure I can’t lose, either way. If the food would satisfy my stomach, the bunnies would satisfy my longings and keep me enamored with the world (or what once was the world).

The other seedling I have planted is a sketch for a project that will, I hope, find some kind of flowering by the year’s end. It’s a composition that up until this week laid half-way developed in the back of my mind for three years.

Building sand-castles

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.
Thoreau, 1852.

Most of my life I have lived so fully in dreams of possibility and vague significance that I find myself disappointed and somewhat lost as I grow older. The horizon I squinted at in my youth has become increasingly definite and infinitely more plain.

At thirty four, I know it will be as much as my person can handle to become the example I’d like to be in even the most simple, and narrowest of expressions. Merely to live without anxiety, or stay healthy and balanced, or speak always with sincerity and love, or to have enough discipline and courage to follow my vague feelings into concrete objects — these seem to be great ambitions now; ambitions at the very edge of my faculties.

I couldn’t have built a bridge to the moon, could I have? Those times where I most chased after greatness often left me in raptures of the imagination coupled with practical flounderings. The wisdom of age has taught me this:

To have goals that one can actually achieve with the decidedly un-supernatural stores of willpower allotted to the common man is a better state to be in than to have unrealistic goals that encourage feelings of agony and impotence, and, in consequence, very little action.

Not to mention, when my eyes were most steadily fixed on dreams I often walked over those I loved unawares. I was asleep to social realities and to the world from others’ eyes.

I did very little in my youth other than dreaming that I could do any and everything. The romantic in me, though, can’t help but thinking It was an illusion, but a beautiful one.

And, there is a real loss of beauty in the recognition of an increasingly ‘adult’ life in which I must divy out the thin porridge of my will and my remaining time to those few famished dreams that are still left standing.

If this is the true reality, then there is certainly something lost.

I keep having the same dream. It seems to be forcing me to return to the bittersweet site of my grandfather's house, where I was born on the table forty years ago. Something always prevents me from entering.... Sometimes, something happens, and I stop dreaming of the house and the pines by the house of my childhood. Then I grieve and wait for the dream that will make me a child again, and I'll be happy again, knowing that all still lies ahead, and nothing is impossible.
Tarkovsky (from The Mirror)

With this sandcastle group, I suppose there are two things I want to get at.

One is very much positive: the wonder and pure simplicity-of-ends in childhood (or perhaps, I think, in some pre-modern state of humankind).

The other is the transitory nature of those engaging dreams we try to enter into but are pulled away from by the supposed necessities of life, of growing old, of being conscious, and mortal, and self-responsible.

Despite my somber tone, I still do not quite know if I stand on the side of Thoreau’s middle-aged man or his youth. I do not know if I think that life is and must be as plain as a woodshed or if it is our own weak and wearied spirits that make it so.

Could the world still be changed to something less mundane and bestruggled and narrow? The truth of whether life must be what life inevitably is matters little compared to the beauty and the loss of the dream that Tarkovsky speaks of above. That imaginative and hopeful world in which all still lies ahead, and nothing is impossible.

This group, as it progresses, will try, in its way, to be a sort of grave stele to that world, before we’re tapped on the shoulder and pulled away.

Afterwards: On sandcastles and moats

I visited my sister’s family recently and played with my six year old niece, Ida, and sixteen year old nephew, Atraeju, at building a sandcastle. I insisted that any sandcastle worth its salt must have a moat and began clearing one, when Atraeju began immediately to rain on my parade.

His contention was that if I dug a moat it would lead to a process of erosion that would eventually bring down the sandcastle.

Pshaw!, thought I. Where there’s a will, there is a way!

I dug away while haranguing him about his lack of ingenuity or moat-building know-how.

Finding my way to the water level, finally, I starting seeing the edges of the castle crumbling, but, in denial I worked at packing down the sand and trying to clear an ever-expanding “do not touch” zone around the outer perimeter.

Atraeju was probably* in the right, or at least, the solution to the problem was not solved by my gusto and faith. Fortunately, I made a concerted effort for us all to leave while the sandcastle was still partly standing and never had to witness or accept the crumbling of my dreams.

hanee birch