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Monday, 12 July 2010

Beneath the Glacier



It is no more essential to the understanding of a proposition that one should imagine anything in connexion with it, than that one should make a sketch from it. -- Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

I had no idea what lay out there in the wider world. I imagined enemy dive bombers in the tenement airshaft, plummeting down like raptors with siren voices screaming in the American city night. I listened through the darkness to the sounds of Chicago & North Western train whistles and tried to imagine a world beyond the narrow and confined kingdom of my childish nutshell finitude. A starving minor normal boy I devoured all the books of marvels. The seas were wide and the mountains were tall. I sailed the Mediterranean with brave Ulysses, rode over the Alps on an elephant with Hannibal and retraced each fateful step of Hernán Cortés on his fateful trek to the dark glittering heart of the Aztec Empire. I crossed the Australian outback on foot, climbed the Matterhorn, flew a light plane over the summit of Mt. Everest and swam the Panama Canal. I set out upon the burning sands of the Sahara in the direction of Timbuktu and when I passed out from dehydration and heat prostration was awakened after an indeterminate period of time by a sensation as of light drops of rain upon my forehead, which I imagined to be the sympathetic tears of a beautiful nomad woman of whose visage I was able to see only the eyes. I chartered a leaky Chinese junk and in it tackled the Indian Ocean during a typhoon. At the Rajang River I took the chief of the local tribe of head-hunters for a ride in my plane and was rewarded by the tribe with a prize of a large fibre sack containing fifty shrunken heads. The shrunken heads I dumped in the river once I was pretty sure the head-hunters weren't watching, somewhere toward morning and the necessary dawning of another spell of temporary unimaginability.

File:Peyto Lake-Banff NP-Canada.jpg

Steam locomotives of the Chicago & North Western Railway in the roundhouse at Chicago railyards, December 1942: photo by Jack Delano, Farm Security Administration (Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection)

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta: photo by Tobias Alt, 2005


Curtis Roberts said...

This is really stunning, from the Wittgenstein introduction to the “necessary dawning of another spell of temporary unimaginability” (or rather, from the locomotive roundhouse w/fire crucible introduction to the Peyto Lake conclusion). I think you’ve successfully identified how things used to seem when optimism was the order of the day and daydreams seemed real and achievable. Some of those qualities still attended when I was in college and I thought the “real world” was inhabited by gods who daily accomplished super-human feats I could never master. Then I graduated and found out that I was mistaken about that, but that Happy Hour could, for a while, bring great comfort. "Beneath The Glacier" is a great title and will live in my imagination somewhere near "Under The Volcano", but definitely in a different zip code.

TC said...

Thanks very much Curtis, perhaps in some way this taps shared collective memory for us.

There were seven major railroad stations in Chicago and as soon as I was old enough to ride the C & NW downtown I began to haunt them, every Saturday morning. There were 127 railroads in the US at that time and I wrote to every one of them, masquerading as a prospective passenger and requesting a timetable. (Most of them actually sent one.) The climax of this period of trainspotting came when one congenial locomotive driver let me ride in the cab with him as far as... La Grange.

(Where, as it turned out, there were no head-hunters.)



What a great big bit of memory (gardens). All of it true (I think), an instance of the boring down into the 'clay' (maybe) of one human life (TC's), all those adventures in the boyhood world of "Chi-ca-go") ---


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, quail calling Chi-ca-go in right
foreground, no sound of wave in channel

transfer based on the object,
becomes more what it is

not to see that in each case,
possibility, being that

grey-white of fog against top of ridge,
line of pelicans flapping toward point

TC said...

Steve (and Johnny),

Ah, my friend, you're right, that's exactly what it is.


Into the clay, that is.

Memory and imagination are such a strange pair, like an old married couple, bickering and then forgiving, understanding each other wordlessly and then not, or sometimes chattering away at the same time so that, as with Huey, Louie and Dewey Duck, it is impossible to tell one voice from another.

transfer based on the object,
becomes more what it is

I don't know quite what I'm trying to say here. But lately it's as with The Shining, when I'm in doubt as to what I'm doing, I simply wait a bit and --

Here's Johnny!

(Our love to all the quail in that toddlin' town.)

Marylinn Kelly said...

Unready to comment until now, I can think of no better start to a day than to share in your magic, to be introduced to the boy-self and the man who holds the memories. Growing up, my father had friends who actually did such things as you described, shrunken heads included; my brother and I eavesdropped on their late-night conversations and came to regard these doings as the real world. To have an imagination so rich, to believe that so much is possible - and write for the timetables AND receive a response - is what defines and sustains us. As I write, I am frequently uncertain what I am trying to say; we take whatever spark we can catch or chase it knowing there in purpose in the pursuit. I am of the mind that life in an act of faith, as are any efforts it contains. I am still talking myself into the fact that Peyto Lake looks like that.



And the quail (and now their little chicks too, everyone walking around from field to edge of bricks and back) send their love back to you two. . . .

TC said...

Thank you Steve and thank you quail, I needed that today.

Marylinn, Yes, it is an act of faith, every moment. And trust. We ought to hold each other up. As in, sustain.

That wild turquoise colour in the photo is real, I think. It's glacial water, given that colour by the sediments from the glacier.