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On that day

by davesandel on December 4th, 2018

On that day

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain. And the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as waters cover the sea. – From Isaiah 11

Settled in his chair on a December morning much like this one, New Englander Robert Frost thought … and wrote, “Whose woods these are, I think I know.”

Whose woods, indeed.

In “The Bear,” William Faulkner claims the wilderness back from human interlopes: the wilderness “whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with axes and plows, the old wild life at which the puny humans swarmed and hacked in a fury of abhorrence and fear, like pygmies about the ankles of a drowsing elephant.”

What happens when a shoot sprouts, as Isaiah describes? It breaks the ground, and then it grows roots that break the ground all around. And then it rises up in blossom, makes fruit, provides shelter. It becomes what Shel Silverstein called a “giving tree.” It sacrifices itself for those who need it, or think they do.

Lumberjacks and robber barons don’t need trees, but people do. Little boys do. The children need trees. Even God’s cobra has enough sense to leave alone the children, or did. Things seem to have changed during the centuries arranged according to the “knowledge of good and evil.” We ate too soon from a tree created for us, and then we took wrong road after wrong road.

We took too many trees.

Faulkner’s hero is Isaac. Isaac refuses to accept his inheritance, convinced that neither he nor any man has a right to own the ground God gave, or own the men God made. He knows his ancestors owned and abused African slaves. He wants no part of that. He tries to make amends where he can.

But mostly he cannot help but return to the land where he became a man, to honor his memory of a wildly courageous dog who spoke clearer than his humans: “I can’t be dangerous because there’s nothing much smaller than I am. I can’t be humble, because I’m already too close to the ground to genuflect. I don’t even know that I’m not going to heaven, because they already decided that I don’t possess an immortal soul. So all I can be is brave.”

This is the earth filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Lord, my little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near, between the woods and frozen lake on the darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep of easy wind and downy flake … The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.

(Thank you, Robert Frost)                                                         

from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, published in New Hampshire, 1923

from Go Down, Moses, “The Bear” by William Faulkner, 1942

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