Friday, October 5, 2012

The Family by the Rock

“Tugged by the lever of imagination, the shroud of history 
lifts like a misty fog fleeing the light of the early day.”

By Patrick J. Walsh

As I walk through the park on a chilly day, I realize: this land has been here a very long time, but we have a very short memory.

On this day, as I pass the familiar landmarks that I see every day that I walk in the park, I cannot help but imagine some larger, mystic setting surrounding the commonplace. This tendency toward the concoction of an elaborate daydream is largely the result of my recently having read (or more accurately, re-read) John Steinbeck’s short novel The Pearl.

A heartbreaking story of a Native American couple pursuing a better life for their infant son, The Pearl is remarkable for its vivid descriptions of a time and place and people that had already been displaced by the time Steinbeck wrote the novel in the 1930s.

Seeing things

Today, when concern about that time and place and people seems ever further distant, there remains the basic desire of good people everywhere who want to make things better for those to come, by honoring all the good that has gone before. And as I walk in the park today, that simple truth, combined with what little we know of the history of those who lived here long ago, has got me seeing things.

There is an outcropping of rock near the area that is now defined as the entrance to the park, and there are large rocks scattered around that area. Alongside one particular boulder whose shape and texture somehow make it seem the proper setting for a story, I linger a moment, and wonder...

photo © Patrick J. Walsh
The land has been here a very long time...
•   •   •

Tugged by the lever of imagination, the shroud of history lifts like a misty fog fleeing the light of the early day. A short distance from the rock, in the open field nearby, a wise old shaman works the round end of a stone against the recessed innards of a well worn bowl, grinding a paste of Jewelweed for the treatment of one of his elderly convalescents. He is concerned with the health of the spirit, and the body.

Closer by the rock, a fire burns. A different sort of vessel is perched over the flames; it is the source of nourishment for the family, and the center of activity for the family’s interaction with the larger community. It is tended by a woman - a mother; she is concerned with the happiness of her family, and with their sustenance.

As the morning passes, the father of the family by the rock joins his fellows on a hunting expedition; he will return with meat for the stew.

Female relations and neighbors lead the older children on an excursion to find herbs and vegetables in the surrounding woodlands, and as they return, flavors are added to the olio in the pot, under the watchful eye of the mother who oversees the mix, and tends the fire.

Building a meal

The process of building the stew is similar to the building of the community. A little one ventures shyly toward the matron at the hearth-place, proffering some green shoots that her own mother has given her for her neighbor’s meal.

Smiling reassuringly, the mother of the family by the rock shows the neighbor child how to separate the useful parts of the plant from the dregs, and lets her toss the herb into the pot. Delighted with her part in the grown-up ritual, the little girl runs off toward home, chuckling with glee.

On special occasions - a feast of joy, or a marking of sorrow - the adding to the soup is a more formal rite. Visiting together in small groups or sporadically stopping by to express congratulations or support or condolence, the friends of the family by the rock each bring something for the cauldron, and all sample the produce of the fire. Their presents, and their presence, add flavor and body to a meal designed to provide sustenance, and to convey solidarity.

•   •   •

Then, as quickly as the veil was lifted, some small distraction in the park catches my attention, and the rich scene arisen before my eyes fades again into the enfolding grasp of time long past.

I resume my walk, and I wonder how much of my imagining might have been real. I know the kernel of the thing is true, since we do have some small knowledge of how others lived, long ago; and it feeds my romantic outlook to wonder if perhaps there really was such a life going on, by the rock, or over there by the children’s playset, or near the nearby picnic area, or perhaps where the parking lot is now.

However close or far off I might be, one way or another, it gives me some small comfort to think of the family by the rock, gathered around the dinner fire, their friends stopping by with gifts for the meal that they will all then share.

And as I walk on in the park on a chilly day, I cannot help but smile at the simplicity of the vision, while I think of the simple idea: see the fire, add something to the soup.

The land has been here a very long time, but we have a very short memory.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk

No comments:

Post a Comment