Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Susquehanna fire

There is something touching about the old-fashioned hokiness of a homemade ceremony. At 6:00 on last Thursday evening a “crossing-over” ceremony for Scouts took place on the old stone bridge that the Clark family built close to the mouth of the Susquehanna. I’ve grown fond of these events. One of my favorites was a cold summer’s day—a wild, windy ceremony atop Star Field, with scudding clouds and grand views of the lake and hills, with the tethered meadow flowers and grasses running like mad from the gusts.

Mother Nature made sure that this event rivaled the Star Field ceremony in breeze and cold and beauty. It was already dark under the trees, though the ground was luminous with snow; above us could be glimpsed roofs and walls from the Clark houses—a sight tinged with a sort of melancholy end-of-things feeling, since the last Clark is childless. I was also thinking about a relative who was, even then, drawing close to death--about all sorts of crossings. In the near distance, I could see the old hanging ground and light spilling from my friend Gail’s kitchen window. The landscape contained a microcosm of long-ago but still apt possibilities for young men: the hanging ground; the mansion; the well-built arches of a bridge constructed by local stonemasons.

It was too windy for the candles set along the bridge to stay lit. Only the flaming arrows, shot as each of the oldest boys “crossed over,” burned like comets through the night and were extinguished in the slow-moving river. Mike played narrator, hoisting a lantern at the crest of the bridge. The younger boys stayed in their little packs, listening to the ceremony and jostling among themselves. I had a sweet and slightly sorrowful sense of them as children growing up, and remembered how some of them looked years back.

The ceremony had a strange poetry in that landscape and at that hour. It held a devotion to honor, ideals, and ethics that seemed to spring like alien fire from a lost realm into our own darkening world. The seven virtues, the Indian with his animals from whom he learns, the clean white blaze of purity and aspiration, the arrow of light: all these things were essentially “literary” devices, only tenuously rooted to a mythology. And yet there was a potency to the event, and something strangely lovely about hearing the names and stories of the virtues--about listening to the voices of the four winds speaking into the windy air.

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The image of the fire arrow was found at Regia Anglorum, “They Didn’t Have Bows, Did They?”: http://www.regia.org/warfare/SaxonArchery.htm. Not simply pillaged in good Anglo-Saxon fashion but used by permission of Jon-the-webmaster. Our archer used a compound bow.

16 comments:

  1. If that ceremony had poetry, you added magic. That is heavenly writing! I am going to print that out and hang it on my wall if you don't mind!

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  2. Katie, with a reaction like that, you can come to the Palace any time!

    Now I'm going out to be a ferrywoman...

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  3. I believe some sorrow has seeped into the Palace and filled it with deep gray shadows of a daunting size. We must snare a laughing beam of cheer and bring it in, to dance among this black type! Light a fire of hope, everyone, to chase out invading misery.

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  4. The Palace is a strange and sometimes uncanny place, and it's always good to have more light, more light--

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  5. I’m blowing in a snippet of light, wrapped up in a smile, through an open window. See if you can catch it: some small wonder is pinned to its blowy, breezy tail...

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  6. Thanks for the happy little comet, Megan--

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  7. Did you hear the little whisper of happy things to come: songs of rainbows flying in a star-soaked streamer of serenity?

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  8. Did you hear the little whisper of happy things to come: songs of rainbows flying in a star-soaked streamer of serenity?

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  9. Oops! I thought my computer was messed up, but I was wrong!

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  10. Megan...
    I am speechless. That was the most beautiful thing I have ever read. You are amazing! All I can say is Chris was right, when he said "We're unworthy."

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  11. Katie and Megan, I am going out to a birthday luncheon for an elderly writer. We're going to the Hawkeye Grill (named for Fenimore Cooper's hero--his Natty Bumppo, Deerslayer, Pathfinder, etc.) Then I'm having tea with a middle-aged one. So I'm glad to have started the day with the enthusiasm and spirit of the scribbling teen set!

    You two give the famous Ms. L and her ten thousand colors an easy day, okay?

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  12. Glad to supply some younger creativity, although I'm sure your author friends are quite enthusiastic in their own ways.

    And Katie: I'm so glad you like my little comments, irridescent in comparison to Ms. Youman's bold rainbows.

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  13. oh, you. Incredible how you give others so vividly more than they could ever, ever articulate on their own. Guess what? those images and memories are mine now, too.

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  14. Laura, I would like to have seen your pictures of that one...

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  15. I will fling creativity out into the world: draped over empty branchs, blooming with delicate, dew-embroidered petals and swaying among flowing crystal waters. Take some and spin a miracle, then pin it to a cloud for for the moon to admire.

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  16. The Beggar Queen is out at the moment, but she'll no doubt like that when she returns. She's a big one for spring and beauty and making things, though to tell you the truth she also relishes a chance to plunk down in the kitchen and chew the fat by the fire.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.