October 3, 2015

Two Creative Nonfiction Pieces By Gene Eller: "On the Distractions of Black Glass", and "Together Again"

 Gene Eller has been hunkered down in a Louisiana college teaching for the past 25 years, but he lives and breaths in the northern Arkansas Ozarks where he works on rehabilitating and reconstructing his well-being not to mention the house some survivalist left abandoned 20 years ago. Yes, it's true; he spends a lot of time taking down razor wire and turning gun emplacements into windows that open, but in the process has rediscovered there's a natural world out there.  That's what has stimulated his renewed efforts to read and write about the almost forgotten earth.

On the Distractions of Black Glass

"Being beside himself bemuses him, blinds him,             forces him to act mechanically in a frenetic somnambulism."--Ortega y Gasset

    No telling how deep Lake Arrareco's basin sank into the Sierra Madre Orientals of Northern Mexico.  The fisherman unwinding line from his soda-can reel didn't seem to realize that when he threw his hook, he might as well have cut the line.  I saw this man day after day, squatting hours in the sun or rain, never catch anything.  I think he came for the lake.

    Rooted in the black granite shelf surrounding the lake basin, thousands of short, red-barked pines continually shed their needles.  The granite skirted the lake in shallow bowls and hollows thrown away from the sink hundreds of yards in a plain of deep green brush rooted in their own bristles.  The pines fed, rooted thickly-laced, among themselves only allowing the daily rains to drain acidic leach over the lip of a bowl, into the hollows where cracks drained into the mountain's center, the lake, the focus around which all this clusters.

    Fewer, weaker pines rooted in the thin, more acidic mold close to the lake.  I saw that the shelf finally dropped into the basin of the lake and boulders hunkered on the other side of the slice of water.  As close as a body's length from the basin, the water lay hidden behind the lake's rim which tilted up at the last yards of rock across which I walked.  The fisherman sat still when I walked onto the lake.  His reverie held to the water where his line lay stuck to the surface joined to its own reflection.  But shock accompanies a meditation's interruption.  No less for the fisherman who looked edgewise at my reflected eyes, muttered, then stood up, reached to smooth his mustache, and nervously moved a few yards to a more private lake's double.  

    We perched at the edge until the four o'clock sun had swallowed half the lake in orange.  The surface gleamed black and flawless.  The boulders fell dead level to their perpendicular doubles.  The clouds after the daily rain scattered out parallel to their analogs while ours rested on the movement at anxious angles.  Only the sky was missing.  The line, the granite, the clouds, and our selves lay on a dead, black glaze.  

    The uncanny, stark blackness threw back doubles which could be surface only or nothing but depth.  The desert night builds the same mood with silence.  At times, silence is so deep that the thrumming built-up could be the earth or only the aural booming of our selves.  So we sit moving as little as possible, not wanting to disturb the reflective equilibrium of self and earth.  Isolated silences, like the private lake's double, provide a surface for the self's inside out and eventually renders the watchers or listeners distilled and concentrated.  That is meditation.

    Finally, the fisherman stood up and looked expectantly down the narrow neck of the lake where I thought it ended.  He wound his line and moved away from the edge keeping his eye and ear out.  Down the apparent dead end, I, too, heard the low resonance, a subtle imitation of the desert, build into a booming reverberation.  Just as the man stepped into the cover of the trees, I turned to see two black-suited men wearing sun-glanced bits of the lake over their eyes riding high on a cruiser's bow skating ponderously through the crescent bend.  The glazed surface broke, ran ahead of the bow's momentary wound in a crazed reflection, swept over my shoes, and washed back behind the boat mending itself like a gel.  The cruiser washed out into the orange sunset.  Nothing moved until I reached to check for my passport.

~Gene Eller

Together Again

The old timers named the gullies running down off our ridge, Wolf Hollow.  It is true that the degenerate cousin of the wolf still comes up from the gullies to chase a chipmunk or run down a chicken, but coyotes (Canis latrans) yip and cry more like clowns jumping around way off, not like a howling substance, no deep-chested rumble, no silent, determined running till the game is down.  A yote shadow, swinging its head around, tail between the legs, sometimes skitters on its haunches across the ridge out in front of the house.  He’s only purple and grey smoke drifting across the iced in clearing from one canyon to the next.  No wonder Indians designated the coyote a trickster, so altogether and at the same time animal, so demon, so human.   He’s a Tea Partier all alone at the Democratic town hall, slinking up to the back of the crowd to shout out something about big gubmint or taxation, then thinks better and takes his bark back to his own hollow where, in the mob, he becomes most dangerous.  Emma, a neighbor down the road, eighty, still spry and chipper, still very upright like she carried books on her head as a child and now always feels like the world is going to tip over, she told me a story about the time out walking in the winter wood when maybe 10 coyotes ran up below her, deeper in the hollow, and paused like for a picture, snapping and curling around one another snakishly then running off in a crowd never even so much as looking at her.  “My Lord,” she talks like that, “I never had such a fright.”  She raised her hand up to her throat and fiddled with a button at the memory of it, then said, “They was so like a bunch of Democrats at a convention.”  Get enough clowns together and no matter how harmless one may seem in the singular, in the multiple, they become a mobbish horror.
But as to the wolf, the state tells us the wolves (Canis lupus) hereabouts are all gone now even though rumors and rumors of rumors keep circulating, as they will.  It may be the case that the wolf is, indeed, gone from us, but even so, reports keep coming in.  Being some 50 pounds heavier than a full grown male coyote, more muscular, and better groomed, the wolf has enough substantial heft, to keep its existence alive even if it is only in the desire and imagination of the populace.  Culture always resurrects the fallen enemy and reconstructs its image and takes the new heroic image as its own.  This explains the persistence of those failed heroes of the Southern states, and the continuing popularity of fake Indian artifacts made in China, and all the sporting committees naming their little armies after extinct populations and nations.  Stealing the blood of the fallen signals an effete and degenerate culture; whereas, the actual return of any one of the rumors and rumors of rumors signifies a residual if not resurging vitality.  We associate alpha predators with this primal energy and further take our own rubbings from those whom we see as having some of that juice rubbed on them.  We reify the Native American who rubbed shoulders with the wolf and so rubbed it on their totems.  We claim Anglo-Saxon kings as our ancestors because they knew enough of the animal to claim its name, wulf, King Wolf (Cynewulf), Wolf Protector (Wulfheard), Wolf Walker (Wolfgang).

          Thus, the excited chatter in the neighborhood resounds when a bear wanders up from the woods or a mountain lion crosses the road or a large dog-like track is seen on the river bank.  Still yet, the mythical lone wolf, the outcast, the packless wanderer, the shadow loping across the snow covered ridges of our imagination, takes form and void full under full moon, stops and swings its head around and meets our eyes, and for an instant, a wraith, a dire wolf (Canis dirus) from the Pleistocene is resurrected in our wild minds.

~Gene Eller 

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