Nearer to God
Recently while reading Joaquin Miller’s 1873 Life Amongst the Modocs – about life as the Mt. Shasta Modocs lived it and the world of the miners who ripped open the mountainsides and polluted the salmon streams that had nourished Indian tribes for many centuries – I came on a passage that reminded me of my June 14 posting “Reframing the Neighborhood” about some houses on a hillside in San Bruno, just across the Bay from the Oakland hills were Joaquin Miller State Park is. I had at first thought of them as “ticky tacky little boxes” but had to reframe that view to include the photographer, Ansel Adams’ view of them as “that necklace of houses.” Now I can see them both ways.
But first, here’s how Miller framed himself
I then knew nothing at all of men. Cattle and horses I understand thoroughly. But somehow I could not understand or get on with my fellow man. He seemed to always want to cheat me—to get my labour for nothing. I could appreciate and enter into the heart of an Indian. Perhaps it was because he was natural ; a child of nature ; nearer to God than the White man.
I think what I most needed in order to understand, get on and not be misunderstood, was a long time at school, where my rough points could be ground down. The schoolmaster should have taken me between his thumb and finger and rubbed me about till I was as smooth and as round as the others. Then I should. have been put out in the society of other smooth pebbles, and rubbed and ground against them till I got as smooth and pointless as they. You must not have points or anything about you singular or noticeable if you would get on. You must be a pebble, a smooth, quiet pebble. Be a big pebble if you can, a small pebble if you must. But be a pebble just like the rest, cold, and hard, and sleek, and smooth, and you are all right. But I was as rough as the lava rocks I roamed over, as broken as the mountains I inhabited; neither a man nor a boy.
Hard and Sleek and Smooth
There are landscape pebbles here and there in my neighborhood, so I decide to go photograph some and bring back one to put alongside a piece of serpentine from a trip to Shasta last fall. But there was a problem. As soon as I framed the pebbles for my photo,the moment I focused my beam of attention, I couldn’t force them back into non-entity. Both individually and as a bunch they had become beautiful.
Unique in All the World
That minor miracle — “Why who makes much of a miracle? — triggered thoughts of the skin horse with most of his hair loved off in Margery Williams’ story of the velveteen rabbit. Loved enough , anything can become unique in all the world, like the Little Prince’s rose.
Right now I’m looking at that plain pebble I brought home and put on my desk. I think I brought home a poem.
And How About Hopkins’ “Windhover”?
You can civilize a pebble till your polishing cloth wears out and you cannot quench the fierce fire inside.
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
The field where the 13th century Rumi offered to meet us doesn’t seem to have ideas like ticky-tacky or smooth or rough pebbles:
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase
doesn’t make any sense.
— translation by Coleman Barks