Yesod– creative, procreative, desire, flow, foundation, fertility, Joseph and tzaddik
When Gary Snyder, the great poet and essayist was a teenager in the mid 1940’s, he wanted to read the sexiest book around. He went to the library and held his breath as he asked for Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by DH Lawrence. The librarian paused for a second, and then reached for the key to open the glass doors behind her. She pulled out the book and handed it to him. He grabbed it, left the library as fast as he could without running, and went to a private place to look into this book. To his amazement, upon opening this book he found warm breezes, fragrant flowers, strong trees, rocks in cool water…Craving sexual images, he found beautiful and sensual land images interconnected with beautiful sensuality.
Do you think this is why the Song of Songs is filled with luscious imagery from the natural world- aromas, mares, stags, gazelles, fruiting fruit trees, soft shade, vineyards, pastures and all the rest? After all, Rabbi Akiva did say that if all of Tanach (Torah, prophets and writings) were the Holy Temple, the Song of Songs would be the Holy of Holies. What might this Eros mean for us? It can so easily take us into divorce or leading secret lives, or make us crazy and embittered from neglect. How do we learn to raise the holy power of our desire?
Let’s slow down here. I don’t want to shatter this blog, with the intensity of writing about something so big in a space so small. I can see how it can easily happen. Our focus is how we might expand our sense of sacred desire to include the land. That’s all. DH Lawrence wrote this inspiring and often quoted line back in 1929: “Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”
Beautiful, eh? But how do we expand our imagination to encompass the entire world and cosmos? I don’t think it will be as hard as you think. Try this. Leave your home and wander the land until you find the entryway that descends into a cavern. Note the cool moist air, enjoy the echo. Follow the labyrinth cave passages until you reach the cave mouth that drops you into a grotto. Sit on the lip of the cave’s mouth and just enjoy the warm sunshine, green plants and the peaceful calm of the dragonflies. Remember that ours is the only world that we know of that has sites such as these. Utter the words, Tov M’od- Very Good.
Now take a deep breath and dive into the water and swim to the river where the waters are calm and wide, shallow and warm, allowing you to float and be supported without worry. This river, which flows from Eden is available to us at all times, ready to infuse our desires with the waters of life.
Ready to go deeper? Let the living power of letters and language grow in your imagination and become part of you. These common words are from the newish dictionary, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, by Barry Lopez. This great writer and adventurer has gathered dozens of poets and novelists to create a geographical dictionary of uncommon power. Lopez says at first the geographers on the project rejected the idea for this book. “There are already lots of geography dictionaries”, they said. And then they read the first definitions coming in. Here are a few that will help us remember that our home ground is sacred land; and help us journey into the River that is always flowing from Eden.
CAVERN: A cavern is a large chamber within a cave, a subterranean hollow- some with astonishing dimensions. The word cavernous implies a place where body and psyche can be lost, a sanctuary where philosophical speculation, a la Plato, can blossom. The words cavern and chamber are sometimes used interchangeably with cave, but the cave is labyrinthine, a maze of subterranean chambers, galleries, and passage-ways, while the cavern is the biggest room of them all. Mark Twain described the discovery of such a space in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “Tom went first, cutting rude steps in the clay hill as he descended. Huck followed. Four avenues opened out to the cavern which the great rock stood in.” Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 100 limestone caves, outstanding in the profusion, diversity, and beauty of their formations. The details of caverns – drip-stone features such as stalactites and drapery- are fragile environments affected by human activities and natural process both above and below ground. Gretel Ehrlich
CAVE: A cave mouth is a door to mystery and beauty, the entryway to a mineral world of water and moving air that, over time, has become a sacred place. A womb of Earth. Many cave walls were once painted with animals and the history of different peoples. In far deeper caves, Earth has painted its own history. Some caves developed during the life-nourishing eruptions of the planet: lava tubes, where magma runs underground and leaves empty tunnels behind. Some are tectonic, created by quaking movements of the planet. And there are long-lived caves of ice. The caves most widely known in the United States, however, are those created by dissolution and erosion in karst landscapes. “The finest workers in stone are not copper and steel tools,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.” Karst caves include passageways and rooms with mineral deposits in the form of stalactites and stalagmites, soda straws and draperylike ribbons, all built up by trickles of calcite-bearing water. Patricia Hampl describes this water in Romantic Education as “running steadily, timelessly, making its slow, hypnotic mark on the stone, on the ear, on the brain.” Caves have their own ecosystems and many animals and insects depend on them. Not just hibernating bears but resident blind crayfish and endangered cave fish. Many caves harbor bats and indigenous beetles and salamanders. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico shelters crystal formations in cathedral like rooms. The stable temperature in caves near San Antonio preserves bat guano, once used to make gunpowder. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the world’s longest cave system, with 350 miles of chambers and passages. Linda Hogan.
Note: every handful of entries have a quote from a novel or poem on the side in italics. Here’s the text next to CAVE:
Standing against a sheer face of red rock one thousand feet high; kneeling in a cave dwelling two thousand years old; watching as a million bats stream from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns into the purple dusk- these nowheres and notimes are the only home we have. Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss.
GROTTO: A small cavern scooped in a cave wall, usually by erosion, is called a grotto. The term vaguely suggests protection, shelter, or sustenance. As a river term, grotto usually refers to a small, shaded hollow a the foot of a cliff that, most often, leads back to a hidden spring or rivulet. Harriette Arnow in Seedtime on the Cumberland, describes a type of grotto worn into the base of a limestone cliff by a river of stream, an undercut feature known in that country as a rockhouse. Arthurs Sze.
STREAM: A stream is an expression of its watershed; that is, liquid is literally “expressed” from an ecological matrix, the green breast of Earth, to form a flow confined by discernible banks. A stream’s water originates in snow, spring, and rain. At its head, it may ooze from a muddy slope; at its mouth, it spreads wide and gives itself to another body of water- a lake, a river, an ocean, or even another stream. Its velocities are various: it can flow in ribbons, braids, or as flat as a scarf. Sometimes a stream runs underground or deep in the Earths surface….A stream can also, eventually, cut through rock like a blade. A stream always moves under the spell of gravity. It is a medium for transport-silt, pollen, pine needles, and leaves float its rapids and riffles and are deposited in its bed. Under the water is that streambed, all rock and roll, a home for sediment and rock and a nesting ground for fish. Steelhead, trout, and salmon lay their eggs one to three feet deep in a gravel redd, while benthic invertebrates such as stoneflies, mayflies, blackflies and caddisflies hide in stream’s cobble. A stream is dynamic- and it receives, and thus reflects, all that takes place on the land. Gretel Ehrlich
Reflection/Action: What are you favorite words? What’s the land by your home like? Where do you live in relation to the nearest ocean? For me, out my door, I’m sheltered by the Berkshire foothills and can see ridgelines (including firetower and highledges) on either side of my village. Down through the garden, past our orchard (of 5 fruit trees), cross state street and we can dip into the Deerfield River. It’s source is up in Southern VT, and flows South East, over 10 miles (as the crow flies) and as many dams, until it connects with the heart of the CT river. Just paddle down, past the Holyoke Dam with it’s fish elevator, helping Shad and Sea Lamprey and other anadromous fish up to spawn, through the state of CT all the way down to Long Island Sound and you reach the Atlantic Ocean! What’s the journey like where you live?
PS And now, for something completely different. Here’s another way to enter the river that is always flowing from Eden, and remember that we all live on sacred ground. The simple act of dancing in the moonlight. Try it, I think you’ll find its a supernatural affair!