2003 Yom Kippur Fast at Sycamore Glen

img_2615.jpgOctober 5, 8:50 p.m.

Moon a bit more than half-full followed by Mars as if in tow. Bright still but no longer red or fat. Temperature dropping since I arrived around 7:00, just as it was getting dark. The creek is silent, though there’s still a little standing water in the pools.

Broken trees blocked the trail”sycamore and oak”the cattle making new trails in the red weathered basalt soil to get around them. Two red-tailed hawks in the dead branches of an oak at the entrance to the glen. One took off with a skreer and I just heard another. A doe and fawn walked along the ridge line above Poly Canyon.

Fragrance of tarweed: sweet and astringent”and barn smell of old hay, still golden not yet gray. The sycamore trunk behind me glows white in the moonlight when the gauzy clouds drift away. Little light pollution from the city, but I hear invisible traffic on the grade.

Sounds of the cicadas came up louder as the light drained out around 7:15. The sky lost opacity, allowing stars to slowly emerge. When I first arrived here, after the exertion of riding my bike up the canyon wearing a pack, I lay down on the air mattress and napped”immobile and comfortable”like I imagine my mother feeling in her nursing home bed.

The moon seems to be racing across the sky from southeast to southwest. At this rate it will set in a couple of hours. ¦

October 6 7:00 a.m.

Kestrel at ridgeline near the bedrock mortars, img_2620a.jpgred tail overhead. Morning clear, mild and still, but looking toward Brizzolara Creek, I see thick plumes of white fog rushing up the valley, keeping low to the ground. Then gone. Then returning. Quick breezes brush by me, one warm, one chill.

As I was fading away last night I was visited several times by curious horses. They ran off when I shouted. I awakened suddenly at 3:00 a.m. The stars brilliant, especially in the southeast: Orion, Cepheus, the moon and Mars long set. No air or road traffic. Thought vaguely of Dante ascending the sphere of fixed stars finally balanced between instinct and intellect, his will one with God’s.

img_2618a.jpgThe fog tumbles upstream behind the oaks below me, sending shreds straight up and some gauzy fragments into the lower part of the glen.

9:00 a.m.

Sun now at about the position of the moon last night at 9:00 p.m. A kestrel harries a redtail. I ask forgiveness for hurting C. This is a part of life that soldiers and generals and tough parents accept. To hurt may be as necessary as to be hurt. I’m better at the latter. Hawks and pigeons.

Warming sun, cooling breeze. Real colors, though autumnally muted.goats.jpg The glen is smaller by day than by night. The sycamore trunk that glowed is now bright white, the leaves up close bright green, refreshed by the second growth in June. Tinkle of bells uphill. There’s a herd of goats penned up there.

On my first walk this morning I thought of hermits, on fasts, in retreat to come closer to nature or its god. But how much time wasted being with themselves. The loathly ego, its pride and insecurities, discomforts and irritations, impatience and jealousy, its hungers and thirsts, boredom and satiety, its incessant nattering all loud and clear, unmuted by the noise of the world, undiluted by the presence of others and the demands of daily life. And the body, its aches and fatigues, its excretions, secretions, gurgles and rumbles, smells and foul tastes in the mouth. How to find freedom imprisoned in the self?

In this Mediterranean climate it’s still the season of dormancy, the barren part of the year. The only fresh pasture for the horses grazing last night is prckly ox tongue and burdock. The rain still a month or two away. Yet birds and crickets sing from every direction. For the ascetic, the meditator, does it matter whether God arrives or not? Is it sufficient to be ready. “I am ready.” I breathe it in and out.


bigoak.jpgPacked up my gear, a task that took resolve and energy, and carried it to the lower edge of the glen in the shade of a big oak. Caffeine withdrawal no longer as noticeable. Read the first chapter of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence¦These are morning matters, pictures you dream as the final wave heaves you up on the sand to the bright light and drying air..

The creeks¦are an active mystery, fresh every minute¦the mountains are a passive mystery the oldest of all.

On a dark day or a hazy one, everythings washed out and lackluster, but the water”it carries its own lights.

That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of emergency bivouac.

Cruelty is a mystery, and the waste of pain. But if we describe a world to compass these things, a world that is a long brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power or light. ¦

I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn’t the faintest clue where he is and he aims to learn. In a couple of years what he will have learned instead is how to fake it. He’ll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwanted taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we cant learn why.

A young buck comes close to have his picture taken. His wet nose glistens.


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