Cold Mountain

Some excerpts that move me.

…but he did believe that there is a world invisible to us. He [Inman] no longer thought of that world as heaven, nor did he still think that we get to go there when we die.  Those teaching had been burned away.  But he still could not abide by a universe composed only of what he could see, especially when it was frequently foul.  So he held onto the idea of another world, a better place…

“The comeliest order on earth but is a heap of random sweepings.”

Nature, Inman was fully aware, sometimes calls attention to its special features and recommends them for interpretation.

The Tennessee boy peered up at the start so indicated and said, How do you know its name is Rigel.-I read it in a book, Inman said. -Then that’s just a name we give it, the boy said.  It ain’t God’s name. Inman had thought on the same issue a minute and then said, How would you ever come to know God’s name for that star? -You wouldn’t, He holds it close, the boy said.  It’s a thing you’ll never know.  It’s a lesson that sometimes we’re meant to settle for ignorance.  Right there’s what mostly comes from knowledge, the boy said, tipping his chin out at the broken land, apparently not even finding it worthy of sweeping a hand across its contours in a sigh of dismissal.  At the time, Inman had thought the boy a fool and had remained content to know our name for Orion’s principal star and to let God keep His dark secret.  But now he wondered if the boy might have had a point about knowledge, or at least some varieties of it.

Monroe [Ada’s father] would have dismissed such beliefs as superstition, folklore.  But Ada, increasingly covetous of Ruby’s learning in the ways living things inhabited this particular place, chose to view the signs as metaphoric.  They were, as Ada saw them, an expression of stewardship, a means of taking care, a discipline.  They provided a ritual of concern for the patterns and tendencies of the material world.  Ultimately, she decided, the signs were a way of being alert, and under those terms she could honor them.

When three crows harried a hawk across the sky, Ruby expressed her great respect for the normally reviled crow, finding much worthy of emulation in their outlook on life.  She noted with disapproval that many a bird would die rather than eat any but food it relishes.  Crows will relish what presents itself.  She admired their keenness of wit, lack of pridefullness, love of practical jokes, slyness in a fight.  All of these she saw as making up the genius of crow, which was a kind of willed mastery over what she assumed was a natural inclination toward bile and melancholy, as evidenced by its drear plumage.-We might all take instruction from crow, Ruby said pointedly, for Ada was clearly in something of a mood, the lifting of which lagged considerably behind the fairing sky.

-What are you doing up here? she said aloud to the heron.  But she knew by the look of him that his nature was anchorite and mystic.  Like all of his kind, he was a solitary pilgrim, strange in his ways and governed by no policy or creed common to flocking birds.  Ada wondered that herons could tolerate each other close enough to breed.  She had seen a scant number in her life, and those so lonesome as to make the heart sting on their behalf.  Exile birds.  Everywhere they were seemed far from home.

-I wish I had something to pay you with, Inman said. – I might not have took it anyway, the man said.

There were crows in the limbs above him, three of them, and the were harrying a rat snake  they had discovered up in the tree.  They sat on the limbs above the snake.  They sat on the limbs above the snake and grabbed at it, and now and again one flew close by and feinted at it with glinting bill.  The snake made the customary vicious displays of its kind, erecting itself and hooding out its neck and hissing and striking as if it were deadly.  But all its efforts were met with hilarity and ridicule by the crows, and the snake soon departed. The crows stayed on through much of the afternoon, celebrating their victory.  Inman watched them anytime his eyes were open, observing closely their deportment and method of expression.  And when his eyes were closed, he dreamed he lived in a kind of world where if a man wished it he could think himself to crow form, so that, though filled with dark error, he still had power either to fly from enemies or laugh them away.  Then, after awhile of passing time in such wise, Inman watched night fall, and it seemed to him as if the crows had swelled out to blacken everything.

Ruby pressed her lips to the velvet nose of the horse and then backed off an inch and opened her mouth wide an blew out a deep slow breath into its flanged nostrils.  The dispatch sent by such a gesture, she believed, concerned an understanding between them.  What it said was that she and Ralph [horse] were of like minds on the issue at hand.  You settled horses’ thinking that way.  They took it as a message to let down from their usual state of high nerves.  You could calm white-eyed horses with such a companionable breath.

[Ada’s letter] Working in the fields, there are are brief times when I go totally without thought.  Not one idea crosses my mind, though my senses are alert to all around me.  Should a crow fly over, I mark it in all its details, but I do not seek analogy for its blackness.  I know it is a type of nothing, not metaphoric.  A thing unto itself without comparison.  I believe those moments to the root of my new mien.  You would not know it on me for I suspect it is somehow akin to contentment.

She [Ada re: of the character in her books she reads] wished all the people of the story to be more expansive, not so cramped by circumstance.  What they needed was more scope, greater range.

Its ultimate line was: Come back to me is my request. …just saying what your heart felt, straight and simple and unguarded, could be more useful than four thousand lines of Keats.  She had never been able to do it in her whole life, but she thought she would like to learn how.

My imagination thus wholly engaged in the contemplation of this magnificent landscape, infinitely varied, and without bound, I was almost insensible or regardless of the charming objects more within my reach.

Where the [creek] ran shallower and slower, then, were the places prone to freezing. He [Ada’s father] would have said what the match of the creek’s parts would be in a person’s life, what God intended it to be the type of.  All God’s works would elaborate analogy.  Every bright image in the visible world only a shadow of a divine thing, so that earth and heaven, low and high, strangely agree in form and meaning because they were in fact congruent.

But you could not say the song had been improved, for as was true of all human effort, there was never advancement.  Everything added meant something lost, and about as often as not the thing lost was preferable to the thing gained, so that over time we’d be lucky if we just broke even.  Any thought otherwise was empty pride.

As they walked, Ada talked to Inman in the voice she had heard Ruby use too speak to the horse when it was nervous.  The words did not much matter.  You could say anything.  Speculate the most common way on the weather or recite the lines from the Ancient Mariner, it was all the same.  All that was needed was a calming tone, the easement of a companion voice.

Any wound might heal on the skin side but keep on burrowing inward to a man’s core until it ate him up.  The why of it, like much in life, offered little access to logic.

And it was pointless, he [Inman] said, to think how those years could have been put to better use… There was no recovering from them now.  You could grieve endlessly for the loss of time and for the damage done therein.  For the dead, and for youe own lost self.  But the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on.  And those old ones knew a thing or two and had some truth to tell… for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were. All your grief hasn’t changed a thing.  What you have lost will not be returned o you.  It always be lost. You’re left with only your scars to mark the void.  All you can choose to do is go on or not.  But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.

[Inman] There was a goatwoman that fed me, and she claimed it’s a sign of God’s mercy the He won’t let us remember the reddest details of pain. He knows the parts we can’t bear and won’t let our minds render them again.  In time, from disuse, they pale away.  At least such was her thinking.  God lays the unbearable on you and then takes some back. … Ada begged to differ with part of the goatwoman’s thoughts.  She said, I think you have to give Him some help in forgetting.  You have to work at not trying to call such thoughts up, for if you call hard enough they’ll come.

…being beaten breed compassion.  It can.   But it can also breed hardness. There to some degree a choice.

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