Monday, July 21, 2014

Excerpt from 'The Fountain and the Furnace'

When I lived alone in the canyon my only source of water was not the stream which ran along the geological fault that formed it, but a spring high up the ridge opposite.

On old maps it was known as "Boar Spring." Certainly the wild pigs, lions, bobcats, and coyotes knew it, and doubtless it had been sacred to the Native Americans as was the clearing near which my cabin stood.

The spring welled out of a crack in an enormous rock; "knockers," they're called by geologists, these rocks that seem to rise singly out of the earth.

In early autumn before the rains the flow was a mere trickle, but in April it gushed from the rock and into the "box" carved from the rock, down the pipe to the redwood holding tank, where the water erupted from under its conical lid like lava from a volcano.

Developing and maintaining a spring is a delicate business. Springs are mysterious. Sometimes they will give their water in greater abundance if they are cautiously tapped. But beware of digging carelessly, or too deep. Beware of removing sentinel trees. It is no wonder springs often have been thought to have their own spirits: they are life-bearers, who guard their own secrets.

When the optimal amount of water is coming from the tapped rock the work is then to develop a box where the waters can collect to build up enough pressure to start moving through the pipe to a holding tank. The box is usually hollowed out of the rock, and the banks on every side lined with timbers. Then the box is covered to prevent contamination by animals and debris.

You run the overflow pipe down the side to the bottom of the tank so the animals can lick the water from its mouth.

Even then your work is not over. The spring has to be protected and cared for. Branches flung from surrounding trees during storms can damage the box cover. Leaves collect, and some slip into the water. Small insects can  clog the screened opening where the water enters the pipe; and occasionally a dying creature will find its last refuge in the box, seeking the cool shade and icy water to slake its thirst.

The whole system then becomes polluted and must be cleaned out and purified. This is a difficult and smelly task. With the best effort you must wait until much water has flowed before what pours from the fractured rock is again cold and crystalline.

Sometimes I would go to the spring simply to look at it. I never removed the cover without a sense of awe at the sight of the mirroring pool, and of the water welling into the stone box.  I would gaze into its depths for long moments before removing any debris. I was careful never to let anything of my own fall into it, but whether or not I actually touched the water I came away cleansed and purified, and went on my way with liquid flames burning in my heart.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Available in November . . .

Silence: A User's Guide
will be available in the USA
and the UK in November.
[Click on the image to enlarge]

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Silly Season

I am reading—or re-reading—a book I read many years ago. It's clear that it registered far more deeply than I was aware at the time. Perhaps because it supported conclusions I had already arrived at, it didn't stick out in my memory.

In any event, The Suffering of God by Terence Fretheim blows to smithereens the stereotype of the Old Testament God as big bad Daddy in the sky. It also goes a long way towards showing how much of the understanding of notions such as incarnation, transfiguration, and the suffering of God are already established in the Old Testament from very early times onwards. It's a terrific read, highly recommended.


It's high summer here in Oxford and in the UK in general, often called 'The Silly Season'. The town is heaving with tourists to the point that it is almost impossible to walk down the Cornmarket or the Broad. It's quicker to take the longer routes, but I try to avoid the town centre as much as possible. We have had a couple of weeks of hot weather; badly-needed rain last night, thank God—the garden loves both. The beans looks as if they grew a metre up their poles in the rain overnight. The squash plants are enormous, and the pumpkins are crawling all over the place. I'm already thinning leaves to keep the air circulating.

Very concerned about pollinators, though: I haven't seen too many bees this summer. There used to be a bumblebee nest behind the shed, but there is no evidence of it now. I don't use any chemicals unfriendly to bees and I've set up various places bees can nest, so their absence is worrying. The apple tree has not set a lot of fruit, but this may be because it had a plethora of small apples last year. If bees go extinct, some scientist think that humans will follow in four years' time. The latest culprit named as deadly to bees, aside from pesticides, is diesel exhaust. Since so much trade and transport depends on diesel, it's hard not to be extremely pessimistic, because regulation is so difficult and from some points of view it is already too late.


On a happier note, it's the season of summer rituals in southern England, starting with Royal Ascot, continuing with the pre-Wimbledon tennis tournaments (Queens and Eastbourne), Wimbledon (the finals are today and tomorrow), the Henley Regatta, and the Proms to come from mid-July to mid-September, all lavishly accompanied for those who attend by champagne, strawberries and cream, and Pimms (needless to say, whatever I watch is on TV, without the accompaniments!).

The men's semi-finals day at Wimbledon yesterday concluded with a wildly funny evening doubles match played by flamboyant seniors. They were all in their early seventies, but still able to deliver excellent, if not remarkable, tennis, laced with wildly funny trick shots and antics, most of which looked entirely spontaneous, even if they weren't—it was hard to tell. These older men have been playing one another for so many years that they need no rehearsal, though it's clear that they all train hard—well, some harder than others. Their agility and muscle tone is enviable. Even the umpire and Hawk-eye got in on the act. At one point a player decided to serve two balls at once and the deadpan umpire named it a double fault. The server challenged, and Hawk-eye came up with three large question marks. For all the clowning, the seniors do have their own ratings so the match wasn't mere frivolity.

Nor is my life! But these events provide welcome intervals from the hard graft of research and of creating volume 2 of Silence: A User's Guide.

May your summer be richly blessed.