The weather around here has been appropriately gloomy for the autumnal equinox. Although Hurricane Florence gave us a day of rain, the heavy clouds have been part of a pattern that has held largely since May. Given the gray skies, we opted to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds last night. My wife isn’t a horror fan, but she does like Hitch. We’ve watched The Birds together many times, but this is the first time since I wrote Holy Horror. I was somewhat surprised to recall how much Scripture plays into the script. This is mostly due to a drunken doomsday sayer in the diner. After the attack on the school kids of Bodega Bay, he declares that it’s the end of the world and begins citing the Bible. He’s there for comic relief, but the way the movie ends he could be right.
When I was writing Holy Horror I had a few moments of panic myself. Had I found all the horror films with the Bible in them? Could anyone do so (without an academic job and perhaps a grant to take time off to watch movies)? I eventually realized that I was merely providing a sample in that analysis. Several weeks after I submitted the manuscript I watched The Blair Witch Project. There was the Bible. The same thing happened last night under a glowering late September sky. The Birds has the Bible. Two weeks ago I saw The Nun; well, that one’s almost cheating. But you get the picture—the Good Book appears rather frequently in horror. That’s what inspired me to write the book in the first place.
Now that nights are longer, and cooler, the grass has somewhat poignantly relinquished its aggressive summer growth. Most of the ailanthus trees have been cut down (I must be part lumberjack). My outside hours are limited not only by work but by the fading light. In the words of the sage, “winter’s tuning up.” We moved to a house we saw in the spring as days were lengthening. Now we’ve come to the dividing line that will slowly leech the light from our evening skies. I suspect that as I go back and watch some of my old favorites again I’ll discover something I already knew. The Bible and horror belong together because both are means of coping with the darkness. Call it puerile if you will, but there is something profound about this connection. It just has to be dark for you to see it.
Posted in Animals, Bible, Memoirs, Movies, Posts
Tagged Alfred Hitchcock, autumnal equinox, Bible, Holy Horror, The Birds, The Blair Witch Project, tree of heaven
We may have been to the moon—if not personally, collectively—but we still don’t control the weather down here. It’s probably not news that the eastern part of the country has been getting a lot of rain lately. One of the factors that led me to write Weathering the Psalms was the overwhelming tendency for humans to attribute weather to the divine. It used to be that we couldn’t reach the sky, so placing deities there seemed a safe bet. Now that we’ve shot through the thin membrane of atmosphere that swaddles our planet, we’ve discovered beyond a cold, dark space liberally sprinkled with stars and planets but mostly full of dark matter. The deity we thought lived beyond the sky somehow wasn’t anywhere our probes flew and recorded.
Still, down here on the surface, we live with the realities of weather and still think of it in terms of punishment and pleasure. When we don’t get enough rain, God is destroying us with drought. Too much rain, and the Almighty is washing us away with flood. The true variable in all of this is, obviously, human perception. Sure, animals experience the weather too, and they sometimes look to be as disgusted as humans when it snows too early or too late, or when the rain just won’t stop. I have to wonder if somewhere in their animals brains there’s the seed of an idea that the bird, or squirrel, or woodchuck in the sky is angry at them for some unspecified faunal sin.
While heading to the store yesterday, after weather reports assured us the rain was finally over for the day, the skies told a different story. The vistas around here are never what they were in the midwest—or what they are in Big Sky country—but the approaching storm was pretty obvious. An opaque drapery of precipitation was coming our way and although a rainbow would cheekily show up afterward, knowing that we’d been caught away from home with our windows open felt like punishment for something. Perhaps the hubris of buying a house when all I really require is a corner in which to write. Somewhere in my reptilian brain I translated a natural event into a supernatural one. When we got home to discover the storm had gone north of us, it felt like redemption. I spied the birds sheltering in shadows from the sun’s heat. Were they thinking it was some kind of divine avian displeasure, and hoping for some rain to cool things off for a bit? If so, was our religion correct, or was theirs?
Posted in Animals, Consciousness, Environment, Just for Fun, Posts, Religious Origins, Weather
Tagged animal intelligence, outer space, rain, Weather, Weathering the Psalms
House-buying is perhaps best left for the young. Flexibility is, unfortunately, something that effaces with age, and house-buying is a rough transition at best. For anyone following this blog over the past month, the theme of moving is familiar. How we hired a moving company that didn’t get us in our new place until after 2:30 in the morning. How torrential rains came later and flooded our worldly goods temporarily stored in the garage. How mowing the lawn caused me to question my faith—wait—I haven’t told that one yet! Well, you get the picture. Suffice it to say that although I didn’t think moving would be easy, it’s been a lot more difficult than I could’ve possibly imagined. In the midst of it came a dove.
At times, I must confess, I’m tempted toward superstition. A strange significance between events that are, in actual fact, random. We’ve all read of people who buy a house and discover some secret treasure left stashed away in the attic. The former owners of our house only left undisclosed defects that become clear in periods of prolonged rain. Even so, as I was feeling as miserable as one of Ray Bradbury’s astronauts on Venus—yes, the precipitation does begin to drive you insane after a while!—I decided to try an impose some order on the chaos that is our garage (we haven’t had a dry weekend since moving in to transfer the soggy stuff to our house) I looked down. There, amid the screws and other little detritus left behind in the way of treasure, I found a dove charm. A dove sent after a flood.
The symbolism of the dove with hope is ancient indeed. It predates the Bible when it comes to a symbol that the flood is nearly over. The Mesopotamians also had a dove sent out from the ark, and I’m given to believe this is something ancient mariners, whether they rhymed or not, regularly did to assess if land was near. Unlike our heavy, wingless species, birds can soar over chaos. At least for a while. They are a symbol of hope. Was that dove sent to me on purpose at a time when I needed it, or was it just a random find, one of those too much stuff in a small world moments? There’s no way to assess that, I suppose. For me, on yet another rainy day, it’s a symbol of hope. The only other choice, it seems, would be to build an ark.
Posted in Animals, Bible, Current Events, Memoirs, Mesopotamia, Natural Disasters, Posts, Weather
Tagged doves, Mesopotamia, Noah's Ark, Noah's Flood, rain, superstition
This blog was born at the very lake I’m about to leave. Although it’s relaxing, there’s an element of chaos to a family vacation that stirs up creativity. Tomorrow’s long day of travel back east, however, will mean another day without a post. Flights leave so early that you barely have time to slither out of bed to the shuttle, and the airport hotspots want your money to connect. I’d rather maintain radio silence for a day. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep my eyes open for religion hidden in the interstices of American life. Since religion and mythology share sleeping quarters, I’m reminded of something I saw up here in the northwest the other day. While in a local grocery and souvenir shop (for all groceries in this area carry souvenirs) I saw sasquatch dolls.
Such cryptids are unknown to science, of course. Even if they really exist, their liminal status now places them firmly in the realms of mythology. Being in the wilderness can be an uncanny experience. Long accustomed to dwelling in cities and towns, we feel vulnerable out in the open. Taking walks in the woods might just put you in the path of black bears, grizzlies, or mountain lions. Who knows what else might be hiding in these woods? It’s easy to believe in our myths here. Vacation, in addition to being the ultimate reality, counts as time borrowed against work and its punishing rationality. Religion thrives in the quiet moments when you’re not sure what might be hiding just out of view.
Did ancient people devise belief in such circumstances as this? (Well, without the wifi and indoor plumbing, of course.) It’s not hard to feel the spirit of the lake. Standing chest-deep in the water, being rolled by the waves, there’s a kind of secular baptism taking place. In the quiet unearthly voices can be heard. No television or newspaper tells you that it can’t be happening. Listening is much easier with no distractions. These woods are vast. Human access to them is limited to marked and maintained trails. Beyond these borders, who knows? Science comforts us with the assurance that there are no monsters out there. Standing isolated from any other human beings, surrounded by ancient trees, you might begin to wonder if such assurance is as certain as it sounds. The sasquatches are children’s toys, and the sense of the numinous you feel can, like all extraordinary things, be explained away.
Posted in Animals, Deities, Environment, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Origins, Travel
Tagged cryptozoology, grizzly bears, mythology, nature spirits, Pacific Northwest, sasquatch
The place I’ve been spending this week is the habitat of grizzly bears, caribou, and mountain lions, none of which I’ve ever seen here. Two of these species view us as potential, if troublesome, prey. In actuality, even here in the wilderness we’ve made the human presence felt and wildlife sightings are somewhat rare. I saw more deer in New Jersey than I’ve ever seen here. Kind of makes you wonder about the human reputation among other creatures. We like to look at them in zoos, but we don’t see them in their natural surroundings. I like to think that it’s because they have so much space out here to wander—we see plenty of evidence of moose, for example, without an antler or dewlap making an appearance.
The environment, as created in our won image, has become somewhat sterile. Kind of the angry, old white man’s view of government. One color is all you need. Variety is too challenging, and threatening. We’ve driven the wolves to extinction around here, so you won’t see any of those. Won’t hear their plaintive howls on a moonlit night. You’ll see motorboats aplenty, and cars with fancy technology, and airplanes buzzing overhead. This will have to do for wilderness, since other places are fast developing into surveillance states to protect the rich men’s money. Wilderness means nothing to such people, unless it can be exploited for personal gain. The thing is, once it’s gone for them, it’s gone for us all. I found a sardine tin shining like silver in the silt on the bottom of our lake. Our fingerprints are everywhere.
The problem isn’t new. Even some monks in late antiquity found that when they headed into the desert for heroic feats of spirituality, they were followed by the curious. Crowds would sometimes gather to watch them being holy. Would that break a saint’s concentration? Do I even need to ask? The forest service asks us to stay on the trails. The trails are well trod. Out of sight, but never far from mind are the bears and cougars. We’ve driven them out of our path and then congratulate ourselves on becoming the top predators. Once the beasts are gone we turn our instincts on our fellow humans. To flush them out into the open we must tame their wildness. And when it’s all gone the only rule will be, in this distorted vision, that of rich white men. An angry grizzly bear would be far more congenial.
I was a science nerd as a kid. Well, at least I had a real soft spot for charismatic megafauna, but who doesn’t? We had those cheap, plastic figurines of dinosaurs that we incongruously mixed with our mammoths and cavemen—wait, no. We weren’t allowed cavemen because people didn’t evolve. Nevertheless, we didn’t see any problem putting glyptotherium in combat with t-rex. Pleistocene or Triassic didn’t matter—they weren’t here now. Extinction is the great equalizer. One of the figurines that always intrigued me was the giant ground sloth. I mean, here was a creature bigger than it needed to be. Not hurting anybody, it just wanted to eat leaves and laze around. A lifestyle that sounds attractive to this day.
Photo credit: Postdlf, from Wikimedia Commons
Human beings, in a process that is still continuing, wiped out animals bigger than themselves. The story is poignantly told in footprints discovered in White Sands National Monument. A Washington Post piece by Ben Guarino tells how paleontologists discovered a human footprint embedded in that of a giant sloth. Reading the story I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the very last one in existence. What if we’d uncovered the story of extinction in real time? Sloths, apart from being named after a mortal sin, never harmed anybody unprovoked. Simple vegetarians—principally vegans, apart from the occasional accidental bug, actually—they were the ultimate victims of human greed. It is virtually certain that we drove them extinct just like we did the dodo and the fiscally conservative Republican. Not exactly fast food, sloths couldn’t really outrun us, and like good Trumpists, we took advantage of their weakness to our own gain.
Or loss. There are no giant sloths left. We’ll never thrill to the sight of a living eucladoceros, or wonder at chalicotheres roaming the savanna. We’ll never run for our lives from an African bear otter (the mind reels). Our world becomes poorer for our presence, it seems. We moved from huddling in fear in our caves out to take on the beasts with our technology. Once we cottoned onto the concept, we refined it until we could drop an elephant with the single pull of a trigger. Our destruction of megafauna continues at an alarming and accelerating rate. Evolution does have quite an imagination, after all. Like human beings, it can take sins and make them larger than life. And “thou shalt not kill,” we say, applies only to our species.
Posted in Animals, Archaeology, Current Events, Environment, Evolution, Posts, Science
Tagged Ben Guarino, extinction, giant sloth, ground sloth, The Washington Post, White Sands National Monument