Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

    Into the Woods: Spoofed!

    It starts like this: I am infatuated with words.

    Now, before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t just any middle school Valentine’s Day crush; spy on me for a day, and you’ll see my fancy turn its violent side. You see, I hunt them; I stalk them no less intently than a pre-agricultural Homo sapiens would her daily feast, and in similar fashion.

    Yesterday found me hunting words in the boughs of a tree. I was climbing Old Eyrie by the creek. Up the knotted rope and into the lower limbs, then scrabble hard from branch to branch, each step considered with more gravity than the last. My prey taunted me as sap clung to my fingers and rough bark slashed seemingly meaningless patterns upon my flesh. But I persevered under these burdens and was well rewarded for my troubles. In the end, I came away with a bounty fit to fill a pirate’s chest.

    Words are everywhere: their marks litter every vista and pool in every puddle: it just takes a certain eye to track them. That day, as I ascended Eyrie’s spiral staircase, each prick as bark pierced skin offered its own consolatory prize, but the true mother lode came as my head eased into the upper crown of the tree. Suddenly my gaze escaped the confines of evergreen branches and rushed to fill the expanse of the Walla Walla Valley. Beyond the flood of treetops that marks the city lay the Blues, rising steady as ever in the east. My eyes struck at them and returned informed. Life 70 feet below was given a new context, a new meaning. As I’ve walked along campus paths today I’ve been held in the arms of those mountains; my daily life has curled into their expansive embrace.

    In his book, “The Walk,” William deBuys describes a similar experience. He follows a forest path near his New Mexico home. The path begins to rise and the trees shrink as he reaches more arid heights. Suddenly, at the top, the trees fall away and the mountains claim him. No longer shielded by the forest Bill can see how the mountains rise into the sky. Here, for both Bill and myself, the hunt begins:

    Swell of sky, expanse of landscape all rushing in through my eyes in a sudden burst. Mountains bounding both sky and land and scrapes freshly red from tree bark. From these details and exhilarations distillation begins, infatuation is tested for commitment, and words coalesce. In the end Bill decides, and I concur, that the mountains rise like meaning to the sky. Like meaning. I might add that they sink with the weight of compassion to the valley.

    Webster is surely of some aid to the word hunter, and the OED perhaps a little more, but my advice to the serious seeker is to read the mountains and trees of the world, to notice the sentence that is the drop of rainwater on the withering rose, and the glisten in your lover’s eye that betrays a novel and a philosophy.

    I would like to end with a few lines from a poem I wrote this morning. It speaks to the sensuality of my superficially abstract passion. It goes:

    I want to linger in the stillness
    of things; to savor each syllable’s soft impression
    on my tongue; to speak slowly enough
    to love each word.
    Find your words. Love them as if your life depended on it. Perhaps it does.

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