I bought a new rain gauge. Since Atlanta is in the midst of the worst
drought on record, I don’t know if this speaks more to my folly or to
But with the coming of autumn and the lack of rainfall, I’ve gotten
antsy. I’m wary. And somehow, measuring the mood of the weather makes me feel more alert. It’s a puny way of recollecting that the oceans of the air are always changing, that our world is vaster, and wilder, than we reckon. Tomorrow, the hurricane _could_ be right outside my door, even if each morning has lately dawned the same…blue, and blank, and bleary.
I know others feel this. In north Georgia, where my mother and sister still dwell, the popcorn pop of gunfire can now be heard most
weekends; hunters track the mule deer that have populated the
Appalachian peaks. And towing home some token of the wild, whether a trophy rack or a locker of venison, helps hunters shake off the drabness of domesticity.
It’s not clear to me whether this is a male thing, or whether we all
experience it…this tug of the wild and the need to drag bits of it
back home to our concrete canyons. It’s the call of Atlantis…we need
more in life than crisp hedges and primped lawns. We’re all, I
suspect, more Ent than Entwife.
I was trying to express a bit of this strange autumn dis-ease of mine
to a group of other artists, but failed miserably. The discussion was
on eastern versus western art, and about iconography in particular.
Icons are not supposed to be a creative effort of the individual…they
are intended as a means of prayerfully reproducing images that were
fixed in time hundreds or thousands of years ago. Their production is
a tame toiling; the unkind might even say icon “writing” requires
technique more than talent. And some professional iconographers
bristle at the thought of altering an icon or creating new ones…of
messing ‘em up and seeing what happens if you don’t follow the rules.
The rules _are_ the icons (!), and to be a good iconographer is, it
seems, to be completely content with respecting the rubrics.
I respect iconography immensely, but I expect I could never be an
iconographer; I always aim to amble past the fence posts. I want the
wildness, and can’t resist seeing whether a blur here or a brushstroke
there might lead to something new. I want the work to come alive and not be struck sapless in the very commotion of its creation.
I know I’m too antsy.
I dug a posthole in our yard so that I could mount my new rain gauge.
While spading up the dust, I found a grub several inches below the
surface, where there was still a trace of moisture to be found. Soft,
and white, and helpless, it curled in on itself, waiting in the deep
earth for wildness to return, for the hurricane to come and plump the
And I thought that here I was, too, curled up in the static earth,
warm and woozy, but also withering. Without the rains, without that
undeserved bolt of wildness and bluster, I, too, would parch and pale.
I dug a new hole and moved the grub, gently pressing new earth around it so that it could await, in its deep dreaming, the coming of new life.
“God is in the rain” says a line from folklore. And even when there is
none, it don’t mean it won’t come again. The storm will, I know,
someday mount anew the western sky and rumble through our forests and hammer our hills. It’ll douse doorways with flung foam and will rend the heavens.
And when it does, and whilst the deluge gluts my new rain gauge, I’ll
ponder the grub, and hope that it, too, has endured its time of
waiting and watching. I’ll remember that, without wildness, there can
be no witnessing; without grace, there can be no glory.
- Jef Murray