Jerome Shea       April 25, 2010      Weekend Wonk

Along my current running route in the Rio Grande bosque, not far from where Borghi, our late cat, rests, is a modest little stump. A foot and a half high, perhaps, and maybe seven inches across. It is not even cut cleanly through: though it definitely was sawed, the sawyer seems to have got discouraged at some point and tried again from one angle and again from another. I assume it is the stump of a young cottonwood.

What sets this little stump apart from all the others in the bosque is that it is festooned with…stuff. Most of the stuff is of a religious or at least spiritual nature. Other contributions—many people have contributed to it, and continue to—are more secular and mystifying. For example, there are several of those little pink flags that I think landscapers use. And there is the odd nickel or dime or quarter. Someone actually seems to have done an accounting and left a record of the money (about $8.75 at last audit). Is this a kind of bosque bank, a rustic credit union where some make deposits and others take out loans, all on the honor system? Beats me. Not a bad idea, though.

Here is a partial inventory of articles found on top of, draped around, or leaning against, the stump: little sea shells, including some cowry shells; colored yarn; smudge sticks; dream catchers; rude crosses; holy cards and medals; Bible verses, printed or in longhand; Tibetan prayer flags; earrings; cuff links (I think); secular medallions; a small abstract statue (a broken chessman?); a couple of door keys; key chains (fobs); and dog tags (for real dogs, not GIs). On my run this morning, I noticed a rosary, a new addition, though I will bet it is not the first rosary to adorn the stump. Also in this secular/religious clutter is, if I am not mistaken, a mezuzah case, the kind that holds a rolled up scripture and is found on the door posts of Jewish homes. (The Star of David and Hebrew letters are unmistakable, and there are small holes at each end for the fastening brads.)

I almost forgot: also a very clunky man’s wristwatch—I mean the wristwatch is clunky; I haven’t a clue about the man (well, from his taste, maybe I do). Big steel expansion band and, on the dial, a photograph of the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Allen has his right hand raised (a blessing for the wearer?). The watch ticks no more, I should add. Neither, of course, does Allen.

“Almost forgot” #2: a shell casing, Smith and Wesson 40 caliber. Serious firepower. But spent: maybe that’s the message, though I suspect there is no message.

I do suspect that many of these contributions mean nothing at all beyond a kind of magpie spirit that lives in all of us (though it is always tempting to try to supply a meaning, and anyone can play). Is the Ginsberg watch some homage to the Beats? Or maybe, rather, to the god Chronos? Is the shell casing an eloquent commentary on violence, or non-violence? I doubt it, in both cases. All of us magpies collect stuff, and the shinier the better. I pull out the drawer in this desk and, lo, there are a fifty pence piece, some trolley tokens, a single prism from some trashed chandelier, an angel medallion (shoot! I meant to take that down to the stump!), the world’s tiniest bubble level, many old rabies tags, the spare key to our unlamented Dodge Aries, and so on. When our kids pore through these drawers after the funeral, they will probably say, “What a buncha crap the old man saved!” But I think—I hope—they will say it with wry grins. We all have these silly troves, and somehow I think they do us credit.

And what of the crosses, the smudge sticks, the mezuzah, the holy cards? Well, they are clearly religious or at least spiritual (we can wrestle with that distinction later). And the bosque is the obvious place for them. How many philosophers, after all, have said that nature—make that Nature– was our first church? The folks who have put the spiritual symbols on the stump, the same, I would guess, who stop there when they and their dogs walk that peaceful, secluded bosque trail—they “get it,” as we say these days. They know what the bosque means.

This morning I was communing beside the Rio Grande, just a few yards from the trail, when I heard this guy yammering away loudly with one of those Bluetooth devices stuck in his ear. He was walking his two dogs, but the poor animals were being pretty much dragged along, so absorbed was he in some inane conversation. At first I got really angry—I’m Irish, after all—but then I thought, “You poor bastard. You think you’re so wonderfully ‘connected.’ But here in this holy bosque you are not at all connected with what matters. And you don’t even know it.”

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