No doubt about it today; Summer's coming to a graceful end and Autumn is peaking through the veils, ready to usher in glorious death.
What do we know?
I wonder. To wonder takes time. I walk in the hills behind our home. The leaves have fallen, leaf litter, perfect for the shuffling of towhees. The supple grasses of summer have become knee-high rattles. Ridge winds shake the tiny seedheads like gourds. I hear my grandfather's voice.
All sound requires patience; not just the ability to hear, but the capacity to listen, the awareness of mind to discern a story. A magpie flies toward me and disappears in the oak thicket. He is relentless in his cries. What does he know that I do not? What story is he telling? I love these birds, their long iridescent tail feathers, their undulations in flight. Two more magpies join him. I sit on a flat boulder to rest, pick up two stones and begin striking edges.
What I know in my bones is that I forget to take time to remember what I know. The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves. We are animals, living, breathing organisms engaged not only in our own evolution but the evolution of a species that has been gifted with nascence. Nascence--to come into existence; to be born; to bring forth; the process of emerging.
Even in death we are being born. And it takes time.
I think about my grandfather, his desire for voices, to be held as he dies in the comfort of conversation. Even if he rarely contributes to what is being said, his mind finds its own calm. To him this is a form of music that allows him to remember he is not alone in the world. Our evolution is the story of listening.
In the evening by firelight in their caves and rock shelters, the Neanderthals sometimes relaxed to the sound of music after a hard day at the hunt. They took material at hand, a cave bear's thigh bone, and created a flute. With such a simple instrument, these stocky, heavy browed Neanderthals, extinct close relatives of humans, may have given expression to the fears, longings, and joys of their prehistoric lives. (John Noble Wilford, "Playing of Flute May Have Graced Neanderthal Fire," The New York Times)
A bone flutelike object was found at Divje Babe in northwestern Slovenia recently, dated somewhere between forty-three thousand to eighty-two thousand years old. Dr. Ivan Turk, a paleontologist at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences in Ljubjana, believes this is the first musical instrument ever to be associated with Neanderthals. It is a piece of bear femur with four holes in a straight alignment. Researchers say the bone flute may be the oldest known musical instrument.
I wonder about that cave, the fire that flickered and faded on damp walls as someone in the clan played a flute. Were they a family? Neighbors? What were their dreams and inventions? Did they know the long line of human beings that would follow their impulses to survive, even flourish in moments of reverie?
Returning to my grandparents' home, I notice the fifty-foot antenna that rises over the roof. I recall Jack telling us as children how important it was for the antenna to be grounded in the earth, that as long as it was securely placed it could radiate signals into the air all over the world. Transmit and receive. I walk into his dim room and place my hand on my grandfather's leg. Bone. Nothing lost. Overcome by something else. Ways of knowing. My fingers wrap around bone and I feel his life blowing through him.
John H. Tempest, Jr., passed away on December 15, 1996, peacefully at home in the company of family.
~from Listening Days by Terry Tempest Williams
What music is Autumn going to play upon your bones? Are you grounded enough for signals to radiate all over the world?
Picture found here.