January 14, 2010

A fairly quiet night, with subdued conversation, characterized this Thursday’s gathering. I was heartily greeted, as always, and offered Scotch. This week, as you can see from the photo, there were four options waiting on the table. The weather had warmed up considerably to the mid 30’s, resulting in an overcast, dripping day. It was the first Thursday in a long time that I didn’t wear gloves or a hat as I sat by the fire taking sips of cool, smooth Macallan scotch and smoking an English tobacco called Penzance. Snow still lay deeply on the ground and the sky was overcast, lit with an unusually bright pinkish glare, the result of the combined lights of dozens of cities and villages and the great beacon of Chicago, thirty miles distant. It recalled to mind an article in the November 2oo8 issue of National Geographic magazine on the disappearance of darkness where author Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote the following:

“In most cities the sky looks as though it has been emptied of stars, leaving behind a vacant haze that mirrors our fear of the dark and resembles the urban glow of dystopian science fiction. We’ve grown so used to this pervasive orange haze that the original glory of an unlit night–dark enough for the planet Venus to throw shadows on Earth–is wholly beyond our experience, beyond memory almost. And yet above the city’s pale ceiling lies the rest of the universe, utterly undiminished by the light we waste–a bright shoal of stars and planets and galaxies, shining in seemingly infinite darkness.”

I used to spend summers at a camp in the upper peninsula of Michigan, about twenty minutes from the shores of Lake Superior. The darkness was almost a palpable force and the stars so prolific in the black sky as they bent over the earth, that I felt them as a great weight pressing down from the heavens, and myself an insignificant speck. Combined with the pine forests that hedged us in on all sides, the nights were dark indeed, so much so that you almost couldn’t see your hand in front of your face and had to navigate by looking at the treetops lining both sides of the road and defining its limits by their outlines silhouetted against the sky.

I feel much as James Boswell must have felt when he recorded Samuel Johnson’s conversations for posterity in his book The Life of Samuel Johnson, which I am reading. I am doing much the same (though by no means in such an expert fashion as Boswell) in listening to the weavings of conversation and then noting them down, knowing that I cannot remember everything, but not wanting anything important to be lost. Perhaps I offer this as a disclaimer, as I do not remember much of what was said this night. I remember that Jerry was smoking a new pipe that had been given to him by a friend–an enormous meerschaum carved in the likeness of a Turkish sultan. There was a brief revisiting of last week’s question of which five books one would want if one were trapped on a desert island. We also wondered if any books were being written by contemporary authors that would be read 100, 200, or more years from now as the classics are still read. We couldn’t think of any. Some other talk of education, stories of being raised in pentecostal churches, and the habit of Finnish parents to flick their children most painfully on the back of the head when they misbehave in church.

Alas for wandering minds. Such was the case of mine this night. But then I did promise all of you a shorter post this week, so you see it all works out most admirably for everyone. For those of you who are interested, I have included a most humorous treatise on the theology of pipe smoking that was passed along to me by a friend and if you will simply click on the “Theology of Pipesmoking” link in the categories box at the top right of this page, you will be directed to it.

As always, I welcome thoughts, comments, interaction of any kind. Simply click in the comment box and type away.

Until next time, pax vobiscum.

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~ by Mark Neal on January 16, 2010.

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