February 25, 2010

To organize a subversive gathering, begin with a fire built from the bones of an old tree and a west wind that sends cedar-scented smoke stinging into the eyes. Add a fresh fall of snow, a waxing moon riding the wheel of a dark sky, unimpeded and sharp with stars, a good pouch of tobacco, six or seven companions, and a lightning-struck tree arching its arms over your band in protection. There you have it: the ingredients for fomenting all manner of rebellions and revolutions.

Let me explain. I have felt these Thursday evenings to be subversive in the sense that they undercut current social and cultural trends in communication as well as subverting the culture at large’s sense of  social progressivism.  Here around the flames,  we encounter other human beings and the elements of nature unequivocally vis-a-vis. Technological mediation is stripped away and experience occurs at first hand. Here we are not ensnared in a web of social networking that forbids depth with a few and encourages trivial interaction with hundreds. Here the tightly reined adversaries of modern culture are loosed: depth, reflection, the exchange of ideas, silence, companionship. It is no accident that we sit outside in all weather  and grapple with real wind, real cold, real rain. We let the cold sink deep into our bones or the snow settle on our backs because they are unflinchingly real, and the real, defined in these terms, is a waning resource in our culture. We have engineered webs of technological connectivity around us, but their function serves to hold at arm’s length rather than invite us in.  Here, time passes as we watch the firelight flicker on each other’s faces and the roar of the headlong world fades for a time. Here, we are alive in a way that our culture is not and does not encourage us to be. Here, we are subversive.

I arrived at 11:15 p.m. to a night of windy darkness. Carl got up to leave and pressed a tin of Dunhill Nightcap into my hands with the injunction to try it, and said, despite my protestation to return it to him next week, that it was okay if I smoked it all! A tin that had just been opened, mind you, bearing this inscription:  “A rich flavoured smoking mixture for the evening with its period of relaxation and leisure.” How appropriate.

Amongst some general conversation I heard Ralph wonder if there would be night in heaven. A discussion spun off into the notion that God created the darkness as well as the light, so how did the environment appear before God began creating if it was neither light nor darkness?  “Like an empty ziplock bag,” mused Greg, in an offhand manner. I told him it sounded like a new branch of theology and he could be its first proponent. We also thought that perhaps we would have the ability to see other spectrums of light and undreamed of colors, or, as Jerry suggested, the gates of knowing might be thrown open, and we might be able to hear with our legs, like the crickets.

I was asked to read some poetry, so I dug around in my car and found a book of Dylan Thomas’s poetry. I chose this poem:

The   spin
Of     the     sun
In    the    spuming
Cyclone   of    his   wing
For     I    was     lost     who  am
Crying at the man drenched throne
In    the    first   fury    of    his     stream
And      the       lightnings       of      adoration
Back  to  black silence melt and  mourn
For  I  was   lost  who   have    come
To      dumbfounding     haven
And   the   finding   one
And the high noon
Of his wound
Blinds my

As this was one of a series, I read a few others and we discussed the imagery that Thomas is so adept at putting into his poetry.

The night, as my dad always says, was “clear as a bell.” The moon gazed down at us on its way to some far country. It seemed small and remote, as if trying to hoard itself before bursting out at its  full in a few days time.

Without much else to report, and as the meeting broke up not long after I arrived, I bid you all a fond farewell. Until next time. . .


~ by Mark Neal on March 1, 2010.

4 Responses to “February 25, 2010”

  1. The finest and most alive description of those subversive nights that I am still apart of in Spirit. I enjoy being apart of those unique times. I still smoke towards the North and lift my liquor in you all’s direction. I still have some honest friends… and they are few. Thank you for your words.

  2. You are most welcome. Thank you for your kind comments. To all our brothers who still attend in spirit, we lift our glasses to you. You have all left your mark on the brotherhood.

  3. Hmm, interesting. How often though do I insist on being tethered to shallow world outside of the BotB by leaving my phone on and txting someone not a part or checking my email as the conversation drifts to the interests of others? A solemn thought, but I doubt I will turn my phone off.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Paul. In writing as I did, I was not attempting to denigrate the “outside world” and claim that BotB is the only place where interaction of importance can take place, but was merely suggesting that it is one place where such things can occur, and that our way of life doesn’t often encourage us to meet in such ways. I too am not immune to conversing with the “outside world” on my phone via text or call during these nights, and I also will not turn my phone off. I do not suggest that we should turn away from technology, or that we are distinguished from the outside world in any way, perhaps only that it is important to carve out space for meeting together in person, regardless of the fact that we leave our phones on or off. In this sense, any gathering where people interact face to face would suffice. Perhaps I romanticize BotB a bit too much, but that is my issue.

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