Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:23
For whom do I burn this incense? For what sect do I don this loose fitting robe—this Summer habit of Japanese Yukata over t-shirt and shorts? What dogma supports the unplanned, yet pensive bow that I make towards the setting sun? Why do I perform a sort of sign of the cross upon the ethers in response to the cawing of two black crows as a blue jay takes them to task?
The backs of the leaves are gilded by the tongues of fire from our Brother Sun. Enjoying the company of a woman, my wife, who so truly embodies contentment and Holy Leisure frees me from the pie in the sky when you die mentality that asks of us to toil through this life in hopes of a better one and the microcosmic version of the same that asks of the American 50 weeks of labor for 2 weeks of bliss on the beach. Every sunset trumps the Great Florida Vacation with its incessant planning, frantic hoping from one titillation to the next and the malaise that accompanies the countdown of hours until one has to return to normalcy. Our eventless days are exquisite in their simplicity and elegance…they are Holy and they are real. We walk through the back door from the kitchen of our modest home, onto a western facing deck of no more than 10X20 feet—and the vista widens in ever penetrating beauties. Our one street light town lies quietly in the southwest of the valley beneath and provides us with yearly entertainment at no cost and from beyond a bird’s eye vantage point. Vann’s valley stretches the territory from town to the north and reveals farmland surrounding the town and a further enclosure of ridges—the last vestiges of the Appalachian Mountain range. We enter the holy place of this wooden chapel, engulfed and enshrouded in kudzu and all becomes clear…St. Peter’s Basilica is not as sacred as this, for our firmament, our dome of sky is more vast and the plenitude of our courtyard more expansive. No maintenance is required of this cloister as nature takes on her especial labor with quiet joy and pride.
We wear our hair long and our clothing loose for the simple pleasure that accompanies the subtle movement of unsuspecting winds. Both of us have locks reaching towards the center of our backs, which we imagine bolsters our intuition like so many antennae burgeoning forth from a luna moth.
Why even bring religion up at all concerning these natural beauties encircling us? This kaleidoscope of glorious emerald jewels and swirling sky needs no commentary or explanation. But something this wonderful, this full-bodied and sensorial, feels spiritual. I run my hand through our potted mint leaves and it opens up—through the olfactory glands, some secret center within that houses a multi-verse of beings, all in joyous rapture and celebration of the miracle of being alive. The limitless nerve endings throughout my body absorb this setting sun and lick up the first hint of creeping coolness from the coming night while the color extravaganza alters from moment to moment in a stimulation that is slow and enduring and delicious like a warm bowl of soup on a chilly evening.
It is a form of aesthetic mysticism.
We are not even talking, my beautiful wife and I. Pages turn in the book that she is almost finished reading and we alternately exchange glances and smiles—affectionate caresses between sipping our drinks and absorbing the spectacle before us. I know that my neighbors are already emitting the blue light from their living rooms and bedrooms and are fully absorbed in someone else’s life provided by the entertainment industry—but I also trust that another, somewhere within shouting distance, is watching this blockbuster that is ever new, yet predicted daily with exactitude.
My mother always described sunset as a deeply sad time of the day. She would take that tone that suggested pathos to my dad as she said, this day will never be again. My ex-wife had a different struggle with the glorious orb. She fought tooth and nail with it, attempting to cheat its descent into the nether regions through chronic busy-ness—hoping for one more hour of entertainment or glitter so as to be released from the drudgery of work that the coming dawn required of the slave called human. But now, there is just this ever present-ness. Just this plenitude and infinity.
Immensity above, Immensity below
To my left and to my right,
Like a raisin in a loaf of bread…the center of All that IS.
Tomorrow never comes, as the saying goes. There is just this dying light, this golden lacework upon farmland and this adoration that I feel, nay this worship of simplicity that the setting sun engenders.
The shadows lengthen across the valley. Blooming privet blends with sandalwood incense coming from a small teapot repurposed for such. The lines of fragrant smoke hesitate, then flutter and disappear against the backdrop of deciduous trees—white oak, black locust and maple, interspersed with pine. Of all the dying god myths, the Solar varietal looms as the most verifiable and the certainty of the return of the light robs the glyph of any hint of mourning. The entire process breeds hope and possibility, newness and freshness. It feels so natural and easy to slip into the position of a sun worshiper.
Looking northwest through the opening created by elm and locust affords a vision of variegated greens and unfolds, like so many story boards, nearby grasses and kudzu—rich and invasive, pines and softly green oaks with their tender new leaves—no more than 75 years old due to previous clear cutting, farmland—with observable curving patterns even at our height and distance from the ridge, un-even rows of trees of varying heights lined up as if alongside a stream, and then thick forest—creating a softness in the dying light, composed primarily of evergreen mixed with emerald and the occasional flashes of yellow ochre blending with thalo green. And then, as the ocean of green turns to black at its furthest point west, all appears to drop off, suggesting a great distance before our twin, a far away ridge, which juts upward in a smoky haze of grey, lilac and lavender.
Crickets keep time while the mocking birds sing their last call. Freedom Seekers crank up their road hogs in town and head off to more exciting possibilities for night life. A far off piece of machinery hums its final labors, possibly a combine harvester and nearby, someone’s automatic pool cleaning device makes its sucking noise, filling its bladder with bees, wasps and unidentified bugs fresh from the Gulf.
My throat is thick and my mouth heavy with the delightful taste of dark coffee. My bare feet press hard on the aging decking, calloused from frequent bareness they don’t succumb to splinters or rough patches in the wood as I lean back in my chair to take in the sky above that is being sliced by airplanes on route to Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta.
There is a moment when the sun’s last rays contract their effervescence from the natural world and though the orb is still aloft, not quite hidden beneath the twin ridge across from us—all goes quiet, mat and cool. All of life responds to this last moment of entropy when the light disperses into further pleasing strokes of salmon, violet and azure upon the deepening skyline while the land swiftly becomes more mysterious, less distinct and quilted in an ever blackening silhouette of trees and shapes creating unnamed landforms and tricking the eye with movement. I hear a small flock of Canadian geese making a swift journey towards the body of water nearest them. They have no thought for what a rarity such would be in Arizona, New Mexico or the Sahara. And why should they? If I were an alien life form looking incredulously at a map with the names of countries while landing upon this deck overlooking this valley, I would suspect that this must be the place called, Greenland.
Setting sun—praiseworthy and glorified above all forever! Beautiful woman to my side—she who is, more honorable than the cherubim and by far more glorious than the seraphim! This land—good it is at all times to praise Thee with gladsome voices! What a marvel that according to the government I am below the poverty level! Is this not a colossal misunderstanding of the distinction between money and wealth?