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Boulder Train

By January 23, 2015 No Comments

I know, I know–there are places on earth where at some times of the year day is night and night is day. I shouldn’t complain about the darkness. A long January thaw has done great mischief to the snowy quilt the wind spread over the land a couple of weekends ago. Our new snowshoes languish in the garage like last summer’s badmitten rackets. But no one likes bone-chilling cold, so despite the dirty would outside my window, I’ve shouldn’t gripe. Lately, winter-wise, we’ve been greatly blessed.

Besides, the long johns are back in the drawer. For the last couple of days, a hoodie and a fleece vest are all you need if you venture out. In the last two weeks, Alberta’s famous clippers stayed put in Yellowknife or never brewed at all. We’ve been greatly blessed.

January days are still short, but the long reign of nightly darkness is slowly receding. By the end of February, from our north windows we should be seeing the sun rise again, the bridegroom, King David called it; but it’ll be a while before we see him retire–May, I suppose before we come anywhere close to another sunset right out here before our eyes.

For the time being they’re quite a ways out of the range of our windows. Once in a while as of late, I’ve been out at dusk and seen the landscape art God almighty puts up on his heavenly easel. I happened to catch the sky in all its stunning array and realized how much I was missing.

They’re still there, but I just don’t see them. Won’t be long and I will. Won’t be long and I’ll stand just outside my door or sit on the chairs now stacked up in the back room, just sit in wonder and awe as if we just happen to live in an stupendous art museum.

Won’t be long.

Our neighbor came over yesterday to tell me what he’d discovered about the rocks they’ve been digging out of the quarry alongside the river out back. It seems they’re the detritus of not one but two glaciers that spread thin over the region sometime between 11 and 85 thousand years ago. The most important player in that saga was the ice sheet that covered most of Canada, the Upper Midwest, and New England, in addition to other sundry parts of the North American continent, something called “the Wisconsin Episode” (which must not be confused with what happened there after the Seattle game last week).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose rocks–including the ones I stacked into retaining walls around our house–are just little guys in comparison, the neighbor said, to the boulders–big ones the size of our deck, the size of our house–that are down there beneath the ground, sometimes fifty feet or more beneath rich top soil, a “boulder train,” it’s called, he said, that marks the reach of that glacier’s life and death. Right out here. Really. Right outside our door.

There’s much more to that geological history, most of which I don’t begin to understand; but somehow the story only enhances the miracle of creation, just to know there’s been an art gallery here long before the Yanktons started hanging out in neighborhood of the Big Sioux; and long before a thousand Oneotas or more lived in a city of their own just an hour or so east and north, a city much, much bigger than Chicago back then,when the residents were simply rocks.

Even before that, the sky here and everywhere was a kaleidoscopic art museum. From the day of creation, it has been.

That it’s just now out of my view doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. It’s been there forever in human time.

Somehow just knowing that makes us me feel like an asterisk, and that’s okay.

Calvin thought that we human beings catch a glimpse of our finiteness only when we begin to observe that kind of infinity. “Nothing is so obscure or contemptible, even in the smallest corners of the earth,” he wrote, or something close, “that it can’t display some marks of the power and wisdom of  God.”

I think he’s right. The story is in the sky and even the rocks buried forty feet down.

And that fact, this dark January morning, an hour before dawn, is reason for morning thanks.

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.

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