Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Story of the Galactic Saint

Pointmaster liked to tell stories on winter evenings. He’d throw a couple of saltcedar logs into his rusty old wood heater, and then he’d lean back in his chair and start talking. (Rimfire Kid did the listening.)

There used to be a monastery up Buckle Bar Canyon, you know, about the time of the Third Mexican War, about a hundred years after the saltcedars came back. There was a bunch of monks up there in the canyon; they called themselves the Buckle Bar Boys. Actually they had about a 50-50 split between the sexes, but they called themselves the Buckle Bar Boys sort of as a private joke.

They had it fixed up pretty nice back up in there, sort of their own private Garden of Eden—they had weeping willows, adobe courtyards, hanging vines, pecan orchards, flower gardens, vineyards, they even had their irrigation system set up in a series of little waterfalls so they’d have a nice place to meditate during the cool of the evening. They even tuned those waterfalls with rocks so they’d gurgle in harmony with the crying of the mourning doves.

There was this local boy named David who’d always felt a call to be a monk, so when he was about 16 years old he told his father, “I’m going to join the Buckle Bar Boys, Dad.” His old man said, “Ask your mother,” so David asked her and she said, “Sure, son.” They tried to keep life uncomplicated in those days, you see.

So David packed his toothbrush and walked on over there—he only lived a couple of miles away, and had known all the monks for years anyhow. His favorite monk was an old geezer named Jed.

Now Jed was a funny old guy—he didn’t say much, and he spent all his time up on the hilltop watching the stars. He slept during the day and stayed awake all night. Jed had a job, of course. The Buckle Bar Boys had a pragmatic philosophy, since they remembered the Second Mexican War and the Great Chihuahua Famine, so they didn’t hold to no pussyfoot pie-in-the-sky routine.

So every Buckle Bar Boy had a job. Jed’s job was to watch the goats at night—a good job for a stargazer to have. They had a couple hundred goats, and they always locked them in a pen at night, but sometimes they had trouble with coyotes, especially during kidding season—those coyotes would worm their way right through the fence while everybody was asleep and kill them a kid or two. Well, the monks figured out that since Jed was going to stay up all night anyhow, then why not fix him up a spot on the little hill right next to the goat pen so he could scare off the coyotes when they got bothersome?

And that’s what they did—smoothed off a spot on the hilltop, built a little rock shelter to shield him from the wind and rain, they even built him a reclining chair so he could look straight up into the sky without getting a crick in his neck.

Now this boy David had been visiting Jed at night for years, learning the sky, learning the tricks of the trade, so to speak. In fact that’s why David decided to join the Buckle Bar Boys in the first place, because old Jed finally said to him one night, “Well, you’re 16 years old now, Dave, time to start full-time work if you’re serious.” David was serious, of course, so he joined.

Watchers of the Sky, that’s what they were, only these guys were no ordinary stargazers. For one, they spent every clear night out there watching the sky, a full-time job. They got to know the sky even better than the old-time Arabic shepherds—they knew every constellation, every kink in the Milky Way, almost every star by name, they knew it all. They even followed Uranus as it moved through the stars, even though it’s barely visible to the naked eye and takes 165 years to travel around the Sun. They knew it all. They even discovered a meteor shower that sends fireballs into the dawn—it was so close to the Sun that nobody had ever noticed it before. It took David several years of full-time study to learn the sky as well as Jed did.

After David had learned the sky real well, old Jed started in on the complicated stuff. He’d ask questions like, “Where’s Galactic Center now, David?” And even though it was 4 in the afternoon and the Galactic Center was below the horizon, David would point to the exact spot. It was as if the Earth had become transparent to his mind.

And then David started to experience space—he’d go out and feel the space surrounding the Earth, he’d feel the space between here and the Moon, between the Sun and the stars, maybe between the galaxies themselves, hell I don’t know.

There was a lot of stuff to learn, all right, since the Earth is constantly spinning like a marble and falling around the Sun at the same time. Everything’s always changing. You can see Orion rising in August right at dawn, and six months later you can see Orion rising in February after sunset, and you might say, “Yep, there’s Orion rising, all right.” But in fact everything is different. In August when you see Orion rising, the Earth is traveling upward around the Sun, and in February the Earth is falling downward, like an elevator. Orion looks the same, the mountains look the same, but everything else is backwards. And I’ll bet David had a devil of a time making sense of all this and getting his experience-patterns straightened out. But he was working full-time at it, after all, and Jed was helping him, so it probably didn’t take him more than five years or so.

David was starting to break free from his Earth-based reference system. Earth is our natural base, after all—we just naturally grow up that way. Old Jed could never quite break free, but he always figured it was because he hadn’t started young enough. David had started young, and he was making it.

Over the years he gradually learned all Jed had to offer. He experienced the seasons. What do the seasons mean to you? Mesquite blossoms in the spring? Dead leaves in the fall? What about the actual relationship between the Earth and the Sun? Do you have a little diagram of Earth’s orbit in your mind? North Pole points towards the Sun in summer, so it’s warm? What about going out on the hill and directly experiencing that stuff? Don’t look at me that way, Kid! Hell I’ve been trying half my life and feel sort of like old Jed—I just can’t quite seem to do it, except every now and then.

So night after night, David would sit on the hilltop, space would fill his mind, or maybe his mind would fill space, and he’d experience the North Pole gradually swinging into the sunlight as summer approached, stuff like that. Heady stuff. He also had some sort of relationship with the Galactic Center. I don’t know too much about it. All I know is that he ended up with quite some reputation.

He was I think about 28 years old when he caught the Divine Marshmallow. It was midsummer, about the middle of July, and the Buckle Bar Boys were celebrating Rainfire Dance, thanking the Matrix for the cool moistness and all that free irrigation water from the sky. Rainfire Dance was their favorite ceremony—they’d build bonfires and stay up all night, dancing and drumming, singing praises to the Matrix, eating sweet corn and catfish, visiting with the farmers who gathered from miles around, generally having a good old time.

I guess David’s cycles were all peaking out at once that night. Though of course anyone would feel good during Rainfire season.

What was probably most important was that he had just met Barbara the night before. She was in her early twenties, and was down from Santa Fe with her father. I guess it was quite a moosie-mother zap for him, you know, looking over at himself looking back at herself looking back at him looking back at her looking at himself... my tongue gets tangled there after awhile but I bet it reminds you of that night in Tucson you told me about, don’t it, Kid?

So anyway he was feeling pretty good. Walking on air. Radiating ripples. That evening he felt an urge like he was supposed to commune with the Galaxy so he carried his favorite cushion to a niche in a cliff that would swing him past the Milky Way around midnight. The niche was sort of like a focal-plane shutter—it would expose him to the Galaxy for about half an hour, and then carry him past into emptier regions. No sense overdoing it, after all.

He held Barbara’s hand for a couple of hours that evening, and then, about eleven o’clock, he headed up for his crack, settled on his cushion, and started looking at the sky. He was squirting those vibrations just like a 220-volt line.

Finally the edge of the Milky Way peeked around the edge of his niche, and in about 15 minutes the entire Galaxy was centered right over him.

There used to be this old song:

Somebody touched me
In the dark
Last night,

and I guess that’s what happened to David, because the next morning, old Jed went up there and found David sitting on his cushion in the niche, staring silently outward into the clear blue sky.

David never said another word after that. There was no need to. He just tended his grapes during the cool of the evening before going up to his hilltop, where he’d spend the night keeping track of the heavens. And he was one ace of a grape grower, let me tell you! Those vines responded to his touch like you wouldn’t hardly believe—Sultanas as big as plums, seedless Muscats, he even grew a wild grape that was sweet as honey.

Word got around, of course, it always does, and before long the local people started bringing him presents, they even brought him their babies to be blessed, because they thought David brought them good luck. And maybe he did.

Once they brought this little crippled girl up to him. He took her into his niche that night, and the next morning she came skipping down that mountain like she’d been jumping rope all her life.

David died fairly young, when he was about 40, I think, and they buried him on top of the hill there next to the goat pen. There used to be a shrine to him up there for many years, but when I was a young man I went up there once and didn’t find anything unusual... it just looked like an ordinary old hill to me, covered with Mormon Tea and Grama Grass.

So what’re you grinning about now, Kid?


Anonymous Jacques Conejo said...

Again I'm "wowed". Very cool stoyrtelling.... Perhaps, in a world made by hand, the ones who've lived long will be honored and supported and cared for and will spend their evenings around a hot, rusty old woodstove telling stories to the ones who've just come along. Perhaps we'll again have a culture that cherishes he wisdom of the ones who've lived long.So, stay alert, stay alive. There's a place already set for you near the old woodstove.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Gordon Solberg said...

I guess these days, a blog is the equivalent of sitting next to the old woodstove and swapping tall tales and doing a bit of philosophizin'.

Jacques has his own "woodstove;" check it out: .

6:59 AM  

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