Once I stood on a humped rock on nearby Purgatory Mountain, watching through binoculars the great autumn hawk migration below, until I discovered that I was in danger of joining the hawks on a vertical migration of my own. I was used to binoculars, but not, apparently, to balancing on humped rocks while looking through them. I staggered. Everything advanced and receded by turns; the world was full of unexplained foreshortenings and depths. A distant huge tan object, a hawk the size of an elephant, turned out to be the browned bough of a nearby loblolly pine. I followed a sharp-shinned hawk against a featureless sky, rotating my head unawares as it flew, and when I lowered the glass a glimpse of my own looming shoulder sent me staggering. What prevents the men on Palomar from falling, voiceless and blinded, from their tiny, vaulted chairs?
I chose this passage from Annie Dillard simply for the name "Purgatory Mountain." It appeals to my Catholic upbringing. It makes me think of a mountain designed by Dante. Circles of rock, reaching upward toward the clouds and sun and moon and stars. Also, Dillard's distorted view of the migrating hawks, the pine branch as big as an elephant. It's all about perspective.
Last night, I was not in the greatest frame of mind, as evidenced by my blog post. Too much to do, too much on my mind. As my four or five Constant Readers know, I don't deal well with endings and beginnings. Yet, my life is a stream of stops and starts. Semesters begin. Semesters end. Change is the one constant in the medical office in which I toil. Procedures and policies and duties are amended, appended, addended ad infinitum.
Sometimes, my life strikes me as purgatorial. I have to endure seasons of change in order to have seasons of joy. Work--early mornings, moody coworkers, impatient patients, needy students, elitist colleagues, all of it--can seem a little penitential. Yes, I know it's all a matter of perspective. Punishment or blessing, two sides of the same coin, like the pet of a homeless man. Desperation and love sitting on the same soiled blanket.
Right now, I'm at the base of Purgatory Mountain, gazing up at the circling hawks. Vacation is dwindling. Work is looming. Ditto teaching. There's a snowstorm blowing into the Upper Peninsula tonight. More shoveling. And then arctic air for days.
Time for Saint Marty to start climbing.
Man on a Corner
by: Kim Addonizio
Confessions of Saint Marty