Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sand / Story

     Have you heard people say they'll move mountains to accomplish their goals? I guess such intense drive is admirable, but I draw the line at small hills. Maybe low knolls would be even more accurate. The difference is that this talk of moving mountains is metaphoric bluster and bravado, while I'm actually leveling a real hill in pursuit of the goal of comfortable cows.
     The hill is a sand dune created at the end of the last glacial epoch some eleven or twelve thousand years ago. As the ice waned it released torrents of water. Flushed out in this meltwater flood were vast quantities of scoured glacial detritus - boulders and cobbles, sand and clay. A monster lake filled the Hudson Valley at this time. As the runoff streams entered its turbid water they dropped the heaviest sediments first, while carrying sand a little further. Fan shaped deltas were built in the process, including one to the west of Glens Falls. Eventually the lake drained and wind began to work on the exposed sand. Dunes were built and were stabilized over time by vegetation.

Old geological books and map

A blurry (sorry) map of surficial geology 

A detailed soils map. My sand dune is classified OaB.

     There is a broad belt of sand and dunes arching from Hudson Falls down towards the Capital District. The belt crosses one of my back hay fields and very little grows on the dry, infertile hilltops. But the sand does make for good cow beds and for years I've been leveling a dune and trucking it a quarter mile to the freestall barn. There I use a skid-steer to dump it into the stalls and finally (the fun never stops!) a shovel and rake to smooth it out. And there you have my tale of moving hills to accomplish my goal.

 My sand dune: this hill has got to go!

     That's the way I spent a recent Saturday, hopping between tractor (to load) and dump truck (to haul).The truck has a radio so every time I was hauling I'ld catch a few minutes of whatever NPR program was on at the moment. During one trip I was listening to something called Radiolab. The hosts were talking to an author, the conversation was interesting and then they asked her to read a short story she'd written.
     By then I was back at the sand pit and should have gotten on the tractor to bucket the next load. For some reason I didn't. Instead I sat and listened, transfixed by one of the most moving stories I've ever experienced.
     The author was Jenny Hollowell and her story was "A History of Everything, Including You". You can hear it here and see how it affects you.

Jenny Hollowell

"A History of Everything, Including You" is in the anthology New Sudden Fiction

     It left me thinking that we all need a narrative to anchor ourselves, to steady us in the storm of events and emotions that is life. Religions developed to fill this need, to give guidance and comfort. Many people find solace in their faith. Identity and answers can also be found in stories based on our gender, race or ethnicity, nationality or political philosophy. The world that science reveals offers satisfying logic and order for others.
     Perhaps the true challenge is to craft our own personal origin and explanation tale. Where did we come from and why? What's the meaning of the things that happen to us? Where is our place and where should we go from here? "A History of Everything, Including You" is Jenny Hollowell struggling to answer these questions. It's both deeply personal and also encompassingly universal. Yes, it's our nature to seek answers, but ultimately we might do well to embrace the unknowable mysteries at the heart of human existence.

More Stories and some Stargazing
     Some of the power of "A History of Everything, Including You" comes from hearing the author read it. The sound of her voice conveys meaning and emotion beyond what the printed word could. That's the appeal of storytelling and why it has become so popular. I heard there was a story slam on the topic of "place" at the Clark Museum in Williamstown. It was last Friday night and would have been fun but I couldn't make it. 
     We are fortunate to have many talented storytellers in the area. Jeannine Laverty, Margaret French, Siri Allison, Christie Keegan, Kelvin Keraga, Joe Peck and Tom Weakley come quickly to mind but I'm sure there are others. Like writers, painters and photographers, their art helps us find our place in the world.
     Finally a quick note on the ever changing story of the night sky. I've been able to spot Venus a couple of times this week. The only thing that makes this noteworthy is that the planet is quite close to the Sun right now. Look just above the western horizon maybe 15 to 30 minutes after sunset. The sky will still be pink/orange but if you're lucky you'll see a dim twinkle just above the treetops. That's Venus. Mercury is supposed to be nearby but much dimmer and probably impossible without a telescope. Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are bright and easy to find so four out of five ain't bad.

The Clark Museum

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