Monday, March 23, 2015

The Avalanches and Private Tornadoes of Just Being a Gnome

We hiked both Saturday and Sunday. Rigorous, no, but we were in the woods, we got some elevation for our lungs and twelve miles for our legs after two months of fucking winter. Next weekend, some serious elevation so we can judge where we are. We are stupid ambitious this year: we want to go places we can only get to with backpacks and a tent. We are not so stupid as to go in blind, buying equipment, doing it wrong, wasting money, ruining the experience with inexcusable incompetence - it's been 30 years since I backpacked regularly. We've enrolled in a PATC backpacking class, three classes including an overnight in Shenandoah. Expect me to volunteer for one day a month volunteer trail work. Expect me to make this my new devotion, expect me to yodel about my new true love like I've yodeled for all my ex-loves. I am for me, Ulrich of Voll, I give myself to this year's remake/remodel as proof I can still fervently believe in nothing because I always need to believe in something.

The frogs - or are they toads? Thunder, are you still here? might you know what these are? - from yesterday. On the way there was unexpected traffic, I toggled to the local news-radio station for a traffic update, stayed through weather. It was the top of the hour so right after the weather the main announcer came on to tease upcoming stories. And Ted Cruz will announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination tomorrow in Virginia, said the professional voice. Who's Ted Cruz, asked Earthgirl. Some fuck, I said. They're all fucks, Earthgirl said. We hiked for three hours, it never came up again.

We did - Earthgirl can vouch - run into this guy on the trail yesterday:


James Tate

And what amazes me is that none of our modern inventions
surprise or interest him, even a little. I tell him
it is time he got his booster shots, but then
I realize I have no power over him whatsoever.
He becomes increasingly light-footed until I lose sight
of him downtown between the federal building and
the post office. A registered nurse is taking her
coffee break. I myself needed a break, so I sat down
next to her at the counter. "Don't mind me," I said,
"I'm just a hungry little Gnostic in need of a sandwich."
(This old line of mine had met with great success
on any number of previous occasions.) I thought,
a deaf, dumb, and blind nurse, sounds ideal!
But then I remembered that some of the earliest
Paleolithic office workers also feigned blindness
when approached by nonoffice workers, so I paid my bill
and disappeared down an alley where I composed myself.
Amidst the piles of outcast citizenry and burning barrels
of waste and rot, the plump rats darting freely,
the havoc of blown newspapers, lay the little shroud
of my lost friend: small and gray and threadbare,
windworn by the ages of scurrying hither and thither,
battered by the avalanches and private tornadoes
of just being a gnome, but surely there were good times, too.
And now, rejuvenated by the wind, the shroud moves forward,
hesitates, dances sideways, brushes my foot as if for a kiss,
and flies upward, whistling a little-known ballad
about the pitiful, raw etiquette of the underworld.


  1. What a terrific & rewarding new gig for you & EG! Hiking is def high on my list. Of course, now you'll have to 'meerkat' your hikes to twotter too. Anticipating the argghhhh of that operation starting up here & there gives me hope that the coming season won't be so depressing after all.

    1. Well, we've always hiked a lot - a hike on Sugarloaf was our first date - it's the camping that's new: we've pretty much done most of the day hikes within 100 miles of home, to get to new places we're gonna have to spend the night in the woods. I'm moderately hopeful this is gonna be good.

  2. Hey, thanks for the linkage!
    I did a fair amount of backpacking when I lived in Colorado during the 90's. I'm not as familiar with backpacking in the Eastern states, but in Colorado, anything under a 5 mile hike into a camp with good elevation gain, and you're dealing with hordes of day hikers. Good practice for the real thing is to do all your grocery shopping with your backpack. Hike to the store, load all your food into your bag, hike home.

  3. Tate paints a very unappetizing urban landscape, and writes

    And now, rejuvenated by the wind, the shroud moves forward,
    hesitates, dances sideways, brushes my foot as if for a kiss,
    and flies upward


    may the creative forces of the universe smile on the travels of you and EG

    the following remarks about the poem are not new:

    it is clear to me that Tate's poem is a reworking of the ancient gnostic tale 'the hymn of the robe of glory' or 'the hymn of the pearl' - see

    a summary and exegesis of this story from a Latter Day Saints (Mormon) perspective can be seen at

    Tate's narrator identifies himself as "a hungry little Gnostic in need of a sandwich", a much-used pickup line that doesn't work on an unresponsive ("deaf, dumb, and blind") nurse at a lunch counter

    unlike the gnome, who presumably slips the bonds of this world, as his shroud definitely does, our narrator still hungers for earthly things (the sandwich, sex with the woman) and remains trapped "here" - depicted as an alleyway with unsavory elements - the "underworld" described in the words of the "little known ballad" the shroud whistles as it flies upward .

    the shroud reminds us of the Shroud of Turin, of course, but also of the "robe of honor" or "garment of light" in the Hymn of the Pearl - the rightful garb of the hero, which he follows on his way back to his heavenly home .

    our narrator describes himself as a "Gnostic", but we see from his actions and his sentiments that he is still functioning in a non-Gnostic mode