Lux: A LeConte Meditation
We got out of the car into a balmy seventy-five degrees of sun-bathed parking lot, surrounded by the stately landscape of trees older than our parents. After Louis arrived, we shouldered our packs and began pacing the six miles up Alum Cave Bluff Trail to the top of LeConte. April breathed spring at the bottom, and past the sharp saltpeter odor of the bluffs themselves, we noticed signs of winter's tenacious hold. Patches of ice still clung to the deeper copses of trees. Snow drifts were still in the process of melting down the trail. Up near the top, our going was slowed to a methodical pace as we gripped the cable to our right and made our way across the two feet of packed ice that covered the trail for a couple hundred feet. No false steps were allowed.
The top was no different, except the possibility of falling wouldn't kill you. You would however be guaranteed a leg soaked up to the knee if you sank through the snow into the meltwater below it. I had longed to sit out on the rocks of Cliff Top with my penny whistle and play, but I had left it in my car. The wind was beginning to whisper when we arrived, and it was already sixty degrees at four o'clock. I walked into the lodge to look around and saw a man sitting in a corner playing one of two weathered guitars.
"Are those yours?" I asked, knowing that a few church groups were present.
"These are for everybody," he said. I couldn't contain my gladness.
I sat down with the other guitar, which was blessedly strung with new strings. After I noodled around for a minute, he asked me if I would come play for him and his friends that evening. It was like finding an old friend I didn't know I had. Blaine, Louis, and I went to a Tenebrae service in the dining hall that evening after sunset, where we heard and meditated on the story of that terrible Friday which we now call Good. And I did get the opportunity to share a goodly selection of songs with folks in the lodge later that night.
The next evening, from the comfort of my own bed, I scribbled down these words:
Saturday, that Saturday.
I took no staff, a borrowed bag,
my brother's coat, the mountain long
of toe and ice-crowned shoulder
before us three,
to keep our vigil:
sunset west from howling cliffs,
sunrise east, where myrtles grow.
Seven candles, seven lamps-
stars now caught up in the hand.
We heard the Scriptures, writ and wring,
upon the heights of thawing land.
Candles, now before the cross,
one by one our breath lay low.
"Post tenebras," quoth the ranks
of fishermen who did not know,
did not dare to hope behind
the padlocked bars and shards of souls.
Post tenebras, Saturday.
O my God! that Saturday.
We, like sheep in winter shorn-
that sun should shine on this cadre-
Post tenebras, what? What now?
The final candle blown to naught
like a spirit given o'er,
vinegar upon the words,
many comers rise to go.
In the dark I long to sit.
O, remember Saturday.
Not one scrivener could dare
the weight of sorrow to convey.
I walked alone through a world
still bound in ice. The shadowed
spruces perfumed the burial yard
in my mind and heart.
Did they live in the promises?
Could they understand: the taxman,
the women, the fishermen?
From our years away, we must
revisit their darkness,
breathe in their woe.
Only then can we begin
to grasp at our rememberance:
Post tenebras, Lux.