Friday, November 9, 2012

Mysteries Not Found in Dictionaries

My love of language has followed me around all my life. Or, perhaps I've been chasing after it. Either way, it has informed my path like nothing else. Whether written, spoken, or sung, the word itself is what gives my life direction, maybe even purpose, and a depth of meaning that is now becoming more apparent and more deeply rooted.

My love of dictionaries has played a major role in all of this - finding the right word and discovering its etymology - but this can only take us so far into meaning. There are things that cannot be found in a book; some things can only be discovered through experience and circumstance, and some things remain elusive as though the mystery itself is the meaning.

Take the red fox I saw early this morning running down the road past my house, a car following it very slowly, not wanting to harm it in any way, almost shepherding it along the road. It ran on, the car continued to follow it slowly until they were both out of sight. I wanted so badly for the fox to run into the woods, to find refuge there. Why wasn't it willing to leave the road?  Why didn't it run into the woods or the field beyond, its natural habitat?

Though I have looked at this image and its implications - the symbolic nature of it, ripe with metaphor - the whole scene has left me feeling a bit unsettled. Sometimes there are no answers, only questions. And that's okay.


At my elbow on the table
it lies open as it has done
for a good part of these thirty
years ever since my father died
and it passed into my hands
this Webster's New International
Dictionary of the English
of 1922
on India paper which I
was always forbidden to touch
for fear I would tear or somehow
damage its delicate pages
heavy in their binding
this color of wet sand
on which thin waves hover
when it was printed he was twenty-six
they had not been married four years
he was a country preacher
in a one-store town and I suppose
a man came to the door one day
peddling this new dictionary
on fine paper like the Bible
at an unrepeatable price
and it seemed it would represent
a distinction just to own it
confirming something about him
that he could not even name
now its cover is worn as though
it had been carried on journeys
across the mountains and deserts
of the earth but it has been here
beside me the whole time
what has frayed it like that
loosening it gnawing at it
all through these years
I know I must have used it
much more than he did but always
with care and indeed affection
turning the pages patiently
in search of meanings

~ W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius

Painting by Winslow Homer


  1. Seeing the fox would have unsettled me too. I suppose it was panicking really. I might do the same if I was stuck in the road with a car following me slowly. The picture is beautiful and doesn;t, to me, have a sense of unease.

    1. It was such an odd sight...

      I love all things Winslow Homer. :)

  2. Fox are remarkable clever animals and masters at hiding their scent when in escape mode. They know that scents disappear quickly on paved roads where traffic breaks up the oils that leave the scents. That the car followed the fox is pretty funny. Creates such an image! But in reality there was some predator, usually a coyote, who was giving chase, you just weren't privy to that part of the puzzle.

    1. This was on a dirt road, but a similar idea I suppose. I thought, too, of the ways they move to give false trails and such. It's also deer hunting season and hunters may have put him on the run. I suppose that car was enjoying it, the fox not so much. :)

      Nature always has its puzzles, doesn't it?

  3. Even with the wealth of words out language provides, there are never enough!

    1. And sometimes it's so hard to find the right one(s). Some things are hard to articulate even with a wealth of words. But we try! :)

  4. I also love language and I'm very sorry to realize that we are losing ours.

    The fox makes me wonder, but I have seen moose do that too, and a week ago a doe about 10 yards off the dirt road on which I was driving ran for hundreds of yards at over 30 mph as though simply in a race with me. Why?

    1. As with so many things, the advent of technology, and, more important, the ways people are responding to it, has created change.

      It sounds as though some instinctive reaction kicked in, but the question "Why" is intriguing....

  5. I think if I had been the one driving the car I would have stopped and let the fox have a chance to decide which way to go, thankfully they drove slowly.

    1. That thought also entered my mind. People get caught up in what they are seeing sometimes without gauging the animals response and acting accordingly. Humans want what they want and oftentimes treat nature callously.

  6. Hello Teresa:
    Such instances as you describe here with the fox, apparently of little importance or consequence in themselves, do so often become the catalyst for something much deeper and profound. Such are the mysteries of life to which, as on this occasion, there are only questions and seldom answers.

    1. The mysteries of life are alluring and intriguing, but sometimes can leave one feeling bewildered. :)

  7. I have loved dictionaries (and foxes) all my life. The poem is wonderful and filled with nostalgia. The fox story is interesting; I hope he is safe and warm somewhere.

    1. So do I, Jan. I feel fairly certain he is. If it's the same one, I see him every year, but just once and this is the sighting.

  8. I truly enjoyed Merwin's words. I truly enjoy your words, TE. Ah, I too enjoy words as you do, Teresa and another 'Ah' for my beloved oh-so-worn red-clothed spinal-injured old friend, my dictionary.

    Over the years I've been the observing driver too. Have yet to see a fox in nature though; how sad for me. Now this post has me yearning for a trip to Holston Mt; bears and cats live there, don'cha know?

    I love the picture with the fox. Makes me yearn to learn painting.

    My Oh Me. I'm just a Yearning Lover today, aren't I?

    Thank you for sharing yourself with us, Teresa. Delightful and serene.

    1. Sissy, I love hearing from you, thinking of you there in the mountains of Tennessee, a fellow language lover. My suggestion? Ask the Universe for a fox sighting. Just ask, throw it out there and let it go, knowing it is already answered and will be revealed. :)

      Winslow Homer's paintings always make me long to be a painter. And a Yearning Lover today? What better way to start a day? Yearning for the mysteries. It's raining right now with thunder and lightning in November, which is rare for here! Life is mystical, magical and wonderful and we get to share it together!

    2. BTW: I just changed my settings to get rid of WV. It's gone again! :)