Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension Day

View of our knob pasture from Morgan Cemetery, Ascension Day, May 21, 2009

On the eve of May 21 I went up to the large rise of land behind our house at sunset, called "the knob" by locals, the highest point of land on our long ridge and which comprises half of our farm here. I discovered that the next day was Ascension Day, honored by our Mennonite friends and many Christians as a significant feast day: the 40th day after Christ's crucifixion when he rose into heaven. This had significance to me because I feel at times on the knob so near the sky that I could touch it. And it seems, in its separate otherness and beauty, like many remote places on the earth, to have its own spiritual climate.

View to the east on our knob, sunset, May 20th, 2009

Sunset over Green River Knob from the top of our knob, May 20, 2009

Knob field at noon, Ascension Day, May 21st, 2009

Our weather this week has been spectacular: dry, hot, blue skies and sunny (with cooler nights). It has been well-deserved. It has also been fine haying weather and most farmers have taken advantage of this stretch. Our hay was cut on the knob in large round, 500-pound bales. At sunset, sunrise the next day, and again at noon, they stood like scattered sculptural monoliths, as at Stonehenge where the mysterious druid circle still stands on Salisbury Plain in England. Our knob has a spectacular 360 degree view but because of its height it would not be wise to build there because of the occasional severe storm and winds (not to mention lightning). It would also be a shame to put a house on that field but I am tempted, believe me. At least it is a lovely spot for peace and reflection, perhaps a picnic. You can imagine the smell now, too, of new-mown hay permeating the landscape. There is no other scent on earth that seems to capture the essence of green, fecund grass and earth warmed by the sun.

Green River Knob at sunrise from the top of our knob • May 21, 2009

Certain views of our knob "mowing" make it seem as if you will go up off the top of the world and into the blue yonder. There is a freedom in that sense of limitless, prairie-like expansion.

Here on our knob we can see the sunrise to the east and the sunset over Green River Knob, the highest elevation in Casey County, just to our west on the Casey/Pulaski borders. At 1789 feet above sea level, Green River Knob it is also the highest point of land in Kentucky apart from the coal region to the east. We chose the knob region and this land because of its hilliness and open stretches on the ridges: the best of the New England hills that we love and at times the rolling openness of the prairie in its large pastures and fields.

...The band of silver paleness along the east horizon made even the distant parts of the Great Plain appear dark and near; and the whole enormous landscape bore that impress of reserve, taciturnity, and hesitation which is usual just before day. from Tess of the D'Urbervilles

For the next day, on several occasions, I went back up to the knob to take photos of the hay bales in different lights. Perhaps Monet was as obsessed with his hay stacks. Sunrise was spectacular over the knobs to the east near Berea and I was able to watch the first pale pink light of the day followed by its streaks across the field. Sunset is also visible, just over Green River Knob, but seems more prolonged and stealthy.

I was also reminded of the last chapter of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles and how Tess and Angel Clare come across Stonehenge in the night and rest there before she is captured. Here is a passage from that novel, one of my favorites:
...Clare became conscious of some vast erection close in his front, rising sheer from the grass. They had almost struck themselves against it.

'What monstrous place is this?' said Angel.
'It hums,' said she. 'Hearken!'

He listened. The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare felt the vertical surface of the wall. It seemed to be of solid stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally. They carefully entered beneath and between; the surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of doors. The place was roofless. Tess drew her breath fearfully, and Angel, perplexed, said –

'What can it be?'

Feeling sideways they encountered another tower-like pillar, square and uncompromising as the first; beyond it another and another. The place was all doors and pillars, some connected above by continuous architraves.

'A very Temple of the Winds,' he said.

The next pillar was isolated; others composed a trilithon; others were prostrate, their flanks forming a causeway enough for a carriage; and it soon became obvious that they made up a forest of monoliths grouped upon the grassy expanse of the plain. The couple advanced farther into this pavilion of the night till they stood in its midst.

'It is Stonehenge!' said Clare.
'The heathen temple, you mean?'
'Yes. Older than the centuries; older than the D'Urbervilles! Well, what shall we do, darling? We may find shelter farther on.'

But Tess, really tired by this time, flung herself upon on oblong slab that lay close at hand, and was sheltered from the wind by a pillar. Owing to the action of the sun during the preceding day the stone was warm and dry, in comforting contrast to the rough and chill grass around, which had damped her skirts and shoes.

'I don't want to go any farther, Angel,' she said stretching out her hand for his. 'Can't we bide here?'

The view of Green River Knob, noon, Ascension Day • May 21, 2009

'I fear not. This spot is visible for miles by day, although it does not seem so now.'

'One of my mother's people was a shepherd hereabouts, now I think of it. And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home...'

'Sleepy are you dear? I think you are lying on an altar.'
'I like very much to be here,' she murmured. 'It is so solemn and lonely–after my great happiness–with nothing but the sky above my face. It seems as if there were no folk in the world but we two; and I wish there were not...'

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