Goache, Fingers, and India Ink. How Easter Looked A Century Ago


Sat with my daughter at the local gallery yesterday empty of art and artifice. I let Texas know what I think about it for luring my friends away. Here is a Solstice-Easter tale from On Rainy Days the Monk Ryokan Feels Sorry For Himself:

A yellow tint shows through the morning rain. The drops are heavy. In a day they can make an earth green. I should like to get on a train and travel for a month. I need a dose of reality, a ride through the deep south where animals and men still work and play like animals and men.
America has its wild preserves. I suggest a man preserve. In Montana perhaps? Or does everyone there still think cattle and wheat? What is the difference anywhere? Iowa grain or New York textile? Both think they are wiser than the other. Both will get rich the way they want to and write their invisible epic legacies about shallow beginnings, dry gulch aloneness, smokestack prejudice, high rise nervousness, deep canyon hatreds, wide open illusions…
Finally, the first signs of spring. I don’t think the rain has any intention of becoming snow. Still, one can think worms and robins during a white-out if he so desires. There are two early springs. The yellow rain falling now. This is the cleansing wet side of March. Earth cleansing, part of the eternal wheel, a drenching reminder that life is worth living… I walk a dog and  the outdoors are everywhere. Rain pouring down on meadow and forest and man is just a small thing not in the way.
Then comes the sun of March—Pre-Easter and downright sad and hopeless. People poke out of their homes to pick up plastic toys or furniture in the yard. Black and brown smudgings of winter stain every crevice. The roads are brown cake of winter’s salt and car exhaust. The sun shines. The car is dirty. The windows are dirty. October’s newspapers collected upon layers of snow, suddenly revealed to expose their old, sad tidings. Every home’s front yard is ugly. No color. And the trees are like cold stone statues. The air is carbon. Even the sun is choked by man’s careless waste of what is truly life and real. This spring America, north of the 35th parallel, has the look of an apocalyptic wasteland.
But at least we have indoor plumbing.
Here in my town it’s even worse. That wonderful cleansing rain has turned back to snow. And I know it’s a lie to believe a man fortunate to be alone in the wide open spaces this morning. Here is a small city of men without access to a path in the woods. That’s okay—there is a beautiful lake to view. Stand at the water’s edge. There. Now forward is the break wall. After that a sea of fish, a great lake of good and plenty—an endless supply of carcinogens to catch and eat. To the left, the tallest man-made structure in the city. Twin smokestacks stuck out of the oil burning plant rising into the gray sky. You can see their poisonous presence from twenty miles away. The lighthouse of the damned. Burning oil to make electricity?
Shh… That’s not the woods. Keep on the path.
To the right, close enough to dominate the shore, but four or five miles from the city, stands the final reason why men despair. The Nuclear Power Plant. And it’s not the potential danger, nor its incredible size that contributes to the gnaw busily eating away our internal organs. No, our pain owes its beginnings
Shh…Quiet down. That’s not the path.
There is no freedom of land. You want to walk but you must walk on a paved road. You want to walk to the country without taking a road. No, it’s illegal. Get on the road so they can sneer at you from their cars. You look suspicious. You might be dangerous. If it’s night, the worse for you. They have dogs to bark and snap at any shady looking character passing by. Their children speed by in cars. Sometimes they throw a can of soda at you, or a stone, or a brick. Some young ones are so ambitious that they want to club you with a bat. You were walking a deserted road in the dark. What town justice would be sympathetic to that? Of course you were up to no good. Who were you going to rob? What were you hiding from? The boys are sentenced to a heavy fine and a year of weekends in the county jail. This for dragging your bleeding body off to the side of the road, kicking your head, pissing in your mouth, laughing, spitting, and getting back into the car.
Now is the time to arm ourselves. I won’t stand for pain and humiliation. I want to walk on these roads with a gun. And no one can know I have it. I will do what you cannot. I will kill for my body’s trespass.
Whack! What did I tell you? One more digression and I’ll chew off your toes! Now get on the path!
I feel wild. Spring for me is something larger than loin arousal. I want to sing out, but I leave the house just moving my lips to song. Lip-syncing joy. “He’s talking to himself.” “Look, that guy’s crazy.” I must quiet down. The Christians want to keep all joy quiet. “Please keep your joy noises down. Withhold your applause please, until everyone has finished.” Man, they’re all looking at me. I better take my song to the woods, like Pan, and wait there happily until I shout all of this Easter out of my system. I’ll walk west down the busy road, and take a left at the first welcoming forest I spy.
I’m warning you…
Oh fiddlesticks, what’s this? Signposts read “Get out! This land is mine, not yours. I have the deed. I own the land. It’s my property. Get out. Get out. Get out!”
Surely this good man will not mind my walking into the woods. That sign is meant for the people of the smokestack whom I left behind. He’s wise enough to love the land. I know because it’s still here. Those trees are standing tall, and I can hear the roar of the flooded creek calling me. I’ll just take a short walk. I’m searching for freshet and wood fairies to take my mind away from human cares.
Yes, but be careful. And you know what I mean…
Unfortunately, no matter how many of us would heave a huge sigh of relief denying such, these are the days of Christ. Although our land has always been more suited for Buddha, Dionysus or Rama of the highlands, Christ owns the property and he alone decides who may trespass. This is the northern forest of conifer and fresh water lake. Deities to run and dance wild around the life of man. America, once a ripe playground for adventurous gods. Now all of it is under Christ’s domain, and every other god condemned to the sandbox. Mountains to the east, valleys to the south, fertile land out west with more forest for salvation. I was born here. Christ was not. Christ lived in a walled city. Born in a desert. He wore a robe. He ate falafel. The desert dreams which haunted him were the seeds of future chemical imbalances grown thick and hemorrhaging in our modern brains. Christ walked below homes of desert brick stained white to reflect the rays of the sun. He dreamed his dreams, and now those same dreams make us hot and sick inside. He never saw the leaves of a maple tree turn scarlet in October. What would he think of the raccoon, the woodchuck, the turkey or the deer? Had he ever seen a chipmunk? No, his dreams were about Romans, Judaism, money, the funny monkey at the temple, no money, food and his father who was in heaven. After two thousand years of incredible luck and war-mongering, every man-made structure in America is a demented Christ devotional littering the once wild and majestic landscape.
The American Christ, Mohammed, and Zoroaster. Such mean-spirited Middle Eastern gods. Out of spite alone, the Texas Christ would beat Buddha to death with a sand rake. Even out west in the soggy forests of Washington State, where  Buddha had some influence once, during a wave of Japanese immigration, Christ moved quickly and dealt a low blow to conquer his weaker foe. He’s not the Christ we learned about in Bible school. The timid turn-the-other-cheek Son of God. Not even the Pope’s demented, circus Christ. The true Christ is the warrior Christ. The American Christ. That was the old Christ’s promise to the New World. “Folks, you just plain soiled Europe. Now I plan to show you how real crazy your Christ can be!”
Anyway, after the death of St. Francis the world was made ready for Manhattan, plastics, and the Vietnam War. Christ got aboard all ships heading west, introducing himself to each immigrant personally. He let them know that America was cruel and tough and extremely dangerous. Every man for himself and for Christ, King of America. “I am no longer the Christ your father and mother loved,” he explained. “I am the new Christ you must fear. I will see to it that you get what you deserve in America. And you will owe me.”
He devoted all ship voyages to tossing overboard a thousand years of their initial Christ hopes and dreams.
The immigrants arrived to settle with Christ and the smallpox. Then Christ had them open up their prayer books to the Lord’s fever rush of hell fire and damnation scare tactic chapter: Hymns to Sing While in the Throes of Destruction. And by Jesus did those settlers sing loud and strong! “Level the Trees O Lord, O Lord!” “Build Us Sturdy Christian Folk A Powerful Empire”, “Please God, Let Us Find Killing in Our Hearts.” “Save our Corn, Eat an Indian,” “Convert or Die.” “The Governor is Christ’s Best Friend.” And then later when some American men became more like their own image of Christ… “Conform or be cast out.”
Wait, I was sleeping. Repeat what you just said.
Easter is coming and the forest is getting ready for the death and resurrection. Birds are singing the coming of Christ. All is—Fine. Look, I must step out for a few minutes. Keep it clean. Remember your toes!
All life is stirring. The earth has awakened from it’s winter slumber. The snow has melted. Wild leeks are the first green born into the forest. I’m gathering some now to make soup for my supper. Ho! Here comes a man with a gun and a dog.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Looking for Pan good sir, and wood fairies, and a spring freshet to lift my hopes and bring joy to my heart.”
“You’re trespassing on my property Jack. Didn’t you read the signs?”
“Yes, kind sir. But surely all this beautiful land can stand the walk of a lonely man with a heavy heart?”
“No. Go back to from where you came, Mr. Freakshow. Or I’ll make it so you never leave my forest.”
“But you, kind sir, you’re not cruel and hard like other men. You bought the land to save it from the dirty horror growth of factories and smokestacks. You saved the deer run and gave us back the cool blackness of the night.”
“I did like hell.”
“You mean sir—”
“Yea, I work at the oil plant, and my wife is the lingerie manager at JC Penny. We saved every penny we ever made to afford this land and a new truck, and a new house, and a fat savings account, and securities, and a garage full of tools and a snowblower, and a riding mower, and a trip to the Bahamas, and, oh hell— Anyway, it was my idea. I saved the deer run so I could shoot the deer. Great hide. Good meat too. After the butcher’s through hacking it up.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Say, I’ll let you off this time, seeing it’s almost Easter and all. But if I ever catch you on my land again, I’ll sick my dog on ya.”
“Okay. Say sir?”
“Yea, what is it?”
—Don’t you dare.
Ah damn! You’re back already?
Yes. I told you I was only stepping out. I know what you were going to say.
You do?
“Hey, who the hell are you talking to?”
You were going to say, ‘Now I’m going to eat you and your dog’.
I was, wasn’t I?
“Hey, I said, who the hell are you talking to? Listen Freakshow, I’m talking to you!”
You can.
Can what?
Eat that filthy slob.
Thank you Pan.
You’re welcome son of god.


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