Vol. 3, Issue 1
September 16, 2012
Greetings to all my patient friends who have waited so long for this new installment of Scholegium - or have simply forgotten that they were subscribed (if so, you may unsubscribe with no hard feelings on my part). Schools and colleges are back in session, new books and freshly sharpened iPads.... I mean, pencils, are in students' hands and learning is proceeding apace. Even if you are no longer formally a student, I hope you have or are trying to cultivate a lifelong student's love of learning. In this issue of Scholegium you'll find some short pieces repeated from many years ago that I still like: one is on how we ought to view history and our place in it, another is on the passing of summer (since next Saturday is the Autumnal Equinox, the official end of summer and beginning of Autumn), then some brief thoughts on the month we call September, and a final quote from the seventeenth century about the season September ushers in.
I hope you enjoy this bouquet of musings. And I hope you'll want to stay subscribed.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) COGITEM -- Living at the End of History
2) DE ASTRIS -- The End of Summer (Late Summer Melancholy)
3) ANNO DOMINI -- September
4) SIC LOCUTUS -- Nicholas Breton
COGITEM -- Living at the End of History
We live at the end of history. But so does everyone who has ever lived or ever will. If Charlemagne had drawn a timeline on a blackboard, where would the line have stopped? At his time, of course; so he lived at the end of history. If someone a thousand years from now draws a timeline, his will stop at his time and we will be somewhere along the line well before the end. He too will be living at the end of history.
Every ring in a tree trunk was once the outside edge, and what is outside today will be inside in a few years when there is a new outside that we do not yet see. In the same way, history is a living thing that is growing, with the present simply adding to it, like the tree whose outer layers are alive and grow and add to the tree's size, while the inner layers, though technically dead, still support the whole tree. History is a living, growing thing that nourishes us who are its outer edge and we depend on it for our life, just as the outer, living edge of the tree trunk depends on the inner "dead" layers for its support. History is a tree.
Time, like an everflowing stream, bears all its sons away (to quote a poet, one of our own) but not into nonexistence. The water in a river is borne away constantly, but not into nonexistence; it goes into that vast holding tank we call the ocean, which is a continuous living thing. In the same way, time bears all things into the great holding tank called history, which is a continously living and growing thing. History is an ocean.
We ought not to think of the past as dead, and only our time real, for when did history end and the present begin? Is yesterday history? Is this morning history? How about a minute ago? Are those part of history? The present moment is so fleeting, so evanescent, that it's meaningless; we do not really live only in the present moment, but rather we live in the present moment as the front edge of all our growing past experience which is our real life. Our experience, constantly, is made up of memory of what has gone before--a few seconds ago, five minutes ago, yesterday, fifty years ago, a thousand years ago.
If we remember to think this way, then all of history is part of our life, and though we experience the growing edge, we belong to all of the life of man; we are inhabitants not of the present moment which ceases to be present as soon as we're aware of it, but we are inhabitants of all of history; and to ignore the past is to ignore the largest part of our own life.
DE ASTRIS -- The End of Summer (Late Summer Melancholy)
The high ridge to the south of our farm dominates our view of that horizon. It's called Moscow Mountain, though it's not really much of a mountain if you've seen the Rockies. It runs in a long blue line from east to west, and in the morning and evening when the angle of the sun's rays is low the smaller ridges and draws running down from the main line stand out as though they were magnified and shaded. During the summer the air is clear and hot and the mountain shimmers, dark green and solid and the sight makes me happy though I rarely think about it.
But in late summer, in September, a haze creeps into the thinner blue air of noon and early afternoon and the Mountain is less distinct and less solid, more temporary and tenuous, and it shimmers as though it's about to vaporize; it's a perfect symbol of a world heading toward Fall. Normally, I like the word Autumn better, especially when I'm enjoying Autumn, but when I think of the coming season from the perspective of late summer, it's not Autumn, it's Fall -- and it feels like one is coming.
That haze over the mountain in mid-September, and the slow appearance of a subtle yellow in the woods reminds me that summer is ending, and everything about summer is ending, but it's no conscious reminder. The haze and color touches something in my gut and makes my heart ache before my brain realizes I'm thinking anything at all. There's a hollowness deep down that can't be filled, so deep down that it can't be found -- only felt -- as I see, in the haze, the end of warm mornings in June and of sprinklers ticking into the night and of potatoes breaking through the soil and of green fields pushing up new green and of the dusty smell of hot dry pine needles in the open Ponderosa woods below the house, and I know that all those things are gone for another year. Dying, dying, and gone. The air is still blue and the noon sun is still bright but it's somehow less substantial, more hollow, and the hazy, blue noon air over Moscow Mountain feels to my eyes like it's already looking away and not interested anymore.
All I can feel is the end. I can't feel next summer; it's so far away that it doesn't even really exist. It's no good saying, it's just a season and there'll be next summer-- no, stop. There is no next summer. It's just an ethereal thought, a vague one at best, a suggestion that I can't grab onto with any of my senses, and so my insides can't feel it either. It's just a thought. But I can feel the end of life, the end of green, the end of hot fertility, the end of the warm, lazy evenings and early bird mornings and sprinkler-wet lawns. The year is dying, and I feel it in my bones.
I can't even feel the Autumn yet, just the sadness of no more summer. I know this melancholy will pass, and with October will come the sharp delight of cold mornings and sweaters and caps and boots and evening bonfires and the furnace rumbling on, and the piercing pleasure of the deep change of forest colors, and the stomach butterflies in the darkness of the first morning of hunting season, and the loud World Series arguments after dinner while the radio blatters self-importantly, and the cheer of the lights of the distant football field on Friday nights where all the pickups are parked with blanket-wrapped families watching the kick-off, and the self-absorption of all our planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and readying the house and yards for snow, and then the white glee of the snow itself, at least up on the mountain ridge if not down here in the fields and yards. The melancholy will be long gone then and I can enjoy Autumn the way it's supposed to be enjoyed, and I will, all of it.
But right now summer is ending, and fall hasn't come, and all I can feel is the sadness of the ending; and the melancholy is very familiar because I've felt this way every year since I was 15. It's an ache that I expect all summer and now it's here, and I can only suggest it -- if you've never felt it then I can never explain it to you. I can only stand and gaze at Moscow Mountain in the hazy blue noon air and ache for the end of summer and all that we enjoyed in it.
Although this melancholy will pass, I hope it doesn't pass too soon; it's one of the sweetest pleasures I know. Don't rush me.
ANNO DOMINI -- September
September gets its name, which comes from the Latin word "seventh", from the fact that it was the seventh month of the old Roman year which did not include July till Julius Caesar's reign or August till Augustus Caesar's. September was the beginning of the year for the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire from the mid-fifth century onward, and still is the beginning of the ecclesiastical year for the Eastern Orthodox church, which has been shaped by Byzantine history. In the temperate and northern regions of Europe and American it's in the middle of the harvest season and was in fact called "harvest-month" by the Anglo-Saxons. The full moon in September (this year, 2012, it will be at the end of the month) is traditionally called the "harvest moon", and poets like Edmund Spenser symbolize the month with sickles, scales, and other harvest-time agricultural implements. In the western world, the academic year has already begun by the beginning of September, and of course, the end of summer comes in late September, on the autumnal equinox (September 22 in 2012).
"It is now September, and the Sunne begins to fall much from his height, and the meadowes are left bare, by the mouthes of hungry Cattell, and the Hogges are turned into the Corne fields: the windes begin to knocke the Apples heads together on the trees, and the fallings are gathered to fill Pyes for the Household: the Saylers fall to worke to get afore the winde, and if they spy a storme, it puts them to prayer: the Souldier now begins to shrug at the weather, and the Campe dissolved, the Companie are put to Garison: the Lawyer now begins his Harvest, and the Client payes for words by waight: the Innes now begin to provide for ghests, and the night-eaters in the stable, pinch the Travailer in his bed: Paper, pen, and inke are much in request, and the quarter Sessions take order with the way-layers: Coales and wood make toward the Chimney, and Ale and Sacke are in account with good fellowes: the Butcher now knocks downe the great Beeves, and the Poulters feathers make toward the Upholster: Walflet Oysters are the Fish wives wealth, and Pippins are the Costermongers rich merchandise: the flayle and the fan fall to worke in the Barne, and the Corne market is full of the Bakers: the Porkets now are driven to the Woods, and the home-fed Pigges make porke for the market. In briefe, I thus conclude of it, I hold it the Winters forewarning, and the Summers farewell.
--Nicholas Breton, Fantastickes (1626)