(Photograph courtesy of Lorrie Mann)
Early yesterday morning my wife sprang from our bed, a woman on a determined mission. After fully dressing, she was on her way down to the garage to warm up her little black Audi TT convertible, (with black wheels of course), for a trip to Floyd for her periodic session of quantum bio-feedback. (Don’t ask. I don’t know.)
From our bed, I sprang, like a filmed slow-motion outtake, put on my warmest robe, (it was 7 degrees outside, with a brisk wind), and shuffled as fast as I could on my walker, my titanium left hip still not in full operation, down in the elevator, and across the garage to kiss her goodbye. As she drove away that early dawn morning, I watched until her little “Black Olive” had disappeared between the twin stone towers that guard the beginning of our mountain top property drive to our house, greenhouse, and barn.
As I stood there, for some strange reason, I did not feel cold. I turned to my right in the dawning light to admire the hay field that lies back of our house, like a picture framed on three sides by majestic native trees. I squinted a little - I really need new glasses - when I noticed a black spot about halfway down the large pasture. I have often hayed that area on my 82-horsepower tractor and knew there was a spot there where a tractor wheel would dip, scare the…out of me, then right itself and proceed forward as if nothing had happened. I asked a farmer friend of mine who said fat ground hogs have tunnels all under our land and occasionally a tunnel will collapse causing a passing tractor, or ambling cow, to momentarily take a scary dip to one side or the other.
However, from my perspective, the dark spot looked larger than that. Shuffling back into the garage, I selected the warmest Outback overcoat I could find, my bearskin mittens, sheep skin lined boots, then leaning on my trusty walker, slowly headed for that black hole. The closer I got, the larger it looked. When I finally got there, I noticed that there were old wooden stairs, with an old wooden handrail, descending into a cave to which I could see no end. Abandoning my walker and holding firmly to the handrail, I slowly made my way down the old stairs.
It appeared to be a hand-dug cave, if I may call it that - narrow and long. There were not tables, chairs, or shelves. My first impediment: a pile of rusty steel blades. As I edged my way around them in the dim light, I could make out rifle bayonets, cavalry sabers, pre-civil war swords, (probably family heirlooms), and various versions of the Bowie knife. As I backed away from them down into the cave, I tripped over a pile of rusty handguns. Luckily my titanium hip was not injured, but as I sat there, I noticed Colt Navy Revolvers, Kerrs Revolvers, Le Mat Revolvers, a few Colt Baby Dragoons, and even one Walsh Revolver.
Leaning against the dirt wall of the cave, I got to my feet and proceeded on to a stack of rifles. I saw Springfield Model 1861s, Pattern 1853 Enfields, Lorenz Rifles, M1841 Mississippi Rifles, some bored out to 58-caliber, several Sharps Rifles, a few Henry Rifles, and remarkably, one Whitworth Sniper Rifle. Then more accustomed to the dim light, I looked further back into the cave.
That is when I saw them. They were laid in two rows, with a center walkway between their feet. They were shoulder-to-shoulder and still wore their uniforms, or what was left of them. Gold sparkled here and there from wedding rings on skeleton fingers. There must have been one hundred of them, in all. I knew in an instant that they had stacked their weapons after the end of the civil war because, being men of honor, they would not take a life after the official end of the conflict. But I also knew that being men of honor, they would also not take an Oath Of Loyalty to the Union. Instead, they had laid down, brother by brother, shoulder by shoulder, and while praying silently in their own way, they had, one-by-one, died of dehydration.
I was horrified. I was shocked and so, stumbling and scrambling, I made my way out of the cave, up the old wooden stairs, and back to my walker. Leaning on it, I turned to look at my home for some reassurance that I was still in my life, that my life still existed. It did. My home was still there. Feeling a little more courageous, I turned back to the hole that housed the wooden-stair-descent into the cave. It was all gone.
I stood in the middle of my hay field, it looking as it had always looked. Some movement drew my attention down to the right. It was my yellow barn cat, Eric. He seemed to be smiling as he looked up at me. I was slowly but surely infused with a feeling of calm and peace. Then, as I gratefully gazed back at Eric, I realized that he was God. In shock, I raised my head and viewed the surrounding mountains in the growing morning light. I saw that they, too, were God.
Then, for a split second, the mountains became transparent and I saw what lay beneath. I saw the bones and artifacts of millions of people who had lived, laughed, cried, and loved and died in those mountains. I knew they were not there. They were with God. But the love that they had shared over millions of years was still there. And I and my house, my neighbors and their pickup trucks, Chateau Morrissett winery across the valley, and all the roads that connected all of us had been built upon, and were supported by and sustained by, that cumulative love.
Then, it dawned upon me in an instantaneous revelation:
#1. I might be completely insane, but also
#2. Does it really matter?