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FROM The Outermost House

Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach.

When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes, as it were a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of a true humanity.

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

Sleep gone and past recapture, I drew on my clothes and went to the beach. In the luminous east, two great stars aslant were rising clear of the exhalations of darkness gathered at the rim of night and ocean-Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, the shoulders of Orion. Autumn had come, and the Giant stood again at the horizon of day and the ebbing year, his belt still hidden in the bank of cloud, his feet in the deeps of space and the far surges of the sea.

My year upon the beach had come full circle; it was time to close my door. Seeing the great suns, I thought of the last time I marked them in the spring, in April west above the moors, dying into the light and sinking. I saw them of old above the iron waves of black December, sparkling afar. Now, once again, the Hunter rose to drive the summer south before him, once again the autumn followed on his steps. I had seen the ritual of the sun; I had shared the elemental world.

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Northern Farm

It was a night such as one sees perhaps half a dozen times a winter. The sky was less a sky of earth than interstellar space itself revealed in its pure and overarching height, an abyss timeless and remote and sown with an immense glittering of stars in their luminous rivers and pale mists, in their solitary and unneighbored splendors, in their ordered figures, and dark, half-empty fields. It was the middle of the evening and in the north over a lonely farm, a great darkness of the forest, and one distant light, the dipper, stood on its handle, each star radiant in the blue and empty space about the pole.

These are the seven stars which come and go through the ages and the religions. Collectively known to the medieval past by the fine name of "The Plough," the configuration is today the Great Dipper to beholders, and gathered thus into a household and utilitarian shape, places something of our small humanity in the shoreless oceans of the sky.

Although I have been held back all day from various tasks outside, I find my mind content to stay under a roof on so cheerless an afternoon. It is on such a day that one comes to feel and appreciate the personality of one’s house and that "house spirit," as the Chinese say, seems in a mood to tell what it has to tell. If the house is an old one, and has been cherished, a real sense of the past comes to life within the walls and the window panes. A hundred and twenty-five years have passed like cloud shadows over this roof since young men raised the timber above the fieldstone cellars and the boulders at the corners, for well over a hundred years the touch of human life has smoothed the house as the flowing of a brook wears smooth the pebble in the current of a stream. Every outer threshold, for instance, shows the scooped hollow of the footsteps of those who have come and gone down the archways of the years.

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