Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Fellow Appalachian blogger Fred1st was out himself this morning watching the Leonids. His reflections are here.
I was up early this morning, out on the lawn with the boys to watch the Leonid Meteor Shower. We live in a small valley surrounded by mountains; a bowl of mountain below, hiding the lights of town, the bowl of the sky above, filled with stars and moonlight. Too much sky to take in at a single glance. We stood, back to back, facing outward and looking up, crying out as another piece of comet dust streaked burning across the sky.
Robert Brady offers a haiku on his Notes From Pure Land Mountain site that includes crows, persimmons, and an entirely awful but appropriate pun. My own introduction to persimmons came as a boy living in Japan. Wonderful fruit, but my first bite into an unripe one taught me the invaluable lesson that, sometimes, timing is everything.

While you are visiting his site, page down here for an essay about an encounter with a handmade chair. If you ever have encountered old quality, hand-crafted furniture, you know of what he speaks. It is a great loss that this experience is not more readily available. The problem is that good craftsmanship depends on the presence of a good craftsman. They were perhaps more common in earlier days than now, but they were never just dropping off trees. If your local furniture maker (or you yourself) did not have the gift, then you sat on furniture that was ugly, uncomfortable and expensive to obtain. The same with cooking. However much we decry fast food, it is hot, filling and reliably edible. Many households in an earlier age were not so blessed in their diet. One of my great-grandfathers was an Episcopal minister in southern Virginia at the turn of the century. In his memoirs he recalls shocking a diocesan meeting by holding up a biscuit, actually green in color, and saying that what his people needed more than anything else were missionary cooks. An inadequate diet, and poor handling of what foodstuffs were available were as much a feature of the rural landscape as the classic vision of the farmhouse kitchen, tables overflowing with fresh, well cooked food.

Our mass production techniques have one great virtue, which should not be underestimated. They provide adequate goods and services for people for whom the alternative was not hand made goods, but no goods at all. The great vice of mass production is evident in Brady's essay. There is a quality about the best hand work that goes beyond computation. As Brady puts it: "This was a chair that had been made by transforming the beauty of trees through the beauty of hands into the beauty of chairs." There is evidence in the best work of something that can only be called grace. As an Orthodox Christian, I would say that it bears witness to the uncreated energies of God, that fill and uphold all things. A Calvinist might prefer the term "Common Grace" to get at the same point. The virtue of our mass-production economy is that we can fill the bellies and furnish the houses of people who in previous ages went hungry and lived in destitution. The vice is that in the quest for the adequate, we have ruled out in advance the possibility of grace in the work of human hands.