Excerpt from my letter to K, 22 April 2008

...Such as it is, simply determining to do better carries a great store of promise for me right now. Against all the obstacles in my path, all the evidence of my shortcomings, and the manifest feebleness of my available means, to choose to do better--to believe in a world where it's possible to do better--seems to me to provide an unassailable font of strength, impervious to these personal indictments, these self-inflictions, the hatefulness of self-awareness, the unbearable heaviness of being.

It makes heartache palatable. It's what I hope to breathe in, whenever I take those long, deep-filling sighs (as I langorously gaze pensively through the lace curtains in my stately manor-house overlooking the moor). And thereby, as they say, hangs a tale.

Not that I enjoy many opportunities thus to languor, per se. From time to time I'll be lucky enough to look out a window at just the right moment, when the cloud cover thins, and then everything--leaves, windowpanes, faces, gutters, newspaper boxes--everything lights up as surely as if someone flipped a switch. But mostly I seem to be pretty well occupied with galloping apace like a fiery footed star to and from Phoebus' lodging. I'm lucky to know by now how important it is, purely for my own well-being, to spur myself to write to friends like you, from time to time...

...I want to pass on to you a haunting story I just read, from John McPhee's Pulitzer-winning "Annals of the Former World."

A Dutch colonist named Hendryk Van Allen landed in what is now New Jersey/Pennsylvania, roundabout 1650. The Dutch at that time believed the area was chock full of copper, and Van Allen was in charge of a prospecting and road building expedition, sent to exploit the Minisink Valley. The highway he built there was the first on this continent, supposedly largely intact to this day.

One day, Van Allen was hunting squirrels with his musket. Now, 17th-century musketry was an unwieldy, literally scattershot proposition, and hunting squirrels must have been about as easy and as necessary as whitewashing an igloo in a snowstorm. I have to think that Hendryk was particularly upset by this one squirrel, or that he was a particularly bull-headed colonial type, because he missed and reloaded his musket three times, crashing through the forest and making all kinds of noise, throwing away powder and shot he'd have to send to Rotterdam to replace.

At the third shot the squirrel dropped, but when Hendryk picked up the body, he found no trace of shot, but rather an arrow through its heart. He looked up to see Winona, daughter of Chief Wissinoming of the Lenape, smiling at him from a red canoe. They soon fell in love.

She told him, among other things, legends of their valley; how the entire vale was once an inland sea, and how the Great Spirit emptied the sea to make a home for the Lenape. At the Great Spirit's instance, the water rushed out through what is now known as the Delaware Water Gap.

Shortly thereafter, Peter Stuyvesant surrendered the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam to the English, with scarcely a murmur of protest. Calling in all their chips, the Dutch government ordered Hendryk back to Holland, perhaps to answer for his anaemic copper returns.

We can imagine Hendryk thinking of low, swaying fields of tulips stirring beneath the windmills. He did not have the heart to endure the calumny and ostracism that a young Indian princess bride would entail. She leapt from the peak of the Delaware Water Gap before he could finish explaining himself. Sorrowing, he quickly followed.

Believe it or not, McPhee's book is about geology. That story, which I've embroidered a bit for effect, is why he won a Pulitzer for it, I would surmise. There's a novel or a play in that...

Look to hear more soon. Know that your friendship is missed, as ever.

Love and Tulips,

paulmonster-water gap

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