A Short Contemplation on Words

This is the second time in as many weeks that Monday’s writing snippets have been delayed till Tuesday. So much for a blogging schedule. I offer no weak excuses, and instead (as penance) promise a full length article to be posted next Monday, on the subject of idealized heros. To be titled: “Why the Princess Bride is Still a Classic.” Or perhaps “Kings and Captains: Why We Will Always Love Aragorn.” Something like that. But in the meantime, I offer you a short contemplation on the subject of words…

typewriter keys

Have you paused recently, to marvel at the wonder of words? Now, I understand that’s an odd sort of question, but if you’ll bear with me, I’ll try to explain. What are words, after all? They are merely combinations of symbols. Every word in the English language is composed from a supply of only twenty-six symbols. And what is a symbol, beyond simple strokes on a page? Squiggles. Lines. Curves. Nonsense. Only twenty-six little opportunities—but they open an almost unlimited supply of possibility.

What are words, if not just descriptions? When you read the word symbol in the first paragraph, what did you think of? Did anything pop into your head? A single letter perhaps. Maybe you pictured the entire alphabet. Whatever the case, by a simple description—even a description only one word long—you saw it. Words are magical. Still not entirely convinced? Let’s try something a little more complex. Just for fun. Elephant. There is an enormous gray elephant stomping through the jungle, trumpeting, wreaking havoc with each thunderous step. But he finds the coffee shop at last, ceases to panic, removes his sunglasses, orders a large cappuccino, and slurps it contentedly by use of his trunk. Here is a scene you have never witnessed before in the whole course your life and will (most likely) never have the unique opportunity to ever see. But, through the magic of words, the scene comes alive before your mind’s eye.

And yet, words can do more than just create mental images in your imagination. Words can generate feelings—of awe, joy, despair, contentedness, or restlessness. Words can be beautiful, weaving their way into intricate and marvelous patterns—each one a golden thread in the final design of the sentence. Words can make you draw back in disgust by the way they ooze and fester; revolting little globs strung together with loose and cracking joints between. Words can conjure up a close sense of peace and tranquility—forming a smooth surface, unrippled and untouched by the chaos without. Words can elicit a sense of horror as they reach out with clammy, bony fingers and send an icy chill shuddering up your spine. Words can create an environment of complete and utter silence—full, unbroken, restful, and sweet. Words can deafen you with their loud and obnoxious din, by the way they clang and rattle inside your brain and threaten headaches.

But above all, words can make you pause. Words can make you wonder at the vast realm of possibility that resides in the simple combination of only twenty-six symbols. What are words if not just arrangements of symbols? And what are symbols but mere scratches and squiggles of ink? They’re just strokes on a page after all. Just spidery lines on the page.


The Land of Ravens

Rough sketch of 1-40, headed through New Mexico. Ballpoint pen and plain paper.

Rough sketch of 1-40, headed through New Mexico. Media: ballpoint pen.

Ever onward, the road hums beneath rubber tires, an asphalt ribbon winding its long way over wide plains and through wide valleys twist red rock bluffs. Some might call this wilderness desolate, but it teems with life. Not the moist, gushing, and lush greens that remain more familiar to the traveler’s eye perhaps, but there is life nonetheless. It is life of a hardier sort, life capable of subsisting on minimal water, able to endure scorching heat. Bleached grass clings stubbornly to  rocky soil, and specimens of the larger and shrubbier kind spread pale green leaves to the wide sky. But there are trees, and their dark green leaves speak of live giving water deep in the soil, while battered bark bears testimony to the bite of swirling sand kicked up and tossed about by the dry and gusting wind. This is the land of ravens, dear traveler, and if you look closely, you might catch the glossy flash of blue-black feathers among the broken rocks. And in turn, the tumbled, broken rocks give way to hills. They ripple the landscape, like ocean waves of living stone frozen at their cresting. As if some mighty hand drew its fingers cross the surface of the world, piling earth on earth with no more effort than if it had been a child’s blanket.


Have I mentioned lately how much I love descriptions? Probably because of the Tolkien-ish part of my soul. But this building exists. And was entirely too creepy and odd to not record. It’s tucked away on the side of a highway in North Texas…

Cracked and peeling yellow paint clung still to the battered and timeworn shack. The walls were serviceable, but would no doubt offer little aesthetic pleasure to an interior designer–unless of course, the designer was one of more quirky and extraordinary artistic tastes. To such, even corrugated metal sheets can hold a taste of beauty. A shaggy and ill-groomed tree leaned close to the building, its boughs brushing and scraping the weary paint. Drooping, leaved fingers stretched out, half concealing the dingy lettering, now faded and brown, that bore the central position above the main entrance. It was as if even the tree was dubious and wished to shield the eyes of the roadway’s occupants. Though shadowed, the lettering was legible and merited many second glances from passing motorists: TAXIDERMY. A muddied white pickup truck was drawn up at a crooked angle on one side of the building, fresh tracks stamped in the damp earth behind it.


The line between bank and water was almost indiscernible. Tiny flying things buzzed and swam through the early morning air and, though it was cool, the air remained damp and hazy. The water has many faces and on this particular morn, it was a dark and mysterious one. The murky lake was the same shade as the silt lining its bed, and the steel gray clouds reflected on the ever-shifting mirror. A flock of geese paced the closer shore, their beady eyes suspicious of the lone occupant of the weatherworn dock. Sunrise had begun, behind the brooding blanket of moisture above, heralded by the ever-constant chorus of excited insects and twittering of tiny birds. Somewhere far off, across the lake, a rooster crowed. It was lighter now. Gradually, the colors began to change. Deep, brooding hues grew softer and more inviting. Verdant emerald grass, hidden in the shadow and mist before, lapped right up to the very edge of the water, telling of recent rain. The geese finally overcame their doubts and ceased their grumbling, and slid into the water for a brief voyage. All the while, a distant hum tickled at the edge of hearing, just close enough to recall to mind the highway less than half a mile away. A bird sprang from the tree line, winging her way above the gleaming water, so close her feathers almost—but never quite—brushed the surface. And the mighty sky was blue again, though lazy clouds slid to and fro, sometimes hiding his deep colors, and other times parting for him to peep through on the waking earth below. The last of the sunrise peeked through, tingeing the steely clouds with a few strokes of pink. And all at once, the lake wasn’t dark anymore. Far away, down in the deep, the blue sky, the hurrying clouds, and the sunrise glow were glimmering.