Adelaide and Eden
I’ve been thinking of Adelaide A. Procter. Actually, I’ve been thinking of one of her poems that is a hymn in the Methodist Hymnal, the 1966 edition. I checked Ms. Procter out in Wikipedia. She is reputed to have been Queen Victoria’s “favourite” poet. It is the third verse of the hymn “Our God, We Thank Thee” that I have been pondering this past week up here in the paradise known also as Vermont:
We thank thee more that all our joy
Is touch’d with pain;
That shadows fall on brightest hours,
That thorns remain;
So that earth’s bliss may be our guide,
And not our chain.
Years ago at a gathering of local ecclesiastics, the Brooklyn Clerical Union, pastors who thought themselves erudite, I read a paper I wrote on heaven in which I likened it to that corner of creation in which our family spent August each summer, Corinth, Vermont.
That’s a heavy responsibility for any place to bear. Especially one where nature rules, as another English poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, describes it, “red, in tooth and claw.” In the Green Hills it’s more like “bite and itch.” This summer a new onslaught has come upon us, a proliferation of ticks which our hill, 2000 feet above sea level, frozen much of the winter, but not last year, had not previously seen.
This invasion was sufficient to send a couple of hillside campers back to asphalt and smog two days earlier than originally intended. Other years and other invasions have been Adelaide’s “thorns” in paradise. In June, it’s the black flies. In July it’s the No-seeums or midges. In August it’s the deer flies. In September and October it’s the cluster flies. Which winged annoyances only begin to list the nuisances to which our Eden is susceptible. Add carpenter ants in the stack of reserved shingles, mice in the ceiling insulation, porcupines chewing on plywood beneath the cabin, and beaver poop in the reservoir.
But, as the gas pump operator and ex-wife of the garage owner on the hilltop south of our cabin puts it, the creatures that really scare her are the two-legged ones which sometimes roam the forest. Our corner of paradise has seen more of its share of deadly violence than south Chicago. A teen-aged psychopath and his Chelsea High buddy intended to practice a murder-robbery near the aforesaid garage, on Judgement Ridge; but the proposed victims, a Bronx dad and his son in a camp at the bottom of the hill, foiled their design when Dad brandished a pistol. Weeks later, however, two Dartmouth professors were not as street-wise and paid with their lives.
The view from the front porch of our "camp." Judgement Ridge, where practice murders were to be conducted, is framed by the leaning birch tree to your right and the vertical support of the humming bird feeder.
Then there was the thirty something schizophrenic, who often slept in the wilds of our property, who decided to end his mental turmoil with a shotgun blast. Or the fellow a half mile down the road from our cabin who committed matricide, arson, and suicide the same day.
Those of us immersed in a Biblical faith have been forewarned. Eden harbored a snake in the grass, whose persuasive voice convinced our ancestors to follow their bliss and ignore the limitations virtue (think of the Twelve - 10 + 2 - Commandments) imposes on the conscientious soul. And remember that most beautiful and loving life ever lived, the one in Galilee by a carpenter’s son, how it is framed, by the marauding army of Herod at the beginning and the killing cross of Caesar at its ending.
Good and evil, saintliness and sinfulness, innocence and corruption: they mingle; they are inextricably bound together in human existence.
And an old man on the backporch of a “camp” in Green Eden finds this theological insight articulated for him, in a most unlikely place, a poem written by a Victorian spinster, reaching down from another century to explain for him the presence in this world of ticks and psychopaths where they’re not supposed to be.