Saturday, March 9, 2019

Nets of Ink and Paper and Stone

I drove a hundred miles south and they drove a hundred miles north. Dave and Marvin and I covered a lot of ground, before and during a three-hour lunch

One topic was remembering those who came before us. Great-grandparents, or second or third greats. Their names and dates get cut deep into stone, but the elements are implacable. Mountains don’t survive, so what hope has a headstone?

It’s harder yet when the stone comes unmoored from ground, and ends up stacked on a pallet. Marvin talked about walking through Greenlawn, the oldest cemetery in Vincennes -- the oldest town in Indiana -- looking for the grave of the old soldier, John Small. In the oldest section of that cemetery, he saw dozens of stones stacked under a tree, maybe by one groundskeeper a hundred years ago, then another one fifty years ago, who didn’t know where a fallen headstone belonged, and couldn’t be bothered to keep mowing around it.

Dave saw me scribbling down a thought. “You take a lot of

notes,” he said. “What do you do with them all?”

I heard a writer say once that he felt like he was “throwing a net of ink and paper over an idea before it could get away.” It was odd to be thinking about this when I saw Ray post about the birthday of English poet Vita Sackville-West, who wrote: “It is necessary to write... to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment.”

It was doubly odd to do a quick search on her, and find that she, Sackville, was descended from the namesake of “Fort Sackville,” the Vincennes outpost wrested from the British by George Rogers Clark in 1779. Things were humming to the same chord.

But Dave was asking about the notes. “I dunno," I said. "Some of them get transcribed into a Word doc to maybe use for something later. Sometimes I pull them out and flip through them, like panning for gold in silty river water. Sometimes I find a nugget that plugs into something I’m working on right then.”

“But some of them sit in stacks that may or may never get looked at again. The ink will probably fade before I ever have a chance to look.”

Then I thought about the gravestones stacked on a pallet, the rain and wind slowly melting them. I blinked and thought how the stones and the notepads were the same thing.

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