Friday, April 15, 2011


The Charles River was ruby red in the early morning sun light. A single beam of radiant sunshine cast a glow over the narrow bend of grass along the esplanade. A new start, a new day, never to return to the old worn fruitless grooves…

The genesis of the college semester is always late summer, and so, by necessity it has the penultimate sensation of the final gently curving spike before the precipitous fall of autumn. For the spasms of expansion are more severe just prior to the final expulsion than in the building of contractions. The strongest sensation comes just before the summit: just at the pleasant moment when the object, hurled rudely skyward, appears to stop just when it should be accelerating to a loftier altitude.

So the semester begins with a leafy bower of dusty oak leaves perched, cross hatched and intertwined, over the clipped ripe grass of Harvard Yard. The ivy, green, waxy and abundant, snakes up the marble facade of the Houghton Library, and the numerous portals of exit and egress to the yard, like wide open veins and arteries with no specialization of function.

And surrounding this garden of repose is Cambridge, like an American Athens, hemmed without concern, demarcated without conceit or desperation by the gentle, fluid curve of the Charles River. And in the pre-dawn hours, standing on its banks, where the concrete escarpment fades and cracks to a field of mud, and the mud, stirred and churned by the lapping water, blends into the brown green ebb of the river, a low hanging lacy mist dangles just above the lapping froth of the river water: and the smell, an odor that still makes incursions into my nostrils in an apish imitation of an actual perception, a legitimate sensation, that mingling of matter both fresh and the decaying.

But standing on the shore, it was easy to look beyond the specific and move to dazzlingly broad generalities, to the luminous ideal, to peer through the congenitally defective mists and to see, out there in the center currents, the slim, muscular biceps poking through the classically trim tee shirts and crew tops, the rounded tip most portions of well honed legs propped stiff against the transverse wooden struts of the scull, as oars, slim shinny sticks in the gathering morning light, break the smooth glassy surface.

And then the scull, like some magical soundless skiff across the translucent Charles, and I know, as sure as my lungs gulp another breath of frosty morning air, that each particle of water, each conjoined molecule of hydrogen and oxygen, is perfectly, immutably placed. It is unchallenged in its supremacy. Its hegemony is secure.

I lost the scull under the bridge, but it is replaced, in a moment of instantaneous transfer, by a column of sunshine, that rises above the humped skyline of Boston. And Cambridge, its academic towers and gables are suddenly not merely a conglomeration of stone, mortar and brick, but a splendid heap of organized flesh, a profusion of nubby forms, alive and pulsating, caressed to animation by the rosy fingers of dawn.

For all Vandemark men, the robust ones anyway, are the recipients of this transensual gift. It is a heightened anticipation of the possible connectivity of all the sinewy joints in the sub-lunar sphere. It is a knowledge brought not by the mind but the pulse of light, the vibratory undulations of sound, the damp molecules carried aloft by the summers high wind.

For what is a man but a sponge to the world? And what is a sensation if it is not drenched, if it fails to convey to us, in each wrenching moment, that we are but a link in a chain, a causal accident that can be easily replaced by some more convenient or readily accessible contingency. We can be replaced! It is the mechanism that is firmly in place: we just need the one tenth the gumption necessary to test the works, to jiggle the contraption to see if it collapses.

The Charles River water lapped at my new suede shoes. The dampening creases of water were spreading laterally around the aft portion of my feet until they were drenched. Someone behind me yelled, contritely:

“Hey, careful, it drops off steep there,” and moved on. I noticed, chuckling inwardly to myself, that I had begun to wade out into the stream. In the not so distant distance I could see three more sculls skim effortless through the water.

But I was much closer this time, and could see, with concave clarity, the young strong faces set with trim noses, sweaty flaxen hair and damp, perspiration smeared brows, the sheer exhilaration of the exertion of efficient bodies. For the generation of men are like the leaves on a tree. If the tree remains, it is a fortuitous calamity, for the leaves, by the very exertion of their existence, carry with them the stamp of their ultimate doom. For what do we care of other men? We care for the tree only because it nourishes us with a precious drop of sap, a mere speck from the reserve of the whole.

The entire river scene shimmered and shook as if the very exertion of stability was more than it could bear. It was blank, then full, a speeding rampage and a quiet, reserved river walk. The Vandemark curse (which is also the Vandemark boon) is to see the spindly web of connection arching across the world.

The peace descended. But then, the ruination. For the shadow presence was snaking along the river path. My old enemy, that dark brother, was making its hegemony known by rattling my cage in the only way it knows how, through a brute show of force. But is had only temporal powers, and quite limited at that.

Believing, quite erroneously, that IT has absolute mastery of my world, it began its little dance of unbridled frivolity: it capered and shimmied, all along hoping, through these showy displays, through these pantomimes of mock combat, that it could somehow kowtow me into meek submission. That is could (oh that double crossing semblance of a being, that shadow behemoth who thinks he has weight but is only a massive will-o-wisp) could brow beat me into coordination with its goals and designs just by casting its long shadow over my healthy body.

I stepped over, I ducked under, I bent from the waist down to the thin wedge of my shin bone, and, by torquing my body, gently but deftly to an unforeseen attitude, slipped away, once more, from my dastardly twin.

Take that, my proverbial second half! Stand down, for your hold is not as steely as you may believe!

For my brother is never self-depreciating. No, I’m afraid he holds to his precious piece of turf as if it were the entire span and width of the globe. He mistakes, in the classic form of all darker reflections, form from substance.

For where an outline will suffice why flesh out the body? And where a body is fleshed, why trouble yourself about the contours? The shadow self, that creature of accidents and misapprehensions does not set its intellect to discern the true from the false, the deep from the shallow. No, it piddles with trifles.

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