Thursday, December 27, 2012

Arcadia

I recently finished Lauren Groff's second novel Arcadia. The title was enough to please me: Groff could have written the worst possible book - say, 50 Shades of Arcadia - and I would have picked it up. It turned out to be excellent (although my wife didn't like it nearly as much), an impressionistic and powerful meditation on life in a commune in upstate New York and the longer-term consequences therefrom for the beasts who inhabited it..

I'm drawn to things eschatological, raised as I was in severe Protestantism and now living half-time in Maine. That focus on last things naturally leads to a certain preoccupation with their aftermath (the hoped-for one, of course, not the dreaded one), i.e., Heaven, or in this case, Arcadia, heaven on earth. For me, of course, the search for the best possible life stops far short of any religious longing.

Fortunately, the secular urge is very strong. I'm easily impressed, for example, that the word Arcadia (or Acadia in modern parlance) essentially means wilderness, from the interior region of Greece, to the romances of Renaissance Europe, to Verrazano who named the entire Atlantic coast from Virginia to Labrador thusly, to the French Canadians seeking a new heaven, to the glorious national park in Maine. I'm hopeful that heaven is not some city on a hill but huge forests on many hills. I'm sure, in this stormy Christmas week, that bringing a tree into the house is a sign of redemption, and that we gather around it like families of blameless deer, and that the pagan symbols of this season are far stronger than any Christian ones.

For the thought of last things makes me think of first things, how we began, where we're going; and that makes me thank Thor that we're considerably more druidic than liturgic. There are elements of hell - the fights, filth, and fervor of a commune, the noise and concrete of a mall - but we make them ourselves, and we could fix them if we really wanted to. And in any case, we can always hug our daughters in thanksgiving, and look out at the blameless storm in safety and anticipation.


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