By Robert Russell
Trekking through the Tennessean wilderness, I stumbled upon an unexpected object in the terrain. I crossed upward and into an incline, the pack strapped to my back bouncing uncomfortably, sweat wetting my forehead and hair, and I moved upon the hill toward the evening ground and came upon a small patch of coppiced growth, intermittent trees sprawling and standing about solitarily, sunlight showering onto the sward. The foliage far above spasmed in the subtle wind, shining sickles descending from silhouetted leaves. There stood, alone in nature’s vastness and glowing in the sunlight, an empty glass jar, a bright halo illumining the dirt around it.
Breathless from the climb, I stopped and let my pack fall to the ground. What was I seeing? The glass shimmered in the soft light seeping through the high branches, blazing the air. Birds flew and chittered in the distance; a rustle sounded from an unseen thicket; twigs snapped underfoot as I approached the object, but my eyes stayed forward, unwavering. A cool breeze graced my heated face, the air sweet and serene in my nostrils, my feet weary from the journey, calves aching but my stride stayed direct, and at once, I was before the glass jar. I crouched down. I peered into the glass, then looked up and turned my eyes into the solitary wilderness, left then right, forward and behind, then turned them back towards the jar.
The glass was unbelievably clear, a port in air, untarnished and untainted, its pellucidity sheening, striking. It appeared a product of nature herself. But it was not from nature, I knew. The glass jar was man-made, yet somehow, as it stood alone, surrounded by expansive wilderness, vulnerable to the natural elements, yet resistant, impenetrable, its presence felt assertive, natural in its unnaturalness. Slowly, I reached out my hand and traced its round rim with my fingertip, the glass cool and smooth and solid against my skin. Drops of sweat trickled across my brow, seeping into and stinging my eyes. I dried them away with the back of my wrist.
How had this jar come to be here? alone, with no human traces as far as the eye could see? Who had placed it here? Who had made it? Where? Why? Why was it here now?
I stood up again and eyed my surroundings. The trees that once stood solitary, slovenly enmeshed in the naturally determined chaos, now seemed arranged, the copse ordered around the jar which appeared tall amid the spatial contrast. The color of the trees, once varying shades of shadowed gray and brown, blended into a flat black against the jar’s luminescence. The forest-bed, once a variegated mosaic of scattered pine needles and dead leaves, blurred into a single mass, birthing an outstretched, untouched expanse which filled the bare spaces between vegetation and life. The forest’s relation to the glass jar brought order, meaning, elegance to its chaotic nature. What had once been disassembled became assembled. It was no longer wild.
And indeed, life began to change; the rest of the world swirled into structure, sequences framed into concatenation. Every detail of my life beyond the limits of the wilderness teemed with new meaning, new understanding. So, too, did every person I knew, every friend, relative, every person I had ever met, each name falling into succession, timestamped and coordinated by degree of closeness; every acquaintance, ever person I had ever seen, every passerby, faces in the station of the metro, in photographs, in professions, present and past. Words, labels, titles, signs granting definition to objects, concepts, ideas, abstractions–all fell into place, the burgeoning systems that strove to define the undefinable deconstructed, reconstructed, and reimagined. The creases of dominion cresting within an invisible tapestry sewn with fraying threads of fate and free will, stitched by every event, action, and decision, and hemmed with every life and every death, smoothed into a flattened whole, one singular, never-ending and beautiful infinitude.
Glancing upward, clouds closed into the canopy, waning the light which the jar reflected, sending shadows spreading across the forest. It began to rain. The rain fell onto my face, my clothes, its redolence sweet and purifying, clarifying. I looked down at the jar and watched as droplets passed through its mouth, ran down its insides, and pooled into a puddle in its base which slowly began to rise. The movement of the act, nature supplanting artificiality and reclaiming the elements from which the jar first emerged, filling its emptiness, closed the gap that once separated them, dissolved their distinguishing definitions, and broke down the boundaries built upon difference and division. The birds and the bushes remained silent and above the jar I stood anew, awakened, and lifted my face to the sky and let the rain drip through my lips and onto my tongue and I tasted it and it was like nothing else in Tennessee.