My first bike hike of the year was on my favorite 40-mile loop. Some of the sights are posted here.
This is my response to friend Don's "The Dearth of Souls," posted earlier today on this blog site.
There is indeed an increasing dearth of souls, lexically if not metaphysically: the frequency of this word in its plural form is about a third of what it was 150 years ago and in its singular form less than a fourth. It looked like the word was heading for extinction, with ever decreasing use through the 1960’s. But there has been a slight increase since then thanks to expressions such as soul music, soul food, and soul mates. In this revival, soul is used as a modifier of another noun, a structure that was very rare before the 1960’s. Its use in such expressions seems to be in keeping with your preference to “use the soul…as a style and not a content.”
The contemporary dearth of soul is not only in secular literature. In the King James Bible, completed in 1611, soul occurs 132 times in the book of Psalms. This is reduced to 74 occurrences in the mid-20th century, scholarly revision that “preserves those qualities which have given to the King James Version (KJV) a supreme place in English literature." Later translations, concerned with using contemporary English more than echoing the KJV, reduced or eliminated the use of soul in the Psalms: 12 occurrences in the Living Bible and Good News Translation, 9 in the Holman translation, and only one in the Common English Bible (Psalm 42) and Contemporary English Version (Psalm 143). I never use it in my translation Praise.
Ms. Jayde(-d?) might cite all this in support of her claim that “there aren’t any souls in the world anymore”—or at least soon won’t be—that the souls of modern speech are fading echoes of ancient creeds.
What replaces the biblical soul? In the more modern translations, it is usually a pronoun: “my soul is sore vexed” becomes “I am in deep distress.” To the modern ear, my soul may sound like my cow, something to be—as you put it—lost, sold or “taken care of in some barn away from one’s house.” The I is better in this respect. It cannot be possessed grammatically: no my I or her she. I or she is less “ethereal” than Mr. J’s spirit, in that it is a pointing word (a deictic). When we use I and you, we are always pointing at someone with a “curl or lobe of ear” who “can be touched with one’s fingertips.” Or, as the conservative New International Version indicates, someone with a neck:
KJV: Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. (Psalm 69)
NIV: Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
KJV: [Joseph’s] feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron. (Psalm 105)
NIV: They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons.
The words in bold are translating the Hebrew “possessive pronoun + nefesh”. As indicated in the lines from Psalm 105, even the KJV translators realized they had to render this expression more concretely in certain contexts: “his soul was laid in iron” would be pushing too far its preference for spiritualizing the psalmists’ texts. And some of that venerable KJV group must have grimaced at the philosophical if not poetic awkwardness of “water com[ing] in unto my soul”—of concrete, tangible material coming in to abstract, intangible essence.
Nefesh is used in biblical texts to refer to the part of the body which connects the mouth to the lungs and stomach. The focus might be on the outside of this structure, as in the above verses, or on the inside—the throat. The nefesh expands to swallow while eating with great appetite (Isaiah 5), feels thirst (Psalm 107) and can be clogged up by dust (Psalm 44). The throat as passageway of air gives the extended sense of nefesh as the action of breathing or breath: the prophet Elijah prayed that the nefesh return to a widow’s deceased son—that his breath return. The Deuteronomist used the expression “heart and throat” to refer to complete commitment: “You are to love your divinity YHWH with all your heart and all your throat”; that is, every thought (the heart being the organ of intellect) and every breath should support your commitment to YHWH. In the creation accounts, animals and humans were distinguished from plants by their life-enabling breath.
Nefesh is often used as a synecdoche, a part representing the whole. “All the nefeshes—all the breathing throats—in one’s household” refers to all those who have breathing throats—all the members, all the people. But the KJV, followed by many modern versions reversed the direction of the synecdoche. Rather than having a part stand for the whole, they have translated references to the whole (a person, humans) by referring to a part and transformed ancient Hebrew texts into platonic ones by referring to that part as a soul.
I still think of myself as having a soul, understanding it in terms of a wide—and perhaps confusing—array of philosophical and religious texts and Christian hymns. But I agree that it is helpful to think of it as “under the stove”—the warm breath supporting the thinking brain and feeling guts.
Observations about the frequency of soul are based on analysis of Brigham Young’s Corpus of American Historical English and Corpus of Contemporary American English.
Another trend suggested by these databases is to use soul to refer to negative or inessential, finite aspects of character. Human soul occurred five times more frequently in the 2nd half of the 1800’s as it did in the last two decades, good soul and noble soul ten times more, inmost soul over one hundred times more. In [Adjective + soul] expressions that do occur more frequently now than in earlier decades, the adjective tends to have a negative reference: e.g. lost, damned, and unfortunate modify soul more often now than they did decades ago. American too might be grouped with these modifiers since it tends to modify soul in negative contexts: for example, “dark corners of the American soul,” the haunted American soul,” and quotes of D. H. Lawrence’s ”The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.”
With his permission, I post my friend Don's The Dearth of Souls. (His Lectio Divina and the Question of Depth was posted on this blog site April 29, 2016.) My Soul, also to be posted today, responds to this essay.
What a find! An excerpt from the poet Charles Olson’s Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele. I found it in one of my black garbage bags of papers that I had dumped upon Dominic’s bedroom floor in the search for a green book of passwords. The excerpt is about the soul, and it has always been instructive to me, even as I haven’t much thought about what a soul is. The excerpt reads:
isn’t in default?
can you afford not to make
the magical study
which happiness is? do you hear
the cock when he crows? do you know the charge,
that you shall have no envy, that your life
has its orders, that the seasons
seize you too, that no body and soul are one
if they are not wrought
in this retort?
Well, Mr. B., a while back, did a run on the soul after reading Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, but I didn’t pay much attention to it because the coinage made it sound like one was taking care of a cow in some barn away from one’s house. And of course I’ve heard about losing one’s soul to the devil, or selling it in exchange for some item of favor like Dorian Gray bartering for youth. But even in that, just what is it that one is supposed to lose, or sell?
Enter the poem. Yeah, that’s a good coinage, by way of introduction: that the poem puts the pause in me, and within that pause I enter, watching in the magical study my comings and my goings and the comings and goings of others and of this and of that. Perhaps this “entering” occurs when one recites, pours sound, one’s own voice, into the silent words so that they are born into the flesh of a magical study with a polished desk and books which bindings from the shelves catch the quiet light of a lamp. Soft carpet against the bared feet, and out the window a morning star, the black masses of trees, silent or moving with a wind, and a rooster in the yard –the cock- with the red comb upon its head and its alert and golden eye that crows whenever one betrays, oneself, another, Christ.
Mr. J., on the other hand, bandied the word ‘spirit’ about, but that’s just so ethereal, like hydrogen and oxygen before they meet and flesh into water and houses dishes in suds, streams down the nape and the flank, or settles in puddles and mirrors the greens of trees and the puffs of clouds, and ripples. Yes, I much prefer a soul.
But Ms. Jayde says that there aren’t any souls in the world anymore. Gone before I even had a chance to poke into them decently. We’re behaviorists now, I suppose, and we tinker with stimulus and response, or tweak the biochemistry a bit so that the gizmo runs in a more pleasing fashion.
“Lila,” says the Sanskrit fellows, and so we must play with soul, yes? For our good health. For our sanity of mind. For our innate demand that we not be incarcerated within a house of bounds that has no windows or doors that can swing into the boundless, that can let in fresh air within the rooms, and through which we may stroll out to peruse our own personal property of the Boundless. So, in that interest, we return to soul, but we must poke about into it now. Splashy water it must be, or be the comfort of one’s favorite color of a marble that one can curl within the fingers and the palm. Which is to say that it must be an intimate Thing and not like that hydrogen and oxygen that one reads about in texts and can wave one’s hand through and be assured by reason that it’s there. But one can’t touch it with one’s fingertips. It has no curl or lobe of ear, no scuffling sound of gravel beneath the feet, no laughter or questioning in the eyes, and this we must have if a soul is a worthwhile thing to have.
You got a better word? A better pointing to something that isn’t a just reduction to a body, to a creed, and to a most uncomfortable confinement? Ay, I’ll use the soul, but no longer as a cow in a barn, but as a style and not a content, an identity, a bank account, a name. A doing. A splashing of water in the sudsy sink to feel the curve of dish and wash it clean, and dries upon the dish rack, and quietly inhabits its place with light. This is soul, an intimacy, a most private being-here that cares not a whit for proof it’s there. Lose it? A misnomer. Call it instead a confusion that a being-here, the abundance of Place, can be found “out there” when all the while, like Uri Shulevitz’s Isaac, our treasure is beneath our stove.
And within this Place, all Work is done, and all Love is consecrated.
I, briefly, thought I had finished this The Dearth of Souls essay, but it was only an hour after keying in the last line that I knew that there was more. Not a big surprise, eh?, if you are at all familiar with my bent towards going on and on and on into all the branching questions that set out in ever new delicious travelings from even a single asking. And besides, such a Thing as a soul must be a very fertile and wiggly squirmy singing pausing and considering Thing. So, to resume.., I will here state that I am not content with this essay of the soul yet, and I will not be content until I walk about as a soul this very morning. A soul with a belly with a bit too much of a curvature these days. “Ay, you preoccupied chap, flatten it a bit with, say, ten sit-ups, a walking through woods, and smaller bowls of the yummy stuff, -but without restraint, Sir. Instead, play yet another twist of a game of marbles. Use the tiger eye one, then the one with blue.”
Am a soul. Not have. One has a house. One has a body. One has a paint brush. And isn’t every thing a paint brush? For one’s canvass. For putting a little blue in the upper right corner of a sky, or a little gold within an orb two-and-a-half inches from the blue that one calls a sun. Am. But what’s an Am without a color? And I have been guilty of that. “Negate! Negate!” I have been known to cry out. “Neti! Neti! Not this! Not that!” Then what then? No curvature of a belly? No St. Patrick’s Shamrock emeralds in the ear lobe of a woman? No hot water for tea, or a spoon that clinks against the side of a cup when one stirs? No, this Am Am of a soul is chalk full of color, and I’ll even add the pretty no-color, too, so I got them both, when before I just had one.
Vertical. Yes, vertical, too, that subsumes all horizontal. In fact, this vertical of which I speak puts me in mind of the dying of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s title character - the Sicilian nobleman Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina- in his novel The Leopard. This man doesn’t die into a horizontal, but into the vertical of himself, like that of a mountain sinking back into its continent. But not a continent. But his. He. Or, better yet, this Am that clinks the side of a cup of tea with a spoon. So, as for death, -much overrated in this particular soul. A redundancy, actually, of ending that is just a daily fact of clearing out old is-ings for is-ing, or of switching one paint brush for another.
Salvation? Of what? Of the soul from a sorry little two-foot square closet of a confinement. And how did that happen?, which is the question of the Fall, of Samsara, of Caughtness, go figure. Very odd, indeed. I mean, just why is it that one can’t simply open the door and step out? Why all these angsty dramas? Why can’t one just step back and watch? See? The line of a shadow across the snow of a roof that cuts one, too, so that the flesh of this fruit falls open to show the quiet kernel in its center. Listen? To the clink of the spoon against the porcelain sides that is the eschatological end of things, consummating.
But, then, why stop at the soul? Why not Mr. J.’s spirit, as well? Am, the spirit of Things, interfusing, interpenetrating, resting there in the dark massed trees even as I walk by and leave’em behind for other quarters. Why, it’s all quite interchangeable, you see. Dark massed trees, a book-lined study, what’s the diff? And so I’ll take the soul and everything else as well, and every word and every thing will be my pigments in the rollicking and impish art of painting doors on everything.
Yesterday, my daughter and I enjoyed our first experience of the Fall Creek Falls Trail Race. I will first give a thumbs-up description of the course and event and then an account of what led to our participating in it
The course is a series of gentle ascents and descents, with only a few spots of tricky footing and only one (for my daughter), two (for me), or three (according to the race site) creek crossings to wet the feet. The organization of the race and marking of the course was great, the post-race snacks and meal plentiful and varied, and the Calfkiller dark ale from nearby Sparta thick and tasty. A bonus for those beginning to move toward distance running and trail racing: if you’ve been working out on a regular basis, the low number of entrants in this race gives a pretty good chance of placing in the top three of your age group and going home with a souvenir coffee mug as well as the light hoodie and gloves given out before the race. (I wore the hoodie for most of the race, which started in the low 30’s.) My training had been on mostly flat terrain, my long run having only one gentle climb of a mile and a couple short, easy ups & downs. This was good enough for a satisfactory run on the Fall Creek Falls’ course along the “Upper Loop Trail”, which has no steep ascents as are often the feature of other trail races, especially those in eastern Tennessee, or even of the ravine in Fall Creek Falls’ lower loop. In short, I highly recommend this race, especially for those who, like my daughter, are newcomers to trail racing or who, like myself, have gotten out of shape and need a gentle reminder of the delights of trail running with others.
Now a bit more about what brought my daughter Kayitesi and me to this race and our experience of it.
About seven weeks ago, Tess asked if I would help her to get back into running. Working full time and finishing up a Master’s degree, she was occasionally working out at the CrossFit gym where she had once been a full-time trainer but, in the last weeks of winter, she was yearning for exercise outdoors. “It will help me to get going if you promise to run with me and we have a specific race to work toward within the next few months. How about a 50-miler?”
I laughed, knowing I was too out of shape for that distance and thinking she probably was too. I had hardly finished indicating why even a marathon within the next few months would be too much when she said “There’s a half-marathon trail race at Fall Creek Falls, March 19.” (It still baffles me how one can converse on a phone and use it to look up info at the same time.) That seemed possible: “Let’s do it.”
The next week, I risked doubling the 14 or so miles a week I had been doing so that I could follow the last half of Hal Higdon’s 12-week Half Marathon Training Schedule: Intermediate 1. My notes for the longest runs of his Week 7 were: “6@1:04:33, walking some of 5th, feeling strain in various places” and “8@1:26:12, 1st time to run on any type of hill”—the first time, that is, since taking a several-month break from running. The next week would be the social high point of the training: running with Tess on Lookout Mountain’s moderate Skyuga trail on a gorgeous end-of-winter 60° day. It was the only time we would run together before the race but we kept informed of each other’s progress, or lack thereof. I had plenty of time to train regularly and progressed in keeping with Higdon’s schedule, trimming about 45 seconds off the long-run pace. Tess struggled to manage one run a week plus a couple CrossFit workouts as she worked on her thesis, classwork and job. The week of the race, submerged in work to be completed in her last month of school, she had doubts about participating in it. But the pact had its desired effect: venit, vidisset, vinceret.
We met for breakfast at the lodge and were joined by my friend Jason, who had a few years ago gotten me to attempt—successfully it turned out—a 50-mile trail run and keeps pushing me to do other ultras. Having within the last six months run the Barkley Fall Classic (“designed to give the runner a taste of what the Barkley Marathons is all about… numerous hard climbs and descents… The most devastating climbs hit at the runner's weakest moments. Everything is arranged to play on the doubts and weaknesses that exist in all of us.”) and the Cloudland Canyon 50K (19° at starting time; he ran in shorts, squeezing his water bottle every few minutes to keep it from icing up), he had signed up for the 50K here but weeks of flu forced him to settle for the half-marathon.
Jason lined up at the front of the starters, Tess and I in the middle. We watched him move ahead during the first mile while we settled into our goal pace of 10 minutes a mile.
As we ran in the bright sunlight, the trees not yet leafed out, I talked of listening on the way to the race to a CD that my friend Don had given me several years ago. The CD had Beethoven’s 1st and 3rd symphonies. The first note sounded as my headlights showed a way through deep darkness on my way to the park; the last note of the Eroica sounded just as I passed the sign indicating entry into the State Park—the refuge, the place for preserving a special beauty—and as the sun was rising.
On mile 4, I had my only fall. The water bottle I was holding shot directly ahead of us and I landed softly in a pile of leaves. I told Tess it was a clear sign that she should be holding the bottle we were sharing even though it was just a few minutes since she had handed it to me for the first time. It would be the only fall for either of us although we would occasionally stumble over a root or rock hidden by the leaves.
About mile 7, I was ahead of Tess for the swinging bridge. To her question if it was me making the crossing so bumpy, I replied that it was the inconsiderate runner in front of me. He grinned and commented on this fun feature of the course. Later on, we would run for a stretch with two young women. “Is he your dad?... Wow, that’s so nice that you can do that!” This trail race was like all the others I’ve been in: runners appreciative of the kindred spirits around them as well as of Nature’s beauty calling us away from cities and paved roads.
Tess’s lack of training mileage was cramping her up. Around mile 8, she stopped to push a muscle. I yelped when I saw and heard it pop. “Much better,” she said and started running again with her usual fluid form. But she could not sustain it for long and asked me to go ahead. I told her I liked to hike as well as run and would stay with her. But shortly after the second aid station near mile 10, tearing up, she pled with me to go ahead. “Okay, but I’ll come back to meet you after finishing.” Refreshed by the several walking stretches, I was able to go faster than goal pace in the last miles, passing several along the way.
I got back to Tess as she was beginning the last mile’s descent to the finish line. She raised her hands in victory although limping badly.
The next day, to my text asking how she was doing, she replied “My joints are not happy with me. A co-worker g ve me Aspercreme… it is helping a lot… Feeling on top of the world!!! Hey, since you have time, could you check and see if there any FCF races coming up in the next few months??! I loved that trail!!!”
Trails we follow,