Along this path one proceeds from the new to the strange, to the fantastic, to the supernatural and the absurd. [De Sanctis]
Awe and skepticism alternated between us as we drove south, one summer day, to view a new group of the mysterious circles, this time impressed on the fields in the great Valley of the Daughter of the Stars.
It was eerie, it was irresistible, the awareness of the presence nearby of the arcane circles. In recent years nearly identical circles had been cropping up in far away places in the world - but distant and elusive as they had been, for me it was as if they didn’t even exist.
“Messages from the gods can’t be ignored,” I had preached to my photographer friend, to which his invariable laconic answer was: “shit!”
Yet, with persevering patience and conniving promises of a scoop and suggesting the circles might be the work of extraterrestrials, I had convinced him to travel with me to Shenandoah to have a look.
“Why would the creator or the creators of your mystical circles have chosen also the Shenandoah Valley to leave their messages for earth?” my skeptical Italian friend asked as we headed west from the city.
“I believe because Indians once considered it sacred country,” I said weakly.
“Well, I’ll never believe your ‘we’re not alone’ crap that either the gods or aliens sent the circles to us as messages to be interpreted,” he boasted. “Much less, all your shadow shit!”
I grinned contentedly. It was enough that he came along. I knew that the insensitive photographer wanted to record and reproduce images of the circles on photosensitive surfaces by means of the chemical action of light. Though Cristoforo had no patience with soul searching, his role too was important.
In the face of his Tuscan cynicism, I didn’t dare even try to explain that I was instead still looking for the source of shadows. Naively, I believed for that you needed only instinct, spirit, and intellectual daring.
Some hour’s distance from the city we turned south. When in the late afternoon the surrounding mountains began projecting shadows across our path leading up the valley rising to the southeast, my heartbeat began racing - I knew I was about to witness the transformation of shadow to reality.
But I didn’t risk mentioning shadows to Cristoforo, who was peering over the steering wheel at the heavens and calculating light.
The difference between me and It had, at first, seemed fundamental. Back then I called It the thing. Once, in my German persona, I spoke of das Ding. Today, I sometimes forgot its current label and referred to It again as the thing.
The thing - dead, forgotten, or ever nascent - has always been there, perhaps concealed but demanding its share of my life. It has always demanded space for its role. Once, in an almost forgotten past, the thing seemed to belong to others only. It was others. Then gradually it occupied me and seemed to become the other me. That is when It became It.
Fascinated by shadows, I decided at one point that It was my shadow. Or my shadow – It. My shadow was easier to bear. Less mysterious. Less compelling. Less binding. For what can you do about your shadow when on a sunny afternoon you are just walking along a street lined with widely spaced trees, and suddenly there it is? Or when your shadow follows you along the face of a stonewall? But at noon? I used to wonder as a child. Where does it go? Except at noontime, the image of my dependent shadow seemed an easy explanation.
So I began calling the thing - das Ding, cette chose, la cosa - my shadow. I called it my shadow also at night, which is pure shadow - or no shadow at all. Calling out its name, I began looking for its source, searching for the origin of my shadow. I wanted to see it spring from its mysterious source above - or below - and arrive silently at my side. I wanted to hold its hand. I wanted to feel its weight on me. Did it come from the sun? I wondered. Was it warm? Did it originate in the sun? Or had it always been in me? Was it then cold like mortality’s future?
We walked along the dusty road at the foot of the mountain. Shenandoah surrounded us. An old white frame house stood alongside the dirt road. It shrank in the shadows of a huge ancient tree. A barn was nearly concealed in the darker shadows behind. We watched and observed. I waited.
“I can photograph the countryside 30 minutes from New York,” Cristoforo complained.
“Shenandoah is more distant than I expected,” I whispered in awe, conscious of the ghosts of my German and Scottish ancestors darting in and out among the trees and shadows. I had always believed that there was a magnetic force in some geographic areas, which constantly drew us toward it. Both nearness and farness were important, but it was distance that compelled me to movement. Distance always appeared as a shadow. Shadow meant distance. In the distance lay more shadows - and solitude.
“Distance is a shadow,” I said.
“Distance is always important,” Cristoforo admitted in his down-to-earth manner, aiming his camera left and right and testing the light. “Vast space is important,” he said, I knew with me in mind, “but more important is the tiny protagonist inside it. That’s why I’m a photographer – trying to capture the little protagonist.”
Clouds flew past over the mountains, casting dancing shadows on the green fields of grain of the valley. I watched as across the afternoon sun, along the banks of a creek lined on the eastern side by poplars, a shadow rose majestically from the grass and the water and the leaves and the white stones buried in the dirt road.
“A circle is impressed there in the field of grain,” I said softly, somewhat put out by his aggressiveness. The mere idea of the circles pressed in the green over there was frightening to me, but a challenge to him.
“Now I can transpose your circle to photosensitive paper,” Cristoforo said, stepping into the 5-6 meter wide circle of pressed down grass and photographing it from inside out.
I too stepped into the impressed circle. Slowly, carefully, with trepidation. I knew I was in It! I stopped and It stood immobile. I moved backwards, and the shadow – Was it me? – remained attached to my feet, ghostly and evanescent, as elusive as memory, as elusive as the sense of mystery and awe is for cold-hearted realists like Cristoforo.
I knew the shadow was divine. It was invisible.
In that magical moment, ironical, happy but paradoxical melancholy came over me. Little joys arrive now and then, but joys complete and free of disillusionment are rare.
I waded knee- deep through the mystical circles in the fields of grain, already recorded by Cristoforo for reproduction on his photosensitive surfaces. In the interior of the circles in the grain were more circles. Tiny circles. No more than whirlicues of clumps of green grain shoots. Circles in miniature for the photographer to reproduce.
“No shadow here,” I shouted triumphantly, caressing in rapture the twisted clump of grass with the sensitive palm of my hand.
“The firmament leaves no shadows,” Cristoforo said, and laughed diabolically.
“The shadows are invisible,” I said.
In the interior of a circle there was no visible It. No my shadow. Yet, I knew, dark shadows lived there. Invisible shadows. Cristoforo had said that whether sun or moon above, whether clouds or high blue skies, the firmament left no shadows. But there were spiritual shadows present, immortal shadows of another time, a timeless time of many times. Where was time in the timeless invisible shadows within the circles on the fields of grain? Among the pentagons and triangles, the perfect star-filled circles one atop the other?
“Spiritual circles exclude shadows,” I speculated.
The circles, I imagined, were physical representations of ancient prophecies. They were shadows of other lives. Superior lives leaving behind their permanent shadows for all eternity. Their immortality. Profound messages of the eternal, of the universal, beautiful but incomprehensible messages, messages so profound as to crush my miserable shadow. They were landmarks of the end of an epoch.
“Cosmic revelations,” Cristoforo said in irony and hugged me in a bear-like embrace.
“The message of the circle is the circle itself,” I said, breathless and confused. “The circle is earth,” I said, now traveling far and wide in space, I hoped toward something fantastic.
“I believe the earth circle is a zoomed-out vision of earth,” the photographer said.
I stood in a circle on the field of grain and understood that the message of its message marked the end of earth people. Viewed and observed by gods or aliens from billions of light years distance, already long ago in some elusive past, earth is a tiny dot – astronomers instruct us - barely emitting a faint turquoise light.
I am insignificant, invisible to those distant distracted eyes. I’m barely a shadow in time and space.
As Cristoforo’s camera snapped left and right and as I stood waiting in the circle, a new era of cosmic brotherhood surely stood ready on the threshold of the extinction of earth brotherhood.
In my earth circle – there was no sun, no shadow. The star, Wormwood, had fallen from the heavens and polluted the earth’s waters and diminished the shadows. The stars had fallen and darkened the earth until all shadows vanished. And Revelations’ seventh angel had swooped down and for a long time hovered over the shadowless fields, writing its messages in the grain.
What is my invisible shadow in comparison?
I watched the passage of the circles on the fields of grain and felt small and shadowless.
“Geometry of man’s soul,” I murmured.
“Cosmic geometry,” Cristoforo insisted, “like the inscriptions on the facades of ancient cathedrals.”
My own vanishing shadow was aware of new fields, new shadows, new beings. It knew it was doomed. Doomed to vanish inside the circles in a field of grain in the Valley of The Daughter of the Stars. In Shenandoah.
“Euphrates, they first called the river of Shenandoah,” Cristoforo recalled as we observed the shallow narrows of the fork. “But the rain god said, ‘Be dry!’ Now all that remains are these eddy-filled streams.”
He photographed a miniature whirlpool whose twisted currents resembled the tiny circles in the wide circles on the fields of grain. Circle messages in the field, circle messages in the water.
“Are they too secret messages from space and time?” he asked.
“The waters, in the shadow of God’s hand, obeyed,” I said. “But only partially…. “
The real story of creation, I knew, was that the creator no longer controlled his creation. If he created it, it nevertheless had abandoned him. Nature had become independent. It looked back at its creator – stupidly and slyly and ironically, unimpressed, obstinate, savage, and conscious of its independence - and it went its own way.
In his omnipotence, in the distance, in the invisible shadows, the creator had imagined he owned it all.
© 2002 Gaither Stewart