Thomas Aquinas’s (Northern) California

Grizzly Peak Peek

The winters are green here. Green and cool, with a bright sun that heats the middle of the day. Everywhere the earth is fresh, new. Shivering and alive somehow in a gentle cold that quietly clings to bone.

Bones of lean shoulders draped in scarves and thin jackets, hands stuffed into pockets. Fingers gripping steering wheels in heavy traffic – impatient, white-knuckled, aggressive. The frown of unhappy jaws locked tight like the bumpers of millions of cars. Of millions of people shouldering together in the narrow crevices of the hills.

Never have I seen so many people in so little space. I have almost forgotten the flat embrace of cornfields blanketed in snow, not a soul in sight. Here there are always houses where one could stubbornly exist, and many more that lean precariously at odd angles – jutting horizontal while an old mountain slumbers crooked underneath. Then suddenly there are no houses at all, and nature rises and wins for a moment before being swallowed again by people and streets.

Millions and millions of people under the bright gold and blue of the empty afternoon sky. Bones sinewed together at identical angles, and different in each one. The wild array of tattoos over skin, aggressively carved identities. Colored hair and sharp piercings side-by-side with manicured nails and tailored jackets. Everyone desperate to be different and to be welcomed, anxious to be set apart and never alone.

Hundreds of languages spoken with the vocal chords we share.

And always the sun, and always its loss – at the odd cloudy or rainy day. Or when the fog creeps over the bay in the evening, and lays itself heavily across all the bridges and people stretched out underneath. A sun that must climb over mountains, reaching us at scattered distances. I know now what it means to be in the valley of the shadow of death: to see sunlight far away, lighting edges I cannot reach, while the hills grimly grip the nearer land in shadow. That happens here always, when the sun dips down along the Pacific or rises in the wide East. Hemmed in as we are by the vast expanse of an ocean and an entire continent.

I know, too, what the dome of the sky must be. I have seen windless days when thin white clouds have spanned themselves across a wide expanse of pure blue. The whole horizon seemed to lift and bend like one immense shelter, with all of us held close together underneath.

And I know God implicitly in each of these.

And all is known by God, and all sustained, and all details remembered. Every bone and every face. Every gnarled tree.

All is thought always in a single act, unfurling time from eternity.


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