It was one of those God poetry moments.
There we were, having just hiked some rocky butte at Eagle Crest in Central Oregon. We were winding our way down the backside of the Butte when I asked my friend, One Pan Peggy, if she had ever read any Flannery O’Connor.
One Pan Peggy and I have known each other longer than we’ve known our spouses. We were roommates at Oregon State University. Our stories have been woven together over the years in the most unexpected of ways. We both married Tims, for instance.
We set aside Labor Day weekend every single year to spend it with One Pan Peggy and her Tim. We used to meet at the beach. We modified that plan a couple of years ago to better accomodate our kids and their families.
Last year while staring up at the Butte from the back deck somebody wondered if there was a trail leading up the summit. Turns out there was and this year, we hiked it.
It’s only a mile hike, but it is a 3,000 feet gain in elevation so there are these warnings signs at the front end of the hike saying that people with compromised health might ought to reconsider the hike. I thought about turning around then. Not because I have compromised health, but simply because I take warning signs seriously in order to avoid having compromised health. That’s why I don’t smoke or remove those federal tags from my pillows.
Anyway, like I was saying, One Pan Peggy and I were coming down the backside of the Butte, having made it to the top without inducing a medical emergency of any sort, when I casually asked her if she had ever read any Flannery O’Connor.
One Pan Peggy grew up Catholic. I was thinking she might enjoy Flannery’s take on Christianity.
I have been reading Flannery’s letters as of late and had come across a remark that I thought One Pan Peggy might appreciate. Referring to A Good Man is Hard to Find, which I am planning on teaching soon, Flannery had remarked: “I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic. The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism.”
I was telling One Pan Peggy how I could relate to Flannery’s remark because some people are repulsed by the chicken scene in Mother of Rain. It was a different incarnation of a story that One Pan’s husband Tim, a wildlife biologist, had told me and that eventually found its way into Mother of Rain.
One Pan Peggy didn’t know about A Good Man, so I was telling her what the story was really about when we rounded a bend at the bottom of the Butte and encountered a peafowl.
In the lava dust of Central Oregon.
One Pan Peggy didn’t get the ah-ha moment the way an avid reader of Flannery might. So I had to explain to her even further why encountering a peacock among the sagebrush and rabbit bush of Central Oregon was such a poetic thing.
I mean, we all understood that it was an oddity. Peacocks are not native to the region. And the house where the peacock was trying to ring the doorbell was deserted. A repo, some woman we encountered later along the trail told us.
An encounter with God’s poetry is somewhat diminished when others lack the context for such moments, don’t you think? This, of course, happens on a daily basis in any untold number of ways.
Background knowledge matters.
One Pan Peggy might not be familiar with Flannery’s work, but she certainly knows me well enough to know that when I tell her this is one of those moments, one must stop and soak it in.
We spent a few minutes with the peacock before resuming our hike.
Walking with our arms looped together, I told One Pan Peggy another story from one of Flannery’s letters:
“My mamma has been dickering (negotiating) with a new farm family to take the former farm help’s place. Old man P. looked like he might have had an ancestor back a couple of centuries ago who as at least a decayed gentlemen, but these look like they’ve only joined up with the human race for only a couple of months now.”
One Pan Peggy and I had a good giggle over that one.
And I think we’ll be talking about that peacock in the desert for years to come.
That’s how it is with God’s poetry, once you recognize it.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy, Mercer Univ. Press.