The Real Land of Beings that Have Been Burnt

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark . . .”

T. S. Eliot, “East Coker” (1940)

Men have always wondered where a thing is when it is no more.  That a being should be simply subtracted from the world of beings offends our reason, since a being that can be not would seem not to have been in the first place.   A world of things that can cease to be real must itself be an unreal world. 

But there is against this deduction of universal maya and unbeing that booming and imperious I Am.  Not only the great I AM that spoke to Moses from the burning bush that was not burnt, but also the innumerable lesser I Ams that declare themselves and then disappear into the dark.

What becomes of all these burning bushes that are burnt?  Is every burnt bush simply subtracted from the world of beings?  Or is their burning instead the means by which they are transport to the Real Land of Beings that Have Been Burnt?

* * * *

Mutability was on my mind before I learned of Tom’s death yesterday.  Last Sunday I enjoyed a ramble to the Nacogdoches Escarpment, a low outcrop of sediments that were laid down on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico some forty-five million years ago.  Owing to the activity of bacteria that then swarmed in the beds of coastal lagoons, these sediments are now rich in iron, and when the coastal plain began to rise two million years ago, low iron hills stood up to defy the blowing wind and battering rain.

Redlands Quarry

In the Iron Hills

The iron hills stood up and formed the Nacogdoches Escarpment, but even as they stood up, those hills began to burn.   Even a ridge of iron hills must go at last into the dark, and so with every drop of rain, every puff of wind, the Nacogdoches Escarpment is by minute degrees subtracted from the visible world of being.  

Some day long after you and I have been altogether burnt, these iron hills will be altogether burnt as well.

Nacogdoches Escarpment

Nacogdoches Escarpment from Brushy Creek

These iron hills are not a prominent feature, and I daresay most people hereabouts have not noticed them or heard their name.   In this respect they are just like you and I.  Like these iron hills, you and I are quietly crumbling, quietly burning, and yet still declaring, in the way of all mutable things that must be burnt:

I am burning and soon to be burnt but I Am

* * * * *

On my Sunday ramble I lingered in one particular cove of the Nacogdoches Escarpment, a cove cut by a stream that is now known as Pigeon Roost Creek.  The pigeons that once roosted on this creek were almost certainly passenger pigeons, that multitudinous bird that once blackened the North American sky.   The avian hoards of passenger pigeons declared I Am in this mutable world of beings, but these hoards now roost, if they roost at all, in the Land of Beings that Have Been Burnt. 

And if they do, they roost on the branches of burnt trees, on the banks of burnt creeks, in the shadow of burnt hills.

Nacogdoches Escarpment

Valley of Pigeon Roost Creek

Seventy years ago Aldo Leopold said this of the passenger pigeon.

“Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons; trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.”*

Indeed at long last even the hills will not remember because they too will be burnt and gone into the dark.

* * * * *

I find on the oldest maps that Pigeon Roost Creek was not always called by that name.  On the oldest maps the creek is labeled Forky Deer Creek, forky deer being a vernacular name for a young two-point buck.  This label is placed on the lower course of the creek, near its confluence with my old friend the Navasota River, but I must suppose it was applied to the headwater branches until they acquired names of their own.

Forky Deer

Forky Deer Creek (1868)

In time, the right branch acquired the name of Pigeon Roost Creek and the left branch acquired the name of Clear Creek; and then, some lazy or ignorant cartographer blotted the name of Forky Deer Creek and extended the name of Clear Creek to the mouth of the stream.

Whether it was owing to ignorance or sloth, I deplore this blotting and have, in my private geography, restored the name Forky Deer Creek to the stream below the junction of Clear and Pigeon Roost Creeks.   And after making this restoration, I discerned what I have elsewhere called toponymic serendipity and an eldritch sigh.

All beings begin their existence in this mutable world booming I Am.  Indeed they do this with the brash assurance of what we call a “young buck” or forky deer.   But all beings in this mutable world must ascend the creek called Forky Deer until they no longer feel the brash assurance of a “young buck.”  Their two-point fork may have matured into an impressive eight-point rack, but in their hearts they  know they are burning and soon will be burnt.

Navasota V. from Nacogdoches Escar

Escarpment Above the Forks of Forky Deer Creek

All beings in this mutable world must therefore come at last to the forks of Forky Deer Creek, and there must choose to follow either the branch known as Pigeon Roost Creek to the Real Land of Beings that Have Been Burnt, or the branch known as Clear Creek into the Unreal Land of Transparent Nonbeing. 

And over this awful and mysterious decision point there frowns a crumbling iron hill.

Sparta Sands on Nacogdoches Escarp.

Crumbling Ironstone Above Pigeon Roost Creek


*) Aldo Leopold, “On a Monument to the Pigeon” (1947)

8 thoughts on “The Real Land of Beings that Have Been Burnt

  1. Beautifully expressed.

    Human language is such a wonderfully malleable tool that one can slightly rearrange the word order of your second sentence, to create the notion which is, in fact, the conclusion I think you wish to reach, that it is the world which will subtracted from our being.

    If it is, instead, the world (and the body) that is burnt, then the being…

    But, our human minds are not sufficiently capable — even the most brilliant intellectuals — of ascertaining that which is outside of human mind, and the most arrogant of them disdain any notion impinging upon their brilliance.

    But glimpses are sometimes caught (the proverbial Saul of Tarsus moment). Have you read Dr. Eben Alexander’s book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife? A quick read, enjoyable and you can get it for a song used through bookfinder dot com. The man’s cerebral cortex was non-functioning for an extended period, but what he experienced during his coma was truly an inexplicable amazement, not only to him, but his colleagues in medicine.

      • I read it a few years ago, too. My general impression is that, as exorcists and the psychologists who assist them have the most exposure to empirical evidence of the demonic that cannot be explained in any other way, so in the nature of things doctors and nurses have the most exposure to empirical evidence of post mortem life. The problem that the medical professionals must then confront is that for them to draw the obvious inference from their experiences anywhere other than in the privacy of their hearts is to risk professional credibility and career. Frank Tipler estimates that his salary as a tenured (and globally famous) professor of physics is 40% less than it would be had he refrained from publishing his firm belief in the literal truth of Christianity.

        Eben Alexander is a brave man. But then, that sort of nonchalant intestinal fortitude is one of the hallmarks of the metanoia enjoyed by those who come back from the dead – which is to say, by those who have begun their resurrection.

      • What Dr. Alexander’s book doesn’t address is perhaps the most (only?) mystifying thing about the book.

        Not the reverie (I use the term in its poetic sense, not to label it as fiction), but the absence of explanation for human existence. Granted, if his claim is true (I believe him and it), then why this mortal coil? I did not find in his book that he returned from wherever he was with an answer about this life, rather about the incorporeal next life. Perhaps I missed something?

      • Your comment prompted me to pull the book off the shelf and race through it, reviewing marginalia and underlined bits. While he doesn’t spell it out, it seems to me that Alexander does provide an explanation for our existence in a Fallen world: Divine love, which he understands as the central agent and urge of all things, and the origin of all worlds. Alexander is a product of this world’s operations, *and* he is capable of ascending in the stack of worlds. Had this world not existed, Alexander would not exist, or be capable of ascent. It is his ascension to bliss that Divine love wills for Alexander – and the rest of us.

        Worlds are mills that generate souls capable of everlasting lives of bliss, each one of which is an infinite good. So, worlds are worth doing, even when they are Fallen.

        I noted also that the world Alexander explored was not incorporeal. He doesn’t refer to his own body in his descriptions of his adventures there, but he does experience other humans – and angels – as embodied.

      • I can see that is a conclusion one might infer. I myself don’t see that in his book though. At least, not in that book. But evidently he has written several others on the phenomenon (if that is a way of describing it) and perhaps he has had more to say on the matter.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.