Monday, October 29, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 11-4-07
Jeff Gill

Connections Hanging By a Thread

What does voting this Tuesday, with a lever, a punch through card-stock, or a touch on a television screen, have to do with the governing of our county?

Does the simple act of voting, with our limited knowledge as individuals and the unpredictability of human nature, actually mean much of anything to the choices our elected officials make? Or does election day just anoint one over the other on a basis perilously close to drawing straws?

Last week I was walking across the long lawns of a local soccer field, where the morning fog was melting off a wide stretch of grass still green. The nearest trees were a hundred yards and more away, and the only objects waiting for our arrival were a number of eight foot high goal cages, with a mesh net of woven twine hanging across the back and sides.

Even twenty feet to one side, as I walked past each soccer goal, I would feel the light, lengthy swipe of spider web stretch and snap across my face. A tall man, I’m used to getting those strands across my face and caught in my hair when walking forest trails, but rambling over a broad lawn is not where I expected to smack into spider web.

So I looked around for an anchoring point, and quickly realized that the spiders would logically enough clamber to the top of the goal, ready to cast their line far across the Midwestern plains. With a slow, steady breeze, they would unlimber many yards of webbing, hoping to snarl in a distant tree where the would walk, highwire fashion, over into a new world.

Or even more amazingly, they may have clambered up one of the riverside sycamores a hundred yards away, and attaching to a high branch, launched themselves out into the void, spinning a strand behind them, the gossamer thread billowing in the carefully calculated (but never predictable) breeze, until the long low arc intersected with the metal bar to my left.

Looking up to trace the possible sources for these weblines, I saw in the sky extended plumes with a feathery uplift at one end. These cirrus clouds, tens of thousands of feet in the air, were puffs of ice crystals caught up in the high blasts of the leading edge of an air system, ghostly trumpet heralds of weather to come tomorrow. That night I would see the circular rainbow around a full moon, made by the refraction of those ice crystals now spread across the sky more evenly, bending the reflection of the sun’s shine off the round moon into a circle of dim but distinct spectral colors.

The next day I took a walk in the light rain that fell from overcast skies, a result neatly predicted by the cirrus of yesterday morning stretching above the spiderweb. Up the road from me is the field that embraces a small woodlot where a house built in 1810 once stood. Paralleling the rows of corn, is a line that separates a modern development, in what was once a farm field, from where crops are still planted and harvested.

From back when that work was more by hand and closer to the ground, that line on closer inspection is a wall, or at least the remnants of a wall. Laid of field stone, slabs of sandstone, there are still about six courses worth of rock, stretching for over a hundred yards and surely once even longer, on to the side of the next hill. Overgrown with Virginia creeper and poison ivy, the wall is nearly invisible until you’re right on it.

Once you see it, though, you can’t help but think about how 200 years ago these stones were taken from freshly plowed fields, one by one, and carried over to slowly build this wall. How tall once was it? Hard to tell.

Webs and clouds and walls and lines of connection and separation – and votes. We connect ourselves to the process of government, and connect that process to ourselves when we choose to step aside from the everyday and wait in line, cast our vote, and cast our voice out into the electorate. It is a thin strand, to be sure, that connects us to great affairs, but a little more substantial if low to the ground when we vote on our local officials and levies.

Tuesday morning, 6:30 am sharp, the officials and judges and your neighbors will be waiting and ready. Connect yourself to the work of government, and while you’re at it, enjoy the fall as you walk away from the polling place. You’ve earned it!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; throw him a line at

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