Thursday 8 June 2006

The Pull of the Pastoral (These are just a few brain-doodles I have done in my course on the Pastoral so far...)


1 a (1) : of, relating to, or composed of shepherds or herdsmen (2) : devoted to or based on livestock raising b : of or relating to the countryside : not urban c : portraying or expressive of the life of shepherds or country people especially in an idealized and conventionalized manner d : pleasingly peaceful and innocent : IDYLLIC

The Pastoral, also, does not exist. They don't say that in dictionaries. It might have existed at some point, but there's really no way to tell. The Pastoral is part of an ever-receding past; no matter how far you go back, it's tripping happily away from you. We can look back to the agricultural history of this country and think that surely that must have been the Pastoral--living in a symbiotic relationship with the land. But the land wasn't always reciprocative and so that wasn't the Pastoral. Hesiod writes nostalgically about The Golden Age, but even for him, living and writing in in the late 8th and early 7th century BC, The Golden Age was long gone. We, the present (even Hesiod's present) live in the Age of Iron, a shabby third to that mystical realm of sparkling yellow ore.

I know in my mind that the Pastoral does not exist and yet I still, sometimes, pine for it. I look with disdain out the window at the urban landscape; I buy organic, whole foods in hopes of preserving a piece of the Pastoral for my future use; I even, frighteningly, sometimes long for Orillia. This last one is the most telling, I think. I loved our little house on the lake, but hated Orillia; and yet the horrible reality of it steadily fades behind nostalgia for wide open farmer's fields, the mirror-like surface of the water, Mom's beautiful gardens.

The Pastoral is problematic: it is isolating; it draws one into oneself. It is not condusive to community. The shepherds come together only briefly, sing a song or two about unrequited love (an isolating aspect in itself) and then move on again across the fields, following the herds. In chasing the dream of the Pastoral we move on in like fashion -- weekend after weekend driving in our little metal boxes up to our little piece of Pastoral which we love so much. It is, of course, nice to reconnect with family on these brief sojourns, but what about the family we leave behind? Our Quaker "family" we neglect for weeks (or months or years) because the only time we have for them now is overshadowed by a looming desire to escape their community to create one that is somehow more satisfying (and yet elusive).

Where do our responsibilities lie? Is it better to keep dreaming in hopes of the dream becoming reality, or should we wake up and get on with the life that is going on around us?

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