Our own setting
Yesterday afternoon I went out to the woods. There was a wall of black sky beyond the knobs, to the west, and you could hear thunder growling all the time in the distance. It was very hot and damp but there was good wind coming from the direction of the storm.
(Before None, during the meridienne in the dormitory, I dreamed of going out: and in the dream I crossed the field where the platform still remains, from the centenary, and walked up toward Aidan Nally's. Before I got to Nally's, in the dream, the wagon road developed sidewalks and I came not to solitude but to Jamaica High School, which we used to pass going up a hill on the way to the movies at Loew's Valencia in the old days.) But when I woke up and really went out it was nothing at all like the dream.
First I stopped under an oak tree on top of the hill behind Nally's and sat there looking out at the wide sweep of the valley and the miles of flat woods over toward the straight line of the horizon where Rohan's knob is.
The wind ran over the bent, brown grasses and moved the shoulders of all the green trees, and I looked at the dark mass of woods beyond the distillery, on those hills down to the south of us and realized that it is when I am with people that I am lonely, and when I am alone I am no longer lonely.
Gethsemani looked beautiful from the hill. It made much more sense in its surroundings. We do not realize our own setting as we ought to: it is important to know where you are put, on the face of the earth. Physically, the monastery is in a great solitude. There is nothing to complain about from the point of view of geography. One or two houses a mile and a half away and then woods and pastures and bottoms and cornfields and hills for miles and miles.
I had a vague idea there was a nice place beyond the field we call Hick's House although there has been no house there for years. I went to the calf pasture beyond St. Malachy's field at the foot of the knob where the real woods begin. It is a sort of cova where Our Lady might appear. From there we started walking to get to the forest fire we went out to fight on All Saints Day two and a half years ago.
It was quiet as the Garden of Eden. I sat on a high bank, under young pines, and looked out over this glen. Right under me was a dry creek, with clean pools lying like glass between the shale pavement of the stream, and the shale was as white and crumpled as sea-biscuit. Down in the glen were the songs of marvelous birds. I saw the gold- orange flame of an oriole in a tree. Orioles are too shy to come near the monastery. There was a cardinal whistling somewhere, but the best song was that of two birds that sounded as wonderful as nightingales and their song echoed through the wood. I could not tell what they were. I had never heard such birds before. The echo made the place sound more remote, and self-contained, more perfectly enclosed, and more like Eden.
The black clouds meanwhile piled up over the glen, and I went to where there was a shed, down at the entrance to the wilderness, a shed for the calves to shelter in, in cold weather in the fall. And yet it did not rain.
I looked up at the pines and at the black smoke boiling in the sky: but nothing could make that glen less peaceful, less of a house of joy.
On my way home I turned to the storm and saw it was marching northeastward following the line of the knobs, over on the other side of them, following the line of the Green River turnpike that is far over there beyond the property in the woods, going from New Haven to Bardstown. I got in just after the first bell for Vespers. Only when we were in choir for first Vespers of the Feast of the Sacred Heart did it begin to rain. Even then it did not rain much.
Back in the refectory one of the novices read to us at supper an article, taken from the American Ecclesiastical Review, on the privileges of a minor basilica and all the monks were laughing themselves silly at the description of the half-open parasol and the bell on the end of a pole and the other incidentals which go to make life unusually complicated in a minor basilica. Today we are back in the middle of a book about Russia called God's Underground,parts of which I almost but not quite believe.