Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fickle February, and other Peculiarities

Peculiar is an attractive, albeit odd, word.

Say it slowly:  (Phonetically: pi-ˈkyül-yər)

A synonym for "odd" or "eccentric" or "distinctive," peculiar has come to exert worrisome, troublesome, disturbing overtones, as in "my cat is acting in peculiar ways," or, in our post 9/11 securitized world, "his peculiar behavior attracted the attention of the authorities."

But peculiar is originally a pastoral term. "Peculiar" is the English variant of the Latin peculiaris, meaning "of one's property," which derives from peculium, or "private property." Dissected, we discover that pecu means "cattle" (pecu is an adaptation of the Sanskrit word for cattle, pasu), though my search for variations of -liaris or -lium yields only words such as "helium" or "trillium" or, in what might prove to be an interesting if not salient clue to that suffix's origins, the boy's name Liam, which is variously rendered (given its Old German/Frankish, not Irish, roots) as helmut, protection, or guardian.

Peculiar, indeed, no?!

Thus, as a throwback to its original connotation, though nodding to its contemporary import, I find peculiar the remains of last night's snow. For while the warmth radiating from the earth and rocks prevented the snow from taking up temporary residence on them, human artifacts proved willing partners in an artful seduction--perhaps (to personify elements of the garden) to showcase a strength of presence that otherwise gets lost when juxtaposed to and overlaid with more organic forms and shapes.

Human constructs--ubiquitous, assertive--assume a ghostly presence early in the morning: they would disappear if not accented by dint of nature, a dusting of snow to accent a linear fortitude in a sea of darkness. Striking, the human form dominates, but in an unexpected, ethereal kind of way, the accent lost with the melting of the snow.

As dawn inexorably advances, the casting of light upon the landscape reveals ordinary forms in peculiar appearance: circular repetitions

are accented by the sharp promontory of the deck piercing the garden--simultaneously a limitation and an invitation.

And there is the hovering pot and its ghostly shadow... yes, we know what it is and how the image was produced, yet such a rational approach fails to capture the beauty and the essence of what is in the moment.

I can't help but think we live in a world of peculiarities, but not in the etymologically original sense or even in its modern incarnation. No. Rather the peculiarity is that nature seems ultimately the guardian, the protector, the proprietor of us, reducing human construct to momentary apparitions as if to say some thing, something we usually miss. 

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