Caleb's Crossing

By Geraldine Brooks; Published In 2011
Genres: Historical, Fiction, Audiobook
adult life is full of hardship, childhood should be free of it.

At fifteen, I have taken up the burdens of a woman, and have come to feel I am one. Furthermore, I am glad of it. For I now no longer have the time to fall into such sins as I committed as a girl, when hours that were my own to spend spread before me like a gift.

At sunset, if I am near the water - and it is hard to be very far from it here -I pause to watch the splendid disc set the brine aflame and then douse itself in it's own fiery broth.

Does any woman ever count the grains of her harvest and say: Good enough? Or does one always think of what more one might have laid in, had the labor been harder, the ambition more vast, the choices more sage?

From "Caleb's Crossing"--This is an excellent thought about family though it doesn't apply to me. I am lucky in my brothers.

"Now, of all times in my life, did I wish Caleb truly was my brother, rather than that selfish, imperious, weak-willed soul to whom fate had shackled me.

He had scooped up another handful of sand and stared at each grain as it fell through his fingers. 'You are like these. Each a trifling speck. A hundred, many hundreds—what matter? Cast them into the air. You cannot even find them when they land upon the ground. But there are more grains than you can count. There is no end to them. You will pour across this land, and we will be smothered. Your stone walls, your dead trees, the hooves of your strange beasts trampling the clam beds. My uncle sees these things, here and now. And in his trance, he sees that worse is coming. You walls will rise everywhere until they shut us out. You will turn the land upside down with your ploughs until all the hunting grounds are gone. This, and more, my uncle sees.

He walked through the woods like a young Adam, naming creation.

He walked through the woods like a young Adam, naming creation. I learned to shape my mouth to the words—sasumuneash for cranberry, tunockuquas for frog. So many things grew and lived here that were strange to us, because they had not been in England. We named the things of this place in reference to things that were not of this place—cat briar for the thickets of vine whose thorns were narrow and claw-like; lambskill for the low-growing laurel that had proved poisonous to some of our hard-got tegs. But there had been no cats or lambs here until we brought them. So when he named a plant or a creature, I felt that I heard the true name of the thing for the first time.

His task was to survive and endure through the harsh winter months, winnowing his soul until it could cross to the spirit world. There, he would undertake the search for his guide, a god embodied in some kind of beast or bird, who would protect him throughout his life. His spirit guide would enlighten his mind and guide his steps in myriad ways, until the end of his life. In those cold woods, he would learn his destiny. He said that if the spirit guide came to him in the form of a snake, then he would gain his heart’s desire, and become pawaaw.
“I thought of the quarantine of Jesus, a similar harsh and lonely trial of character and purpose. But that vigil passed in searing desert, not snowy wood. And when, at the end, the devil came with his visions of cities and offers of power, Jesus shunned him. Caleb desired to bid him welcome.

I am not a hero. Life has not required it of me.

I do think he hated him as one man will hate another who draws off the affection of a beloved.

I felt the reckless abandon of one who knows she stands already among the damned. "Why not, then, another sin?

I had come to think that the Wampanoag, who dealt so kindly with their babes, were wiser than we in this. What profit was there in requiring little ones to behave like adults? Why bridle their spirits and struggle to break their God-given nature before they had the least understanding of what was wanted of them?

I held it out and Caleb took it. This was the first book he had held in his hands. He made me smile, opening it upside down and back to front, but he touched the pages with the utmost care, as if gentling some fragile-boned wild thing. The godliest among us did not touch the Bible with such reverence as he showed to that small book.

I lifted the latch, and there he stood, dark and tall, the scholar's gown falling from his shoulders like the cloak of the Black Knight in the old tale. His arms were laden with boughs of apple blossom. He lifted a branch, high over my head, and shook it, so that the petals showered me, releasing a heady scent that promised spring.

Is it ever thus, at the end of things? Does any woman ever count the grains of her harvest and say: Good enough? Or does one always think of what more one might have laid in, had the labor been harder, the ambition more vast, the choices more sage?

It galls me, when I catch a stray remark from the master, or between the older English pupils, to the effect that the Indians are uncommonly fortunate to be here.

I was struck, as always, that a heathen poet from long ago should know so much of the human heart, and how little that heart changes, though great cities fall and new dispensations sweep away the old and pagan creeds.

Life is better than death. I know this. Tequamuck says it is the coward’s talk. I say it is braver, sometimes, to bend.

Moshup made this island He dragged his toe through the water and cut this land from the mainland." He went on then, with much animation, to relate a fabulous tale of giants and whales and shape-shifting spirits. I let hi speak, because I did not want to vex him, but also because I liked to listen to the story as he told it, with expression and vivid gesture. Of course, I thought it all outlandish. But... it came to me that our story of a burning bush and a parted sea might also seem fabulous, to one not raised up knowing it was true.

My mother was an excellent woman. Pious, virtuous. Kind. But she was not the intellectual equal of my father. Not by any means. I do not speak of book learning. I speak of a certain innate quality of mind, a superior understanding. Because she had it not, their companionship was - diminished. Father looked to his books, rather than to his wife.

Only one god. Strange, that you English, who gather about you so many things, are content with one only.

Only one god. Strange, that you English, who gather about you so many things, are content with one only. And so distant, up there in the sky. I do not have to look so far. I can see my skygod clear enough, right there,’ he said, stretching out an arm towards the sun. ‘By day Keesakand. Tonight Nanpawshat, moon god, will take his place. And there will be Potanit, god of the fire....’ He prattled on, cataloguing his pantheon of heathenish idols. Trees, fish, animals and the like vanities, all of them invested with souls, all wielding powers. I kept a count as he enumerated, the final tally of his gods reaching thirty-seven. I said nothing. At first, because I hardly knew what to say to one so lost.
“But then, I remembered the singing under the cliffs. An inner voice, barely audible: the merest hiss. Satan’s voice, I am sure of it now, whispering to me that I already knew Keesakand, that I had already worshipped him many times as I bathed in the radiance of the sunrise, or paused to witness the glory of his sunset. And did not Nanpawshat have power over me, governing the swelling, salty tides of my own body, which, not so very long since, had begun to ebb and flow with the moon. It was good, the voice whispered. It was right and well to know these powers, to live in a world aswirl with spirits, everywhere ablaze with divinity.

She was like a butterfly, full of color and vibrancy when she chose to open her wings, yet hardly visible when she closed them.

...the surfeit of loss in my life has convinced me it will be easier to be grieved for than to grieve."

Bethia as an old woman about to die

p 257

They say the Lord's Day is a day of rest, but those who preach this generally are not women.

This morning, light lapped the water as if God had spilt a goblet of molten gold upon a ground of darkest velvet.

To take a people who were traveling apace the broadway to hell, and to be able to turn them, and set their face to God. . . . It is what we must strive for.

When I looked at my hands and wrists, marred by the marks of small burns from cook pots and flying embers, every red weal or white pucker brings to my mind's eye that eternal fire, and the writhing masses of the damned, among whom I must expect to spend eternity.

You English palisade yourselves up behind 'must nots' and I commence to think it is a barren fortress in which you wall yourselves. - Caleb