Today Meredith and I visited a reputedly macabre little park called Gilgal–apparently named for the site where the Israelites camped and set up a circle of twelve stones in the Book of Joshua. It is populated by strangely designed statues, sculptures, and carvings with cryptic but apparently explanatory Bible quotes (and one from the Declaration of Independence). The ground is largely covered with paving stones, on which the aforementioned quotes are carved, some of them worn near illegible by decades’ weathering. On the less tabletlike rocks at the base of one of the main installations are numbers that, by careful sleuthwork, we determined refer to the verses of origin of the quotes.

Upon entering the park through an unassuming little woodchipped corridor between two dilapidated houses, the first thing that caught our attention was a large slab of sandstone, carved with the figure of a man holding a sword. His head was replaced by an irregular block cemented on top of the slab. After staring, with no small degree of stupefaction, at this vision for a few seconds, we noticed that the park was really quite lovely, with quite nice landscaping and many lovely flowers.

It is difficult to see in this picture, but in the corner are quote sources BC 1451 Joshua 4-5 and AD Young 1847 McKay 1955. This is because behind the rock there is a small courtyard completely paved with semi-illegible quotes. It has a somewhat sinister effect, being surrounded by so many words with neither commonality nor, apparently, relevance. One of the inscriptions reads, simply and disturbingly, See what God hath done. On the back of the slab is a plaque identifying it as a grave marker for several then-freshly dead people and every one of their ancestors, which really does not help matters very much.

The next thing we noticed was a large and quite pleasant-looking island of sorts, a little hillock of rock surmounted by a tree. I, unable to see from my vantage point the Do Not Climb sign, climbed it to peer through a little rock tunnel, which was much too small for any adult to fit into but which puzzlingly had a path of paving stones all the way through it. When I climbed over the rock through which it was carved, I admit I might have shouted a bit in surprised horror, because when I turned back toward it I saw this:

Even more unsettling, carved on the side of the same rock that faces the path is the following inscription.

Oh / that my words were now written! / on that they were printed in a book! / That they were graven with an iron / pen and lead in the rock for ever! / For I know that my redeemer liveth and that / he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth / And though after my skin worms destroy / this body yet in my flesh shall I see God; / Whom I shal see for myself and mine eyes shall / behold and not another; though my reins / be consumed within me / Job 19 23-27

The rest of the island is only worse. On the south side is a fanlike array of weaponry, mostly spears and guns, with yet more biblical quotes providing cryptic captions. The north side is a slope containing, in sculpture form, most of a dismembered body (out of frame there are two much larger feet of unknown origin)

Beside this there was a large, empty alcove in front of which was carved In memory of the broken flesh / We eat the broken bread […], and nearby After me / cometh a Builder / tell him, / I too have known. With this cryptic message in mind, we visited a shrine to the workmen who built the original Temple (completely unrelated, thus the crypticness); a large stack of blank books and a tall spire made out of concrete; and an arch whose keystone contained the apparently unrelated letters A        O.

There were many other such things: four stone eagles guarding the boundaries of the park; a mansionlike and queerly modern birdhouse; a platform covered in cairns (which Meredith pointed out mark Jewish burial sites); a lot of grainy, overexposed pictures of the construction of the park; and a sphinx with the head of either Joseph Smith or Rowan Atkinson, which I here omit to preserve your peace of mind, Best Beloved.

And then, after puzzling over a carefully but badly rounded boulder with what could have been an umbrella carved into the back, I decided to climb on top of it, and in doing so discovered the most disturbing thing in the park.

Believe me or do not, but this is not the disturbing part. The disturbing part is that they look as if they were meant to fit a human hand, but it didn’t quite work out.

No, I still tell a lie. The disturbing part is that the insides of the holes look charred, which forces me to assume that they were burned into the rock by a humanoid creature with enormous hands.

To go along with this cheerful parting sentiment (here included for your turmoil of mind) there is, near the entrance of the park, a lovely willow tree overhanging a low stone wall, perfect for sitting in the dappled shade at the end of a hot and/or psychically taxing walk in a garden of uncomfortable religious statuary. On this wall is cemented a peculiar trough that both Meredith and I instantly assumed was used primarily for blood sacrifice. My apologies, Best Beloved.

For S.

The stagnant chill of windowless grey room cannot
be favorably compared to the keen ice of night.
The while we sit the days grow stale and pass us by
and glutinous clouds drip down from a wet rotting sky.
We ask, what could I do, could I have ever done
to dodge away from their putrescent touch and fly?
We ask, is there a palace somewhere in the air
where one can drink the burnt-out stars from a dark pool

and gain what they have lost, know oneself not a fool?

The breathless claustrophobic room answers us there:
if we expect the bone-white angels to descend
and give prescience, burning blood, a new white sun,
we must acknowledge what pretense ’tis to pretend,
to say that this has never really been our end,
to tell ourselves that we are not afraid to drown.
Does burning blood coagulate, or does it run?

We wish for such an angel to come spiral down—
the while shed scintillating sun-soaked scraps of down—
to sweep across the dying grass upon the down—
and elevate us with an imaginary crown.
But when we dream this we may hear the angels cry,
discover they are naught but birds, fall down, and die.

There is a problem we have set ourselves, which goes:
how can we disprove the existence of white crows?
Although no-one has seen one we can never know
whether it has just flown too swiftly for the eye.
And so we dream of flying on an unseen wing
not knowing pestilence and wanting but to sing.

Alas, the crow’s voice isn’t commonly considered
as sweet as others of its kind—is it embittered?
Like a soft scrap of shadow, dark against the light;
although, like other birds, to those below it seems
untroubled as the turning clouds, or as in dreams,
the crow despite its wings is still held by the gale
that shields our Terra from the cold, dark, vasty night.
The crow despite its wings is always subject to
the laws of earth, the ache of burning muscles where
it lifted itself from the ground, escaped the pale
of festering malignant ignorance for air.
Its dark heart aches for such a high blistering blue.
At last we ask what we’ve been thinking all the while:
why our so-happy crow’s beak was not made to smile.

A metaphorical analysis of Hobbes the Tiger

Upon extremely cursory consideration, the long-running comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” seems to be a sweet but largely insubstantial body of work. Bill Waterson often writes puns or coming-of-age shenanigans for Calvin, but interspersed with these are earnest moments contemplating philosophy and nature. Because Calvin is a six-year-old boy, these often seem to be played for laughs, but what of the main characters’ eponyms?

It is widely accepted that their names are based on John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, sixteenth century religious and political philosophers. Calvin led the Protestant Reformation, coming down on the side of pessimism with his belief in absolute predestination–i.e., ‘you might as well do whatever you want because it’s already decided whether you’re going to Heaven or not.’ Hobbes was only slightly less cynical as the originator of social contract theory, which says that the people tolerate government in exchange for protection, and coiner of the oft-quoted observance that life is ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’ However, Hobbes was also a pioneer of individual rights and equality, so perhaps it balances to neutral.

How, then, is this relevant to a comic strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger? Calvin is no spiritual leader, even if Hobbes can be sarcastically compared to a man who recognized the regrettable natural order of things (three cheers for the bloodthirsty animal who only eats tuna sandwiches). Hobbes the Tiger is a representative of a gentler side of nature, almost as an answer to the philosopher’s cynicism. But Calvin? He is neither religious nor a proponent of fate. He is a crusader. John Calvin rejected the church and his father to advocate radical fundamentalism; six-year-old Calvin constantly butts heads with authority over his unorthodox, whimsical, and irreverent methods, and is punished for exposing flaws in the system.

His crusade is not religious but imaginative, as an exhortation to the audience to be interesting and unique.

Hobbes, though, is more interesting to me. Calvin is an obvious reader surrogate, which means that lessons taught to him are aimed at the audience. And what lessons Hobbes has! Where Calvin tends to lose himself in science fiction and technological dystopias, Hobbes is a grounding influence telling him to relax and enjoy the outdoors–an emissary from nature. Hobbes is the reason that Calvin is disgusted by piles of empty cans in the woods instead of creating them. This is why he is a tiger (although surely Waterson has his other reasons): a representation of the ferocity, elegance, and beauty of nature. Hobbes teaches Calvin, and us, that sitting against a tree is a valid and fulfilling way to spend an afternoon.

Interestingly, Hobbes is something different to Calvin than to the reader. Observing their interactions, one sees that Hobbes acts at times like a condescending and worldly older brother, and it becomes clear that Calvin is projecting his perception of maturity onto his friend. Hobbes often expresses interest in girls and kissing, and (again, as would an older brother) teases Calvin about them. He is also frequently pressed into service doing Calvin’s homework, but tellingly knows nothing more than Calvin himself, and is obviously bluffing when he shows the ‘correct methods.’

This suggests that Hobbes is indeed purely imaginary, created as a role model and companion by a weird lonely boy–

Luckily, this doesn’t make him any less real.