Volume 12, Issue 3 ~ January 15-21, 2004

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Bay Reflections

Oracle: The Epilogue
by Audrey Y. Scharmen

Prize-winning columnist Scharmen first wrote of her Oracle last year: “War was imminent,” Scharmen wrote, “and she became a sly effigy in a mask and cowboy hat. A series of placards pinned to her shirt expressed our views of opposition. The messages changed quickly from: No War to God Bless Our Troops and finally, in capitulation, simply a plea for Peace.

“Now she is cast as a grieving mother presiding over a small headstone at her feet, which reads: Rest in Peace.”
— Vol. XI, No. 18

In early autumn she collapsed beside the lamp post in my yard where she had presided for many seasons: a ragged little scarecrow, fellow activist, alter ego and oracle. A great storm brought her down.

I had watched the war we both had opposed become a deadly scavenger hunt with mounting casualties. In late summer, I was still preaching and proselytizing as I crawled about the flower beds at the feet of the oracle and grappled angrily with alien weeds. She listened silently and commiserated, offering ambiguous and obscure comments in a quintessential oracular way. But the gardening that had always been a source of solace for me was no longer a comfort. My anger suddenly was the key weapon of my personal war against everyone. My own WMD.

And so there came a tempest to shove a seething summer into the grasp of winter. The trees along the shore where I live were traumatized, autumn was canceled and the sparse foliage on battered limbs turned black and shriveled. In the midst of it all lay the oracle amid the dead of the garden, gray as the rough waters that slapped viciously at the creek shore. On her faded gingham blouse a tattered sign, the last of a series, said simply: SNAFU. It was her final comment on the war. She who had been my only sounding board for months was indeed gone. We were weary of empty rhetoric. Our war was lost, and it was yet to end.

She lay in state with summer on a weathered bench beneath the wounded apple tree. The tree itself was so disoriented, so confused, it had begun to send out pink nosegays of spring blossoms among the yellowed leaves and fruit on its broken boughs. A proper wake was held amid the ruins of the storm, scattered like peaked teepees all about, and the oracle was spirited away to that place of eternal rest, a vast acreage where clouds of gulls drift whitely above like miniature angels sadly surveying the accumulation of a wasting society.

It was inevitable that I would suffer trauma as well. I was suddenly stricken and taken away to recover in another place of angels, caring ministrants of casualties and castoffs alike.

When I returned, I found the garden stark and bleak, healing and humbled as I. The first frost had come and gone and winter was well advanced; the old apple tree was recovering nicely. The bedding-down of summer had been brutal. Perennials were cut to the ground beside the fence, leaving only the Mexican sage, prone but pointing pentacles of purple skyward, as if determined to complete the life cycle come hell or high water.

A rambler rose that had lived several years at the tip of my 50-foot conifer had been snatched from its perch, still in partial bloom. There was the subtle scent of June in wrinkled crimson petals left behind, and a promise of green in the decapitated canes in a corner of the yard.

With the new year came an aura of benevolence to the scene. The rosemary bush, gray symbol of hope and remembrance, prepares as usual for winter bloom beside the porch; her limbs mended, her aged ugliness a kind of disheveled beauty. Skim ice gathers in the crannies of the creek shore outside my window, and last spring’s swans coast nearby. They have lost the gray feathers of infancy. They are fullblown and dazzling, flaunting youth and persistence — and optimism — in the cruel face of adversity while they await the end of their war. They are the perfect metaphor for survival.

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Last updated January 15, 2004 @ 12:13am.