Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....
In this installment of Page 69,
We put Stephani Nur Colby's Walking with the Ineffable to the test!
Set up Page 69 for us. What are we about to read?
P. 69 details a painful childhood incident mainly in the arena of nature and culture, where I became sadly made aware of some of the violence we people were heedlessly wreaking on our ecology.
What is the book about?
Walking with the Ineffable is a memoir with a core relating to spiritual experiences, both as an adult and as a child, and also to relationship with our natural world. It’s about the changing weather of belief -- what, when, and why we believe at various passages in our lives, and the startling possibilities which can open up for us if we venture “into the unknown region” of both traditional and unconventional mystical paths that carry us toward deeper aspects of ourselves and of the Divine.
Does this page give readers an accurate sense of what the collection is about? Does it align itself with the collection’s theme?
It aligns with part of the theme which has to do with growing awareness of the natural world but does not touch on the search for relationship with God and its consequences, a more pervasive aspect of the book. The shocks of personal growth that came through contact with powerful spiritual paths and phenomena comprise much of the memoir and are thus not well-represented by the incident described on p. 69.
Commentary on p.69:
To me at the time this seemed just further evidence of the heartbreak and uncertainty of life. But rescue was close at hand. Uncle “D,” a close family friend, visited, took a look at the bough, and said, “Don’t worry; we can fix this.” Having me hold the branch in its normal position, he wound layer after layer of heavy, sticky black tape around the bark. It held up when I let go. “Now just don’t bump it! And watch!” he said.
Over months and a couple of years I watched the dogwood bark expand until it ultimately covered all the tape, and no sign of injury remained. To me, it was like a miracle and gave me new hope in life’s possibilities.
Furthermore, Uncle D himself was a broken branch -- a blameless intellectual, he had been framed by an unscrupulous boss who purloined a union’s funds. My innocent Uncle D went to prison as a result and left it a shattered man. Yet he retained his knowledge and love of beauty, raising two generations of my family in love and appreciation of all the arts. The broken bough yet brought forth beauty and joy, and the teaching that one should never despair too soon.
This is a good sampling in the sense that much of my book deals with unexpected resiliency in hard or challenging situations and the ubiquity of hope and grace.
WALKING WITH THE INEFFABLE
which I peered, as if through an elegantly carved screen, at the swatches of blue sky peering back at me through their screen of lordly oak leaves high overhead.
One day, when I went out to play, I saw a small airplane flying low above the neighborhood, a strange dark spray raining down from it. It gave me a bad feeling somehow. I went in to tell my mother. She came out, looked up, and hustled me into the house. She forbade me to go out again that day, looking troubled, but explained nothing. The next morning, when I went out to play, I noticed odd little brown lumps scattered all over the ground and even way up the hill beneath the tall trees. When I went to examine one lump, I was shocked to see that it was a dead sparrow. And, as I wandered from lump to lump, I discovered that they were all dead sparrows, scores of them. I felt as if I were walking in a waking nightmare in an ornithological Armageddon. In shock, I stumbled over to my comforting Wishing Rock. Bright on its gray surface, the pink-blossomed dogwood branch framing them, lay three pure yellow dead goldfinches. Staggering as if with a spear in my heart, I scrambled back into the house and told my mother. She told me that all this slaughter was due to the DDT that the plane had sprayed to kill insects. Apparently, this poison had also killed almost everything else. She kept me in the house again that day. Later on my father went out with his heavy work gloves to fill a big bag with small dead birds.
Aghast that grown-ups could perpetrate such a rain of death, it was quite awhile before I could bring myself to return to my dear Wishing Rock and comforting dogwood tree; the mind-photo of three rigid, cold little goldfinch bodies arrayed funereally on the sparkling mica always leapt up, causing a catch in my throat and the need to turn away. A short time after I finally did resume my companionship with the rock and tree, a particularly violent thunderstorm struck. To my distress, the next day I found the main bough of the dogwood, as thick as a man’s wrist, broken off, with only some thin threads of bark still maintaining their connection with the mother tree.
Stephani Nur Colby is a writer and editor who lives in Gloucester, MA, “the last stop before Portugal.” Walking with the Ineffable: A Spiritual Memoir (with Cats) traces her journeys through spiritual seeking in Greek Orthodox Christianity, Sufism, herbalism and energy-healing, Nature (especially with owls, hawks, and falcons), the de-anaesthetizing company of lively cats, and pilgrimages and adventures in Greece, the Holy Land, England, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Mexico, all spurred by a persistent search for the Really Real. Walking with the Ineffable is to be issued by Green Writers Press in August 2020.