Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Broken Rose and the Chrysalid:

Here's my great niece, Emma, studying the lichen encrusted tombstone of her great great great uncle on my father's mother's side of the family, with the wonderful name of Fountain Fox Cundiff. After Thanksgiving dinner, our crew loaded up for an expedition to two family cemeteries, the Loves and the Cundiffs, one (the Loves) a weed-overgrown tussock enclosed by an ancient wrought iron fence out in the middle of a soybean field, the other on a subdivision surrouned hillock overlooking Pitman Creek. We couldn't read Fountain Fox's name on the stone. That had undergone a "structural reorganization", but we were able to read the birth and death dates and match them with the suspect. Fountain Fox was a miller, presumably with a mill on Pitman Creek. Other than that I know little besides his burial site, the names of his wife and children, and that he was born in 1819, died in 1889.

His wife and children, as far as I could tell, are not buried in the Cundiff cemetery with him, unless they are marked only by field stones, as several graves there are. It seems unlikely... Next to Fountain Fox's stone there was a broken one. Someone had leaned the broken pieces together, concealing the inscription, a symbolic decoration, and a metamorphosis in process.

Having spun a tiny black thread to suspend himself from the arc above a broken stone rose, a swallowtail caterpillar, or larva, made himself into a chrysalid in the shadow and protection of the tomb.

"...the period between larval moults is called an instar or stage. The series of instars continues until the larva is full grown. It then transforms into the inactive pupa, or chrysalis, a mummy-like object which neither eats nor moves about. Within the pupal shell most of the larval tissues break down, then build up again into the organs of an adult butterfly. The structural reorganization completed and the adult fully formed, the pupal shell splits and the adult emerges. It spreads and hardens its wings and flys away."

The word Larva has Roman roots. The former meaning was a specter or mask, connected with the Lares, a tutelary god or home-guarding spirit associated with Vesta, goddess of the hearth.

The broken rose carving that this larvae chose for its structural reorganization was apparently a symbol favored by the Cundiffs for their gravestones. There were two in the their cemetery, and another like it on a Cundiff stone in the Dutton cemetery.

When I was a child my dad asked me if I knew where all the rocks came from on Dutton Hill. His explanation was that the Devil was flying over the hill with an apron full of rocks when the apronstrings broke. This is an old story with origins in Wales, where there is a rock formation called the "Devil's Apronstrings". But even that story is a newcomer. Older still in Wales is the "Hag with the Dribble" (there's a fiddle tune by that name...) said Hag having the original overloaded apron strings. She was, or is, the Bean-Sith, ( = woman + Elf ) or, as we know her, the Banshee. The Banshee is a supernatural attachment to certain families, said to have an Elf in their woodpile, who appears, usually at night and singing or wailing, depending on your aesthetics, to foreshadow a death in the family. Families who are averse to elfin harbingers find the courtesy horrifying, more integrated types consider it inevitable and something of a comfort. The Cundiffs were Welsh.

Millers have uncanny associations too, due to their involvement in the structural reorganization of grain ~ a story that is at least as old as Osiris. In the British Isles the ballad source is John Barleycorn. Here's the first verse:

"There were three men come out o' the west their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn must die,
They plowed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow, John Barleycorn was dead."

John comes back, of course, when, like the chia pet-style figures of Osiris covered with sprouted grain in the tomb of Tutankamen, he emerges from the earth to be reborn and provide beer. Oh one's throat gets dry as a mummy during structural reorganization, I can tell you.

The Old Mill is a site in The Stone Man, in fact the millstone is one of his instars. I do wish that I had a good recording of that opera that I could share with you. There is one song, by the Bean Sith of the show, Elizabeth Huling, on the 2nd mp3 downloads page of dandutton.com - "Haunted."

I realize that I've left some gapping holes in the suggestions of this post, but this is all I have time for today!


Cathy said...

I can't wait to share the structural reorganization of agave hearts with you! The Devil's Apronstrings is a marvelous story.

Is the millstone you mention kin to the one where Cebah hones her knife?

Dan Dutton said...

Cosmically speaking, of course... but I'm not sure where Cebah got that stone & she doesn't remember. It's not impossible...

The Stone Man scene under the mill was a tricky one to stage, & KY Opera's version makes it even harder to follow, with the bel canto singing.

I made a WONDERFUL painting of the Devil's Apronstrings breaking, but it's long gone and I didn't photograph it. I guess I need to redo it. That story versus the geological explanation are the Urim & Thumin of You'll Always Come Back.

SBD said...

The Stone Man was a beautiful beautiful evening.
I wish we could have a viewing and relive each and every scene and dress up in fancy garb again!
Through my head runs the song, "I'm going where the wild goose goes"

Dan Dutton said...

KY Opera should restage it. 2010 will be the 20th anniversary of the premiere. In 1990 it was the first opera composed by a Kentuckian to be staged, and it seems likely to be the last! You'd think that kind of uniqueness would call for a review.

SBD said...

Clods! Maybe the opera has a more open minded group now....

Dan Dutton said...

Well all the things that Mootz attacked about The Stone Man, have since proven to be the trend, but opera is such an inherently conservative medium, and in Louisville perhaps especially so, that I doubt they'll do it again unless my work should happen to become extremely popular somewhere else.

I think the current director is very good, smart & open to new things, but I don't think they could find the money to do it, or the clout to allow me to give it the shape it needs.

Apifera Farm said...

I'm still shocked the devil wears an apron. What will I tell Pino.

By the way, you and Cathy check your email on Saturday late day. Martyn is preparing a special message for you both.

Wish I was there too.

Dan Dutton said...

We wish you were here too! Cathy's so deep in dandyland that she may have a hard time finding the border to get back out.

Oh of course the Devil is SAID to wear an apron...

Every nite before Cathy arrived I told Alf how CathyClaws flies thru the sky bearing dried bull penis for good little dogs, and toe nail clippers for doggies with behavior management challenges. He could hardly believe it was true. Ask him now.

Cathy said...

Alf forgives me that little nick, but the King of Dandyland persists in holding a grudge. You would be shocked, shocked I tell you, to see what passes for nail clippers here. Oh woe, all my previous goodness forgotten.

We miss you, Katherine!