by Brian Doyle
From Ruminate's Issue No. 40: Nowhere Near
WHILE WALKING IN A THIN SCATTER of woods the other day, I found a stone nose in the dirt. I would stop to admire this most remarkable sentence, which surely never appeared in the world before, but there I was with a stone nose at my feet; also a phrase that cannot have graced the world all that much, even after millions of statues and billions of feet over the years.
The nose seemed to be made of granite. It was not perky or cute or a snub or button nose. It was a hearty nose, imposing, inarguable, aquiline. It seemed to be a male nose. You might say that it was statuesque. It was cleanly made and well-preserved; the only damage to it was to the rear, where it had broken o , or been broken from, its home face.
I stood there amid willows and alders with the nose in my hand and pondered how it had come to leave its face, and whose face it was designed to echo, and who carved the statue or bust or head, and when it had been carved, and why, and what ceremonies or rituals or sacraments had swirled around the statue or bust or head, and how long the nose had been on its own here in the alders and willows. Friends of mine who study these matters tell me that there have been men and women and children walking and living in these moist woods for perhaps ten thousand years; and for all we know of their lives, their dreams, their visions, their sacraments, we know very little, for here is a stone nose where no accounts of Chinookan people record statues or e gies or idols or sculptures of gods and goddesses and heroes and heroines. Yet, here is a stone nose in my hand. Soldiers and traders walked these woods three centuries ago, farmers and loggers two centuries ago, priests and professors a century ago. Did some of these, one of these, erect a statue, carve a statue, bury a statue, smash a statue, for reasons no one knows?
I stood there with the nose for a very long time, turning it this way and that, wondering what hand cut it from what stone and why. Perhaps the sculptor was a woman who loved a man and built him anew after he died. Perhaps the sculptor was carving an ephemeral god from stone as incarnation. Perhaps the statue was not carved at all but emerged from a factory in a series of stone saints. Had this nose belonged to Jesus, Francis, Shakyamuni, Abraham Lincoln? Or had it been carved by the willows and alders, moles and snakes, beavers and otters, troops of silent minks coming up the blu from the river at night to sculpt someone they adored?
I put it in my pocket; of course I did. We are an acquisitive species: we keep, we hoard, we secrete, we itch to possess, but then I put it back in the sandy soil. It wasn’t mine; nothing is mine, nothing at all, even my own imposing and inarguable nose, which began in the river of my mother and will end by returning somehow to sand or soil or sea. No one will ever cut a statue to remember me by, for I was no saint or hero, not at all; but I would like to be remembered when I am gone. We all do, if only by a battered cap or a name on a page or the snatch of song hummed too often in the shower. We are a memorious species, composed of a dense past and a luminous future, and only a part of us lives in the present, which is why we carve statues, and take photographs, and stop to ponder such fraught mysteries as a stone nose in a tangle of willow and alder above a broad brown river.
BRIAN DOYLE was a novelist, essayist, poet, and the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. His books include the novels Martin Marten, which received the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing, and The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World, which is an homage to one of his favorite writers, Robert Louis Stevenson. Doyle died of a brain tumor in May 2017.
"The Stone Nose" appeared in Ruminate's Issue No. 40: Nowhere Near
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