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A Library in the Wilderness

July 3rd, 2006

It is the last day of a week-long Bordewieck family reunion. The illusion of our own little utopian commune is fading. Everyone is packing up reluctantly to head back to the real world.

I propose a last distraction: an afternoon hike into the hills. Lisi and Sara and I walk in the lead, my father and Udi behind, everyone else straggling along at their own pace. It’s hot; fern and blueberry bake in the sun along the trail, filling the air with heavy, tangy sweetness. The light washes out colors; pupils narrow down to pinpricks. Lisi’s curls gleam like a halo. My walking stick is slick with moisture from my palms.

After a mile, slabs of red-brown standstone begin to emerge from the brush of the hillside. I point out whitish scorings in the faces of the slabs: lines and circles of unknown meaning, appearing more and more frequently as we progress. “Petroglyphs.”

We turn left onto a side trail, ascending steeply now. Beads of sweat roll down my temples. Lisi and I pause to debate the nature of a peculiar set of glyphs; I recognize them as recent forgeries: four English words inscribed in a tall, narrow mirror script. I have walked this way before; a vague memory of the astonishing profundities that lie ahead is only beginning to arise in my thoughts–yet I know implicitly, the moment I set eyes on this particular stone, that the strange array of inscriptions to be found in these woods is representative of a phenomenon unheard-of anywhere else upon this continent–a seat of ancient North American learning and culture continuously occupied since before the era of the conquerors. Lisi is understandably incredulous. But a gasp and an exclamation from Udi and Sara interrupt our argument.

On the trail ahead of us is a hulking, weedgrown structure of adobe and standstone, like an Anasazi ruin lifted from the deserts of the southwest. Awed, disbelieving, yet half-remembering, I lead the way forward, through a long, arched corridor, open on one side to shadowed woods scattered with boulders.

A doorway opens in the left wall. Beyond it, a stairway leads steeply down into a dim, high-ceilinged room like the nave of a Spanish missionary church. At the foot of the stairs, the room is a ruin; the stone walls are bare; drifts of dead leaves cover the floor. But the sounds of muffled, distant conversation pull my attention to the right. Through another entryway I can see into a larger room, furnished in thick persian rugs and woven tapestries, where craggy-faced, raven-haired gentlemen in comfortable clothing lounge in upholstered armchairs, discussing esoterica in muted tones. Parchment-colored light filters down through lofty windows. And beyond this quiet study, I can glimpse a room wider and brighter still–a room dominated by books.

I turn to my family, who stand dumbstruck around me. “This,” I tell them, “is the Library of the Wampanoags”.

Like a tour guide, I show them single-file through the study and into the stacks. Wonderful, ancient, moth-nibbled books overflow the three-story shelving, drifting into immense heaps across tables, bins and floor. Every book is bound in cloth or leather, yellows, browns and muted reds–there is not a single work here less than twenty years old. The aisles and tables are fairly crowded with the strangest array of researchers; dusty miners, trappers, native men and women of clear eyes and inscrutable expressions. The air is full of the soft buzz of whispers, pages turning, pens and pencils scratching paper. We receive strange looks, some curious, some hostile.

I realize our time here is limited; I lose interest in the tour, let the others wander off to browse. There was a book I found, the last time I was here–a book no other library I’ve ever found has carried. I had never expected to see this place again. I had nearly forgotten it. And that book–well, if I could only have ten minutes to skim through its pages…

Alas, I am allowed no such chance. A frontiersman beside me snarls and grabs my arm; he draws a revolver. My gaze tracks frantically across the shelves, but already they are falling away, fading, washing out with light.

I awake.

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