How deep are the roots that bind us to where we are at; to what we know and even to who we are? When men are young they seek the new, the unique and the different and the bizarre. To become drenched in the sweltering rains of the monsoon on a spell-binding South Asian night; to savor the exotic on their tongues, an anticucho in a slum of Lima, cows heart marinated in spices when all they have ever known is the ordinary flavors of home. Even sometimes to sow their seed in a foreign land, a chance encounter, a exotic love – a tryst dangerous and forbidden far from the cobble stoned streets of their youth.
But that is often for the young; the passions of a heart full of energy and longing, pockets empty of responsibilities, a life to be lived during those precious years of weightlessness. Youth is reckless and carefree and untroubled – and the enraptured young cannot imagine that sometime in their future the old, the familiar will renew its claim on them. Yet the calling does abide, of that which belongs to us and to which we belong – becoming stronger and stronger as the sand flows through the hourglass. Faith and politics and connection in a Hegelian journey from the center to the left and then back right again, down the rolling road of wonder which is rarely straight.
“If you aren’t a revolutionary when you are young, you have no heart. If you are not settled when you are old, you have no brain.” The siren’s call of revolution, to the young, is not that different than the warm beckoning of conservatism; especially when those who have wandered are finally able to see the exotic and the familiar together, good and bad alike as their eyes are opened to why things are the way that they are, and why that matters. And why, after the dust settles and the drama has moved on – we return home not in defeat or desperation but with our hearts filled, bringing what we now know to that which was always there.
“On the Black Hill” is about that sense of home. To belong so exclusively to a patch of land; to know every crevice and knoll, the dark earth enriched with tears and fertilized by sweat and blood. To know what loss is, to almost lose that land, your place – to have it change before you slowly as the unrelenting march of time and technology (not progress, at least not in the way the progressives think) wash over the same green valleys and darkened windows where children once played in the days before light.
This was an odd novel; it was beautiful and sad and pregnant with meaning and significance, especially because it was about people who were insignificant. For those who don’t understand the beckoning of the land and the dreams of our forefathers; how the valleys and hills can be like the air we breathe, nourishing our ideas of home – this book would be a good place to start. There is nothing wrong with loving the earth, valuing those traditions which have held it, and eschewing those who see change for change sake as something to be desired above all else. And there is nothing wrong with looking back, to our fathers and their fathers – to our forefathers – as we learn who we are and we become only the latest of the tribe who have fought and struggled and dreamed in order to build our world, not in the Wilsonian grandiloquent sense but instead in the way of the simple country preacher who knows his flock and seasons his sermons with essences of a land, over which time passes slowly.