5 March 1848
This is a diary entry from The Salt Island Diaries
Upon our return from church, we set about dinner, which, this time of year, is no big production. We make much of bread and the canned goods that remain.
Immediately thereafter, Clara and I set off for Pebble Beach. As we descended the hill, I said, “I am so very excited to begin this enterprise, and it is so very grand of all of you to take it up with me, as if it were the most natural thing in the world!”
“Yes, it promises to be quite an adventure!”
“It is almost as though a sunbeam from Heaven shines on your cliffs.”
“I think Heaven shines everywhere,” said she, “with light that may be seen only with the heart. Don’t you find that most likely?”
“Birdie says you dream of Heaven.”
“Not Heaven, per se. Not the biblical Heaven.”
“How is it different?”
“No one is angry.”
“Birdie says that only women and girls are allowed in Heaven.”
“Heaven is the orchestration of harmony. I do not know what any heaven could mean were it not to orchestrate harmony. Is that what men do?”
“Did you know, all angels named in the Bible have male names? Not one female?”
Clara seemed waylaid for a moment. Then she said, “Their heaven is one of judgment, reward, righteousness, and glory. How could the male authors of the Bible conceive of another?”
“Do you mean to say you do not believe in the biblical Heaven?” I asked. Clara did not respond, but rather increased her pace a little. I called after her, “Are there parts of the Bible you reject and which you do not believe?”
She finally stopped, and replied, quite impatiently, “The Bible contains much commentary on slavery. You may own the children of strangers, and bequeath them to your children.1 There are rules for the proper beating of slaves.2 There are rules for the proper rape of women captured in war.3 Of course I believe in slavery.”
Clara broke into a run, leaving me to chase after her across the stoney bank separating beach and marsh. I could not keep apace; soon her fluttering skirts were embraced by the raw March sea-breeze, and emported her far away.
When I reached Pebble Beach, I found Clara looking out to sea. The rocky New England coast, insulted constantly by gale and ice, loved by none but those native to it, seemed the only possible backdrop to her worn expression. She was staring at Milk Island. A mere half-mile away, it would have been an easy swim for her, but I doubt she has ever swum there. A bathing costume would make the swim impossible and she may not dare to swim nude from a public beach. She may stare.
Clara began collecting stones upon my approach. She seemed to have no interest in continuing our conversation. When at last within speaking distance, she immediately pointed out a suitable stone some distance away: “There is one.”
I tried to draw her gaze, but her search for stones had become so earnest that it was essentially formidable. I said hesitantly to the stones, “Women are pretty, that is to say, the female gender, in humans, is the pretty one. I have often wondered why nature has suffered such a rout by humans.”
“Men can be handsome,” said she distractedly.
“Yes, but that is equivalent to insisting some other standard be applied. It is women who bear the burden of being pretty; is that not odd? Don’t you find it unfair?”
“A woman might make herself attractive by other means.”
“And herein lies the crux of the matter,” I proclaimed with suppressed triumph. “She must be attractive, while not requiring it of others; a wife is more attractive than her husband, a mother more than her child; it must be her gift to them.”
“I am quite unsure that–“
“As you say, prettiness is not the only means.”
“Yes. That must be granted.”
“Her world is therefore not comprised of what she conquers, but of that which draws near her and lingers. Thus she might also attract apprentices and allies.”
“Yes….” said she.
“This entails that sisterhoods should arise,” I concluded. “Is this not what underlies your intuitions about Heaven?”
“Of course, potential allies must also make themselves attractive, or at least, try.”
Clara shrugged her shoulders bashfully and smiled.
Finding stones for the stuffed bed-mates is more challenging than finding blanket-stones. These need be fist-sized and lozenge-shaped, and perhaps not too drearily colored. I took to chasing the surf to find newly-revealed treasures. When I slipped, I flailed long seconds before ceding to gravity. Instead of striking ground, I found myself suddenly hauled upright. Clara was breathlessly by my side.
“How did you cross the distance between us so quickly?” I asked.
She straightened my cap. “Was it quick?”