Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows – a colorless, all- color of atheism from which we shrink?

The Whiteness of the Whale, Chapter 42


Not so much a color as the visible absence of color


at the same time

the concrete of all colors.

The absence is also the concrete.  In such a universe are not all things possible?

It seems a bit of the Schrödinger’s Cat issue.

There always seems to be something more to learn about any given situation.  Some small detail that changes the entire nature of the beast.  And if truth exists with the Uncertainly Principal–how do we live by the truth?

My devotion to an honest truth comes from my father who was a crusader against euphemisms, especially euphemisms for death.  He used to read us Poe at bedtime.  I was four–The Tell Tale Heart rhythmically  lulling me into a restless sleep.  He would pause at the end of The Murders in the Rue Morgue and point out that he shared a hair color with the story’s murderous orangutan.

Living in Northern California at the time I recall my sister once returning from a second grade field trip to a local winery (hey, it was 1968–) and my father asked (with enthusiasm, I recall) if it had made her think of  The Cask of Amontillado.  My older sister was born with worry bumps and I think that field trip cemented them into her brow for that very reason.

So, in all this honesty about death, certain explanations were overlooked.  Most notably, the plight of the chinchilla.  No, not a Poe story–don’t try and google it.  The chinchilla came from the pet library.  Like second grade field trips to wineries the Pet Library was most likely peculiar to the time and place (Northern California in 1968.)

The pet library was a brilliant concept which no doubt met its demise at the hands of human abuse and questions of legality, but, while it existed, it was a wonderful way to own a guinea pig for a week and then, thankfully, return it once the thrill of watching it shit on newspaper had been exhausted.

So, the weekend we checked out the chinchilla was your average summer day in sunny California.  Seeing as how these little crepuscular rodents are native to the Andes, taking it out to play in the backyard on a summer afternoon should probably have been pointedly dissuaded by the Pet Library.

You see where this is headed.  The chinchilla died while in our keep–right out on the back porch.  Death, as I have mentioned, was clear to me at age four.  I had the following facts:

  1. The chinchilla was not ours.
  2. The chinchilla was dead
  3. The chinchilla died because it got too hot.

Now here is where my parents failed to realize that I needed a little more explanation.  Seeing as how the Pet Library was only open Monday through Saturday mornings, we had ourselves some deceased library materials here that we would be unable to return for at least some forty four hours.

My parents wrapped the chinchilla in a towel and placed it in the freezer.

My interpretation:

This was a sadly misguided attempt at a cover-up and quite possibly a heart breaking moment when the gauntlet is passed and the child must explain things to the grown ups,

I recall standing behind my father as he knelt by the bottom door freezer and thought “Oh my poor poor parents–don’t they know?  Just because it died from the heat, the freezer cannot bring it back!”

Or worse–perhaps this was like the Tell Take Heart–he is trying to hide his crime by placing the body in the freezer–did he not realize the guilt-0h-the guilt–it would torment us all–that chinchilla’s heart beating behind the freezer door in our sleep.

Something was not making sense.  What do you do when what you understand no longer matches the reality you are trying to operate within?

I slowly backed out of the room, crushed by the insensibility of their behavior.