Saturday, July 19, 2008

Words Carved in Stone

Lavinia E. Lewis is either 164 years old, or she’s interred someplace else. I paused for quite a while after finding this old graveyard on a hike through deep woods.

That got me thinking about the impact of punctuation on words. Consider:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Pardon, impossible to be sent to prison.
Pardon impossible, to be sent to prison.

My mind drifts when I hike and I start thinking about what motivates a writer. I’ve always believed that words have impact and outlive those of us who commit them to the page. But what happens when words take on new meanings?

I watch a spider spin a web and realize that for most people I know, spiders and webs are part of what happens on the Internet. I wait in line to buy stamps to post a letter. I am also online when I post a story to my blog.

Blog wasn’t a word ten years ago. Of course, neither were Google, email, muggle, and many other words now part of my vocabulary.

I can read a play by Aristophanes or Shakespeare and understand what those authors wrote. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is as satirical and humorous when I re-read it now as it was when I read it in high school.

But with the amazing changes in our technology and the words that have emerged to define those changes, will future readers understand writers of the past? Should my words survive, would they have meaning to readers hundreds or thousands of years from now? I won’t be around to find out.

As I step past this gravestone, I think about how back in the 19th Century, this was probably a farm, not the deep woods of Harriman State Park. Averill Harriman, who donated this land, didn’t own it until the early 20th Century. This headstone will likely be here for a very long time. I plan to return periodically, just in case the death of Lavinia E. Lewis is ultimately recorded in stone.

Writer and naturalist JJ Murphy,, offers creative nature curriculum, wild food recipes, fiction, poetry, articles and writing services for individuals, entrepreneurs, small businesses and ecologically aware companies.

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