One way I’ve (unintentionally) annoyed my daughters is my insistence that, every now and then, I’m inhabiting the Middle Ages. This afternoon, in a stretch of breezy sun, at that optimum seventy degrees, I dug my fingers into the warming garden beds and unearthed worms, threadlike strings of root, lifting handfuls of johnny-ups for a friend.
Somehow, in my fictive Middle Age world, there’s only sunlight and soil, the constellations overhead undiluted by manmade light. This world lacks the drone and pollution of the internal combustion engine, contrails, the unending pressure to earn a living, get the kids one place or another, be accountable to the world out there. I have this vision of a world in perpetual growth, the earth still solidly at the center of the universe, the sun orbiting my serf’s homey patch of soil.
Conveniently, the Pope remains distant, the Children’s Crusade hasn’t happened yet, the Black Plague and smallpox are on hiatus. The thatch over my head is rat-free, famine hasn’t reared its head, and – of course – family life is just fine.
It’s a nice reverie, though, when I remain for these hours in my hands-on-the-land dreamlike stance, gathering tangy greens for dinner, my cheeks sun-kissed.
But you may be surprised to hear that the Middle Ages were like a starry night. Let me explain. Have you ever heard people talking about the Dark Ages? This is the name given to the period which followed the collapse of the Roman empire when very few people could read or write and hardly anyone knew what was going on in the world.
– E.H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World