Monday, April 18, 2011

Leonardo's Temple Part II

Part I of Leonardo's Temple published on January 2010 here:

The summer was coming, actually racing to cover the rigid branches of the recently thawed trees with green. The cool breeze slanting the smoke from atop the chimneys as it dissipated into thin air. There was an air of expectation as I walked to the mailbox to retrieve the mail. A curious brown envelope caught my eye. I opened it and there in folded over twice was a crumpled lined paper as if someone had rejected the idea of mailing it and then changed their mind. I unfolded the paper.

“Dear Sir,” it began in a handwriting that gave away the tremulous shake of the hand holding the pen that wrote.
“If you are the gentleman, and I pray that you are, that once visited my house, located off the Beech Road and gave me the pleasure of your warm company, then I am ever so grateful that this paper has reached your hands. I would be ever so grateful if you could visit with me again, below is my new address.” The paragraph ended there and then below the space in the same handwriting but with different ink was a more cryptic message that did not make sense.
“It is 10^3, seven left of 8979. It would be three streets right of the Phi highway and four houses removed from the first lamppost.”

The letter was unsigned and flipping over the envelope, there was no return address. The postmark was partially erased over the dark background of the postage stamp. All I could think were words like clever, curious and confusing.

So the house on Beech Road, I remembered very well, that was the “Leonardo’s Temple.” That was the house of the eccentric but very intelligent mathematician, whose name I could not remember, who had divided his land using the “Golden Phi” and raised crops for himself. I remembered his frail features and toughened arms and hands from tilling his land. I had not driven by there lately so I figured that would be the next step. The curiosity in me was building and the need to solve this riddle rising exponentially.
That afternoon I drove past the location, hoping to find the little house nestled amidst the fertile land of colored fields.

The place was walled off with a giant terracotta cement wall with a small gate that was locked. What was beyond was not visible. Life continued to hum on the road There were no sounds emanating from within and no written messages on the wall or the gate for any visitors. Strange. A cell call to the municipality revealed that the property was now owned by a F.I. Corporation.

Back at the house with little but that riddle in hand, I stared at the piece of wrinkled paper. Never being good at riddle solving, I placed the paper on the table and went for a bike ride with the thought that the answer would come to me, if I let it percolate in my mind.

Days of daily deliberations went by and the folded paper found different places to perch upon. The answer remained hidden in some small corner of the mathematical intellect that I did not possess. The windmills of my mind kept waiting for the breeze.
A month passed and getting more and more restless at the inability to solve the mystery, I called upon a friend who had been trained in the field of mathematics and numbers. To me he was a whiz.

“Lets look at this logically.” He wrinkled his nose and the frown lines of his forehead seem to envelop his entire persona. For a long moment he became all nose and forehead, lost in the depth of his thought. He pulled out his calculator and manipulated the numbers, and after each iteration, shook his head. Finally he gave up. “I haven’t a clue.” He said. Sometimes the letdowns are tragic and other times just plain confusing. This was neither, just a thorn in side of my mental being.

Three Saturday nights later when the moon was in its full glory painting silver, the tree limbs and the rose bushes, I sat at the dining room table eating the garlic-roasted artichoke. Looking at the leaves in their Golden Phi arrangement, it suddenly dawned upon me that the letter had mentioned the Phi highway. Maybe there was the clue.
I rushed off the chair and dug up the wrinkled, now almost teetering at the brink of falling apart note, and reread the code.

I looked for my laptop, turned it on and punched in the number 8979 to Google correlates. None came up. I opened a mathematical program and did the same and found the Pi. 3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 And there lodged between 6535 and 3238 were the 8979 but they were eleven digits to the right. So multiplying that number with 10^3 or 1000 yielded a number 3141. 59265368979 now exactly seven digits to the left are the 3141. Could that be the house number? I wondered. At least something was happening, the event horizon was collapsing and the black hole emitting light. Maybe all was not lost. I just might be able to solve this mystery. What did “It would be three streets right of the Phi highway and four houses removed from the first lamppost.” Mean. The three streets right of Phi highway and four houses from the first lamppost is 3, Phi, 4,1. Or 3141 again. But placing Phi in there was interesting. Phi =1.618 and so multiplying or adding or dividing all the numbers did not make sense. I thought of substituting the 1.618 with the alphabets and that turned in “AFAH” That did not have nay reference to streets or initials representing anything on the Internet. So I looked at the initial numbers 8979 and the alphabet correlate was “HIGI” looking on the Internet revealed a street named “HIGI.” Now I was really cooking. So looking for the 3141 HIGI Street turned out an address about twenty miles away from my home. The curiosity was too much. The adrenaline from this mental exercise was too much. Not to be able to see this place tonight was out of the question.

Driving there under the moonlit night brought with it an eerie sense of calm. It took a half an hour through some winding roads and quiet neighborhoods. It was 7:57 PM by my watch as I drove up to the gated entry. The fourth house after the first lamppost and there it was. I did not know what to do. Should I press my luck now or wait till the morning. After all the man was elderly and I did not want to inconvenience him. But then the curiosity had exploded within and cast myriad of colored mysteries. I pressed the bell at the gate. There was no answer. I pressed it a second time and again to no avail. No answer. Social courtesy demanded me to back away and I did. Stepping back into the car with thoughts of at least the mystery may have been solved, if indeed it was and this was the right address. Maybe the right thing to do was to come back during the daytime. Having resolved to this thought, I drove back home.

The next afternoon while the sun was declining on its well-traveled path towards the horizon and the shadows lengthened to hide parts of nature, I arrived back at the address. The environment was completely different than I had imagined. The gate was small and the posts were smaller than I had realized. The transmogrification of this simple home in my mind had been replete with images of castle hidden behind the winding road that lead inwards  from the gate. No such thing. It was a modest ranch set two to three hundred feet back with trees lining the paved entryway on both sides. I rang the bell and the after a momentary delay, the gate opened, each side sliding to the side.  I got back in the car and drove in.

The man who stood at the door awaiting my ingress was the same figure, I had seen a few years ago. The long grey hair was now tied in a ponytail, and he wore a long dark coat for protection against the cool breeze that intermittently ruffled the leaves.

He had weathered some more as far as I could see. “I knew you would find me.” He said, his voice raspy from age, low in pitch and dull in timber.
“It took me a while to figure it out.”
“I knew the right person would know the answer.”
“You sent it to others?”
“I sent it to ten people who had ever visited me because I did not know which one was you.”
“Only one could or would take the time to figure it out.”
“Yes, but it took a while.”
“Come on in, we need to talk. I have a request to make.”
He led the way into the dark hallway, “You must be curious, why I am living here?”
“Oh yes that and about a whole bunch of other things.”
“I figured.”

The story he related was fascinating in content and replete with minor details that I could actually relive his memory in my own mind. Some people have the gift of storytelling. And he had it. Two years ago due to the drought, he was unable to water the fields around his house with city water. So he arranged to have well water pump placed on his property. The firm that inserted the pipe (well) and the attached pump left after their work had been completed. That evening he had turned it on to make sure of the pump’s functional reliability. He described the initial spray of water from the sprinklers as casting a rainbow effect from the diminishing sunlight, ceased quickly. Alarmed he went out to investigate and found oil seeping out from the sprinkler heads.

It turned out as he put it that the firm had placed the underground well pipe deeper and next to his house and unbeknownst to him, some 25 feet below, trapped between two geologically subducted plates was a cloistered fairly large amount of light crude oil. The amount based on geological survey later showed a million plus barrels. He exhibited no emotions about that quantity.

He had signed a contract to turn over his property to a multinational oil company for a very reasonable price and moved into his new home. “Sometimes life plays strange tricks. The gesture was a little too late for me. But it has provided me with abundant comfort, I must say.” He said quietly.

“Wow!” is all I could say. “Wow!”
“Have a seat while I get us some soup and vegetables.”
“Great! I said. I remember that delicious soup we had at your other place.”
With the food consumed, we sat in stilled silence for a while. Nothing uncomfortable, I simply luxuriated in the bursting joy of my taste buds. We had discussed simpler mathematics that I could understand. I asked him about the “Phi” highway. “Oh that was based on 1.618 which translates to the Interstate 16R that parallels the street. It was an additional clue in case you needed it. But you managed without it.” Not showing it but definitely feeling the puffed pride of this accomplishment, I settled in my chair and enjoyed the minor compliment.

“I have a request to make.” He hesitatingly began.
“Yes, you said so before. Sure, I’d be glad to help out.”
“Well, it is kind of personal and I hope you don’t mind the imposition.”
“No,” I said, “not at all.”
“You see, I have only one living relative and he does not know of my new found wealth. I have prepared some papers for him and I want you to keep them for safekeeping. There is a stringent requirement that no one opens the package before the right time.” He paused and observed my reaction, finding none he continued, “When I am gone, you will receive a notification to open the package. Only you may open it. The name and address of my relative will be in the papers. Please dispatch them accordingly. For this trouble, I’d like to compensate you with one thousand dollars.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. “No absolutely not.” I said.
“So you will not do it?”
“No, I mean, I’ll do it for nothing and I do not need any compensation. I mean this is nothing and it’s the least I can do for your kindness and kinship.”
“I insist upon it and that is a part of the request.” He said with some firmness.
“If that is a precondition then I accept.” I said not wanting to prolong the form and substance of this conversation.

He got up from the wooden straight-backed chair that I recognized came from his previous dwelling and went to extract the package from a different room. Meanwhile, I let my eyes roam the walls of the room. The photograph of his wife was prominently displayed. Whatever his settlement was did not seem to show in the modest limits of pomp displayed in this room. The Golden Phi was still there in the form of a beautifully colored image of the artichokes in his former dwelling. On the mantelpiece was a crucifix that I had failed to see before. He caught my eye on it as he walked into the room.

“Ah! you have caught my former agnostic heel.” After my wife passed away, religion and I became distant to each other. Now in the twilight of my winter, I find great comfort knowing that life is more than mathematics and religion now fills that void that mathematics could never fill. The utility of time made it so, that I felt fulfilled. It is in the perception that life is lived and there I was lurking at the periphery of life and mathematics while the emptiness at the core remained.”
“Good for you.” I said, not knowing how to respond.

We talked for a while as he unpackaged his heart with stories from the past. The afternoon sun now well past its post seemed to have quietly slipped below the horizon casting darker shadows from the trees outside, into the room.

We parted company and I asked if I could visit with him again and he politely declined. His words carried a personal plan that he did not want disturbed and my revisit might disturb the yang of his thinking. I left him standing in the cooled air of the evening. The dark shadows of his brow concealing his eyes made him a fragment of a man he once might have been. I remember his receding image in the rear view mirror and his effort to raise his hand in farewell.

Time has passed. Five years or more and I have not received any further communication from him or anyone. It is five in the evening as I turn into my driveway stopping to pick up the mail from the mailbox in front of the house. The mail is bundled together in an elastic band. I place it in the passenger seat and drive up the driveway. The autumnal sun is breaking through the nooks and crannies created by the house and the trees alongside it and bathing nature in a blush of gold. I remove the elastic band and rifling through the mail, I find a plain white envelope with no return address. I unseal the envelope and there is a handwritten note.

“Dear Friend,
As per our agreement please open the package today.
I thank you for your kindness and kinship.”

The letter is not signed. I know it is from him. The written words and their shaky up and down-strokes are trademarks I remember well. I walk into the bedroom and extract his package from the safe where it has resided for the past few years. I open it. It is time to fulfill a promise. The twenty or so pages are stapled together. It is his last will and testament and it addresses me as the beneficiary of his estate!

My brain is scrambled. My thoughts are not of my own. My hands tremulous as if controlled by another, slowly flip the pages. It seems I have an inheritance. My wife stands in the doorway her eyes narrowed together by the furrows in the middle trying to decipher the blank-stare in my eyes. She does not know yet, but she will. My legs grow weary and lose the action of the muscles and I slide against the wall down to the floor. My wife rushes to my side.
Life is about to change.

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