"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

When the way is up--2 days 'til Christmas

"When the way is up," 5 x 7 watercolor Christmas greeting card

a season of churches, and even though "church-going" may be impeded in this pandemic year, the iconic structures of houses of faith with tall steeples and spires reaching toward the sky mirrors the painted symbols of the Christmas star reaching toward earth. 

Last night, I was rereading E.B. White's classic 1947 book, "Here is New York," and came across a passage about New York's vertical landscape. He compared it to churches:

"...what the white church spire is to the village--the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying that the way is up."

Already  thinking about the origin of the words spire and steeple, I found reasons being the beliefs and architecture.

A steeple is not a spire. Spire comes from old English spīr  meaning  ‘tall slender stem of a plant’; related to German spier ‘tip of a blade of grass’.

Steeple comes from proto-Germanic staupliaz, "that which is steep, a tower."

What about "aspiration," or "aspire, which fits the idea of looking up? Not related to "spire." It comes from late Middle English, from French aspirer or Latin aspirare, from ad- ‘to’ + spirare ‘breathe.’

Today's watercolor, a steeple, topped by a spire, pointing humans to aspire upward, toward the stars.

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