Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nature's priestesses

I just found out that my good pal Dawn had bookmarked an Annie Dillard essay on her del.icio.us links; an essay called "Living Like Weasels." Now, I have read Dillard here and there since high school, and she introduced to me a new landscape of writing, and a new way of reading. She infuses nature, personal diary, reflection, science, and religion into her writing in an inexplicably beautiful way.

Reading her work was a full body experience for me, the first time. I've since moved on to other likeminded writers, most notably Barbara Kingsolver, Wallace Stegner, and Wendell Berry. But rereading "Living Like Weasels" was like recalling the feel of a cooling breeze on a mild summer day. It made me both sad, that I have become so far removed from the natural world around me, and inspired to do something about it. It makes me want to take my sketchbooks, paints, brushes and pens and hike deep into some forgotten trail.

How can one not feel that way, with a passage like this?

What does a weasel think about? He won't say. His journal is tracks in clay, a spray of feathers, mouse blood and bone: uncollected, unconnected, loose leaf, and blown.

I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don't think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular--shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands?--but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive. The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel's: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.

To have a weasel's journal...

I can't wait for warm dry grass and tadpoles in ponds. I can't wait for the spring thaw, and the hot summer days after that. Here is another passage, this one from Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, to help you understand:

She sat cross-legged on the floor of the porch, brushing out her hair and listening to the opening chorus of this day. A black-and-white warbler had started it long before dawn, breaking into her sleep with his high-pitched "Sweet sweet!" Deanna could picture him out there, circling the trunk of a poplar, tilting his tiny little zebra-striped head toward the first hints of light, tearing yesterday off the calendar and opening the summer of love with his outsized voice. She'd rushed out to the porch in her nightgown and bare feet, the hairbrush mostly an afterthought lying on her lap. She needed to listen to this: prodigal summer, the season of extravagant procreation. It could wear out everything in its path with its passionate excesses, but nothing alive with wings or a heart or a seed curled into itself in the ground could resist welcoming it back when it came.
Can you feel that keening need? A deep, primal necessity no one truly ever escapes. The muscle memory of our ancestors.

I can feel it in my palms and fingertips and feet, aching to dig deep into the earth, to grasp tree limbs, to feel the crisp grass and crunching leaves.

Can you?


Mark said...

The ground is frozen out there! You might lose a finger to frostbite!

somimi said...

Haha. Ever the pragmatist. Sigh... that's true. I'll just have to wait for spring.