another ink drawing inspired by Michael Wenger
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calligraphy inspired by a talk from Michael Wenger, a Zen teacher, last week. The words are his
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It took many months for me to finish reading this book, as I could only manage it in small doses. Dillard writes with an intensity level that starts around 7 or 8 and cranks up to 11 by the end of each chapter, and as thrilling as that is, it can also be difficult to bear. She is a mystic of the sort who finds the divine in nature; her explorations combine close observation of her neighborhood ecosystem, reading obscure 19th and early 20th century entomology texts, and citing Heraclitus, the Desert Fathers, and Martin Buber. There is humor, in flashes, and a really stellar use of language ranging from popular (childhood rhymes and cowboy movie references) to extremely erudite phrases that will send you to the dictionary.
Overall the book’s mood is alternately tormented and ecstatic. One comes away feeling that Dillard is struggling, hard, with the aftereffects of some kind of deeply traumatic experience, of which the frog being sucked dry by a giant water bug — the book’s most disturbing, recurring motif — is just a pale reflection. Sometimes I felt her angst was arising only because she had her framing wrong and was looking at the situation backward, leading her to anguished conclusions (the chapter on “Fecundity” for instance: “Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.”). Other times I was grateful and amazed for her ability to describe transcendent/immanent experiences in which the self disappears and life shines forth in all its blinding presence (the chapters on “Presence” and “Stalking” for instance).
Overall, an undeniable classic of nature literature, of course, but also a reading experience I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. Don’t come here unless you like having your hair set aflame.
Note: This overview and assessment of Dillard’s work by William Deresiewicz is useful, insightful, and sharp.
Freed from predation pressure, abalone had become plentiful in California’s coastal waters. Native Americans had been decimated by infectious diseases and the economies of coastal (and other) tribes had been severely disrupted. Sea otters, which devour abalone, were on the brink of extinction thanks to the global fur trade, as otter pelts fetched exorbitant prices in high fashion circles. Most Euro-Americans viewed abalone as an inedible oddity. But in China, abalone were an overfished delicacy. Chinese immigrants recognized a golden opportunity to tap an unexploited market, and they had the skills to make it happen.
In the hospital ward, we were not allowed visitors because of Covid restrictions so on each of the five days, I revisited a different decade of my past, dwelling at length on close relationships, wondrous journeys and joyful moments. Five months on, I still get great pleasure from doing this.
I am also trying to live more in the present. It’s a cliche, but for weeks after discharge I marvelled at the simplest things – rainfall, sparrows, insects, cups, beans, books, chats with family and friends. I swore I would never again waste precious time on stuff I didn’t completely cherish.
I hope this old grandmother/grandfather oak doesn’t mind me sharing this image where their roots are showing. It’s such a perfect illustration that, for trees, as much is going on belowground as above… more, actually, for the roots are where the tree does their thinking.
the roots I touch
when I am alone
there’s a Moon among the persimmons
A stern insistence upon courtesy to the living creatures that share our world with us in common to the most diverse religious traditions.
It was the persimmons clinging to the leafless branches of a modest sized tree that first made me fall in love with this house. Now, 23 years later, I’m still no closer to getting used to their exuberant abundance.
a flock of crows winging homeward
returns to where it came from
San Mateo, 2020