Tuesday, February 5, 2008

the nothingness between me and the light

Shading the glass with a hand, I can
see how shadow has pooled in the valley. It washes up the sandstone
cliffs on Tinker Mountain and obliterates them in a deluge: freshets of
shadow leak into the sky…The shadow’s the thing. Outside shadows are
blue, I read, because they are lighted by the blue sky and not the
yellow sun. Their blueness bespeaks infinitesimal particles scattered
down inestimable distance…They give the light distance; they put it in
its place. They inform my eyes of my location here, O Israel, here in
the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of
nothingness between me and the light.
--Annie Dillard
Yes, it is Annie Dillard week. Each night before going to bed, I fall
in rhythm with her solitary explorations of Tinker Creek. Last night
she was collecting mantis eggs, reporting on the mating ritual, and the
memory of a tragic mutation of a Polyphemous moth at the hands of an
ignorant but perhaps well-meaning teacher.

Today a juvenile possum was out at midday on the balcony of Battle
Hall. Campus Safety officers were poised with long nets in what seemed
a futile attempt to capture the wary creature. People gathered, took
pictures. In class minutes later, we realized that the balcony in
question was actually the bathroom at the end of the hall, and various
students gathered to watch the pathetic drama from a better vantage
point. I returned to class intensely sad. The ripples of laughter and
jokes about how ugly possums are made me feel even more disconnected
from my so-called cohort (we were discussing cohort-component analysis
today). Many times I contrasted in my mind Dillard's silent, solitary
walks with the unhinged and un-self-conscious laugher of being almost thirty. I can never go back. Some part of me already resides in semi-retirement, among waving
prairie grasses, fussily watching over lupine seeds and the ceaseless
manufacturing of spider webs.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came
to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what
was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice
resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and
suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like
as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave
close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms,
and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine
meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were
sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true
account of it in my next excursion.

Walden or Life in the Woods
- Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862