Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Some excerpts that move me.

She smacked her palms together to shuck off the damp grit and viewed the corpse of the fallen monster.  The tree was intact, not cut or broken by wind.  What a waste.  After maybe centuries of survival it had simply let go of the ground, the wide fist of its root mass ripped up and resting naked above a clay gash in the wooded mountainside.  Like herself, it just seemed to have come loose from its station in life.  After so much rain upon rain this was happening all over the county, she’d seen it in the paper massive trees keeling over in the night to ravage a family’s roof line.

She was on her own here, staring at the glowing trees [monarch butterflies].  Fascination curled itself around her fright.  This was no forest fire.  She was pressed by the quiet elation of escape and knowing better and seeing straight through the back of herself, in solitude.  She couldn’t remember when she’d had such room for being.  It looked like the inside of joy, if a person could see that.  A valley of light, an ethereal wind.  It had to mean something.

They must have some good reason; animals behaved with purpose, ti seemed.  Unlike people.

They all sat quietly for a long time.  Dellarobia had ridden out prayer meetings aplenty, but had no idea what to say to a family that had lost their world, including the mountain under they feet and the butterflies of the air. [Dellarobia’s son, Preston, invites his schoolmate, Josefina, and her parents to visit and they tell her of the mudslides in Mexico and the butterflies losing their habitat in the lost trees.]

[About a pull toy phone that Dellarobia’s daughter, Cordelia, is playing with.] “Why would she talk into it?  She doesn’t know it’s a telephone.”  Hester [Della’s mother-in-law] wouldn’t get this, of course.  In her eyes it was a phone and that was that.  Dellarobia could barely get it herself.  She’d seen something so plainly in this toy that was fully invisible to her child, two realities existing side by side.  It floored her ti be one of the people seeing the world as it used to be.  While the kids shoved on.

So how did it that an outsider [Ovid (scientist)] just get to come in here and declare the whole event a giant mistake.  These people had everything.  Education, good looks, boots whose price tag equaled her husband’s last paycheck.  Now the butterflies were theirs too.

Her husband’s family could kick the out and tear down the trees and the butterflies uncounted, at the snap of a finger.  There were two worlds here, behaving as if their own was all that mattered.  With such reluctance to converse, one with the other.  Piratically without a common language.

Her every possession was either unbreakable, or broken.

Every disaster proved useful for someone.

Dellarobia thought of the wooden ornaments her father made years ago, which must still exist somewhere.  What a complicated life cycle those must hav the point of so many storeis.  Jack London and Ernest e passed through: attic boxes, funeral upheavals, yard sales.  Like an insect going through its stages, all aimed in the end toward flying away.

[Dovey]  “Will you explain to me why people encourage delusional behavior in children, and medicate it in adults?  That’s so random.  It’s like this whole shady setup.”

So much human effort went into the alteration of nonessential components.  Especially for women, it could not be denied.

“I don’t see why you’re not just going for this.”  [Dovey]  “You are a rocket.  You go for things, Dellarobia.  That is you.  when did you ever not?”  Dellarobia shut her eyes.  “When there was nothing out there to land on, I guess.”  “Now see, that’s a woman thing.  Men and kids just light out and fly, without even worrying about what comes next.”

The butterflies had no choice but to trust in their world of signs, the sun’s angle set against the turn if the seasons, and something inside all that had betrayed them.

…but you couldn’t stand up and rail against the weather.  That was exactly exactly the point of so many stories.  Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, confidence staggering into the storm: Man against Nature.  Of all the possible conflicts, that was the one that was hopeless.  Even slim education had taught her this much: Man loses.

She was tired of telling people to put on clothes.  If her children and husband couldn’t figure out it was winter, the world would still turn.

It occurred to her how much was obscured in summer by the leaves.  With all those reassuring walls of green, a person could not see to the end of anything.  Summer was the season of denial.

If people played their channels right, they could be spared from disagreement for the rest of their lives.  Finally she got it.  The need for so many channels.

Every loss she’d ever borne had been declared the Lord’s business.  A stillborn child, a father dead in his prime.  “So we just take what comes?” she asked.  “People used to say the same thing whenever some disease came along and killed all the children.  ‘It’s part of God’s plan.’  Now we give them vaccinations.  Is that defying God?”

“Well,” she said.  “I guess seeing is believing.”  “Refusing to look at the evidence, this is also popular.”  “It’s not that we’re all just lazy-minded.”  She struggled to articulate her defense.  On first sight, she’d taken these butterflies for fire and magic.  Monarchs were nowhere in her mind.  “People can only see things they already recognize, ” she said.  “They’ll see it if they know it.”

Flying from pillar to post.  Strange words. … “Little hopes, you know?  There’s just no room at our house for the end of the world.

“You do everything you can,” she said.  “And then, I guess, everything you can’t.  You keep doing, so your heart won’t stop.”

“Information is all we have.  Everyone chooses.  A person can face up to a difficult truth, or run away from it.”

Dellarobia was not sure what she’d meant, beyond the impossible idea of returning to her previous self.  The person who’d lit out one day to shed an existence that felt about the size of one of those plastic eggs that pantyhose came in.  From that day on, week by week, the size of her life had doubled out.

She made herself breathe slowly, feeling numb.  It was an earthquake, an upheaval of buried surfaces in which nothing was added or taken away.  Her family was still her family, an alliance of people at odds, surviving like any other by turning the everyday blind eye.  But someone had seen the whole thing.

That must be lonely, Dellarobia thought, to have answers whose questions had all died of natural causes.  The trees were skinnier here and  the woods more open, though still as varied as any standing congregation of human beings.

And even while he [Ovid] warned her of these caveats, Dellarobia felt a settling down of her lifelong plague of impatience.  He did not claim that God moves in mysterious ways.  Instead he seemed to believe, as she did, though they never could have discussed it, that everything else is in motion while God does not move at all.  God sits still, perfectly at rest, the silver dollar at the bottom of the well, the question.

Dellarobia watched Josefina lay out her complicated lunch without self-consciousness on a cloth napkin, and wondered what it would feel like to be in that kind of a family.  Or any kind, other than the one whose walls contained her.  Whatever incentive she might have for flying away, there it was, family, her own full measure, surrounded by a cheap wire fence built one afternoon a long time ago.

It was hard to feel the remotest sympathy for any of the different fools she had been.  As opposed to the fool she was probably being now.  People hang on for dear life to that one, she thought: the fool they are right now.

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