Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship – Tom Ryan

Some excerpts that move me…

The naturalist John Muir might as well have been talking about my family when he wrote, “Most people are on the world, not in it—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.” That was us: touching but separate.

I thought of my beloved Thoreau, who said, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

Death, like birth, was part of the package of life. She had come to peace with that. It was those of us who were left behind who struggled with it. In contemplating my late friend, I remembered something Mark Twain had said that I’d used in a letter to my father about Vicki’s last days: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence…”

…pantheism was a belief that God was in nature.

…Thomas Merton had said in a talk he gave: “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless, it is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept.

There are some things in life too powerful, too vivid, too life-altering to possibly leave them behind. They stay with you forever. They shape you from that moment on.

“I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.” I could say the same for our quest, or for that matter,

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

 

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer – Fredrik Backman

Some excerpts that move me…

“The square got smaller again overnight.”

He always wants to know everything about school, but not like other adults, who only want to know if Noah is behaving.  Grandpa wants to know if the school is behaving.  It hardly ever is.   “Our teacher made us write a story about what we want to be when we are big,” Noah tells him.  “What did you write?”  “I wrote that I wanted to concentrate on being little first.”  “That’s a very good answer.”  “Isn’t it?  I would rather be old than a grown-up.  All grown-ups are angry, it’s just children and old people who laugh.”  “Did you write that?”  “Yes.”  “What did your teacher say?”  “She said I hadn’t understood the task.” “And what did you say?”  “I said she hadn’t understood my answer.”  “I love you,” Grandpa manages to say with closed eyes.

Not everyone knows that water and sunshine have scents, but they do, you just have to get far enough away from all the other smells to realize it.

[Minds]  One of them is getting bigger and one of them is getting smaller, the years allow them to meet in the middle.

“And we have to write essays all the time!  The teacher wanted us to write what we thought the meaning of life was once.”  “What did you write?”  “Company.”  Grandpa closes his eyes.  “That’s the best answer I’ve heard.”  “My teacher said I had to write a longer answer.”  “So what sis you do?”  “I wrote Company .  And ice cream.”  Grandpa spends a moment or two thinking that over.  Then he asks:  “What kind of ice cream?”  Noah smiles.  It’s nice to be understood.

…even the snow was happy that morning, falling soap-bubble light and landing on cold cheeks as though the flakes were gently trying to wake someone they loved.

“No, death is a slow drum.  It counts every beat.  We can’t haggle with it for more time.

“I miss the dawn.  The way it stamped its feet at the end of the water, increasingly frustrated and impatient, until there was no more holding back the sun.

‘NoahNoah, promise me something, one very last thing: once your good-bye is perfect, you have to leave me and not look back.  Live your life.  It’s an awful thing to miss someone who is still here.” [Alzheimer]

“…That’s why we get the chance to spoil our grandchildren, because by doing that we’re apologizing to our children.”

It’s never too late to ask [your child] about something [they] love.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Broks

Some excerpts that move me.

 

Loose one’s footing, as I did, and age matters not.  Ones cede all claims to childish innocence.   And my own sins were not mere nursery mischief but matter etched in stone upon the tablets of mortal error.  I broke the Commandments, day after day.  And I did it knowingly…. Like Eve, I thirsted after forbidden knowledge and ate the forbidden fruit.  For her, the apple, for me, the white hellebore [drink that coming of age Indians drink that causes hallucinatory experience] – different plant, proffered from the same hand.  And just as the serpent must have been lovely – I see him, his lustrous, shimmering scales, pouring liquid over Eve’s shoulders, his jewel eyes luminous as they gazed into her own – so too did Satan come to me in the form of irresistible beauty.

We are taught early here to see Nature as a foe to be subdued.  But I came, by stages, to worship it.

I picked up scallop shells in diverse colors and sizes – warm reds and yellows; cool stippled grays – and reflected on the diversity of God’s creation, and what might be the use and meaning of his making so many varieties of a single thing.  If he created scallops simply for our nourishment, why paint each shell with such delicate and particular colors? … It came to me then that God must must desire us to use each of our senses, to take delight in the varied tastes and sights and textures of his world.  Yet this seemed to go against so many of our preachment against the sumptuary and the carnal.

I thought of the shining bass in my friend’s hands, the raised rock, and his gentle words of thanks to the creature.  This no longer seemed outlandish to me, but fitting and somehow decent.  The idea that this heathen youth should show more refinement than we in such a matter only added to my leaden mood.

[Caleb]  “That is where he lives, is it not, your one God?  Up there, beyond the inconstant clouds?”  … “Only one god.  Strange, that you English, who gather about you so many things, are content with one only.  And so distant, up there in the sky.  I do not have to look so far.  I can see me skygod clear enough, right there,” he said, stretching out an arm towards the sun. “By day, Keesakand.  Tonight Nanpawshat.” … He prattled on, cataloging his pantheon of heathenish idols.  Trees, fish, animals and the like vanities, all of them invested with souls, all wielding powers.  But then I remembered …  the whispering to me that I already knew Keesakand, that I had already worshiped him many time as I bathed in the radiance of a sunrise, or paused to witness the glory of his sunset. … It was good, the voice whispered.  It was right and well to know these powers, to live in a world aswirl with spirits, everywhere ablaze with divinity.

…The Indians were more Christ-like that we Christians, who clung to our possessions even as read the gospel’s clear injunction to give up all we owned.

What profit was there in requiring little ones to behave like adults?  Why bridle their spirits and struggle to break their God-given nature before they had the least understanding of what was wanted of them?

[about Caleb]  In every outward particular, he was now a Christian.  But who could see into his heart?

[Of the cairns made in respect for Bethia’s father]  The stones had a kind of inner radiance that answered to the sun’s changing light at different times of the day…  We were, I think, taken aback by its power to touch our deeper feeling, every time we went to it.

[Caleb]  “Life is better then death.  I knw this.  Tequamuck says it is the coward’s talk.  I say it is braver, sometimes, to bend.”

[While Bethia and husband are int Italy] On feast days we would marvel at the procession of he papists, carrying their gilded, flower-bedecked statues through the streets.  In time, even Samuel came to wonder if our austere form or worship was the only one way to be godly.

Caleb was a hero, there was no doubt of it.  He ventured forth from one world to another with an explore’s courage, armored by the hope that he could serve his people.  He stood shoulder to shoulder with the most of learned of his day, ready to take the place with them as a man of affairs. … I am not a hero.  Life has not required it of me.  But neither will I go to my grave a coward, silent about what I did, and what it cost.  So, let these past pages be my death song — even if at the end it is no paean, but as it must be: a dissonant and tragic lament.

Cold Mountain

Some excerpts that move me.

…but he did believe that there is a world invisible to us. He [Inman] no longer thought of that world as heaven, nor did he still think that we get to go there when we die.  Those teaching had been burned away.  But he still could not abide by a universe composed only of what he could see, especially when it was frequently foul.  So he held onto the idea of another world, a better place…

“The comeliest order on earth but is a heap of random sweepings.”

Nature, Inman was fully aware, sometimes calls attention to its special features and recommends them for interpretation.

The Tennessee boy peered up at the start so indicated and said, How do you know its name is Rigel.-I read it in a book, Inman said. -Then that’s just a name we give it, the boy said.  It ain’t God’s name. Inman had thought on the same issue a minute and then said, How would you ever come to know God’s name for that star? -You wouldn’t, He holds it close, the boy said.  It’s a thing you’ll never know.  It’s a lesson that sometimes we’re meant to settle for ignorance.  Right there’s what mostly comes from knowledge, the boy said, tipping his chin out at the broken land, apparently not even finding it worthy of sweeping a hand across its contours in a sigh of dismissal.  At the time, Inman had thought the boy a fool and had remained content to know our name for Orion’s principal star and to let God keep His dark secret.  But now he wondered if the boy might have had a point about knowledge, or at least some varieties of it.

Monroe [Ada’s father] would have dismissed such beliefs as superstition, folklore.  But Ada, increasingly covetous of Ruby’s learning in the ways living things inhabited this particular place, chose to view the signs as metaphoric.  They were, as Ada saw them, an expression of stewardship, a means of taking care, a discipline.  They provided a ritual of concern for the patterns and tendencies of the material world.  Ultimately, she decided, the signs were a way of being alert, and under those terms she could honor them.

When three crows harried a hawk across the sky, Ruby expressed her great respect for the normally reviled crow, finding much worthy of emulation in their outlook on life.  She noted with disapproval that many a bird would die rather than eat any but food it relishes.  Crows will relish what presents itself.  She admired their keenness of wit, lack of pridefullness, love of practical jokes, slyness in a fight.  All of these she saw as making up the genius of crow, which was a kind of willed mastery over what she assumed was a natural inclination toward bile and melancholy, as evidenced by its drear plumage.-We might all take instruction from crow, Ruby said pointedly, for Ada was clearly in something of a mood, the lifting of which lagged considerably behind the fairing sky.

-What are you doing up here? she said aloud to the heron.  But she knew by the look of him that his nature was anchorite and mystic.  Like all of his kind, he was a solitary pilgrim, strange in his ways and governed by no policy or creed common to flocking birds.  Ada wondered that herons could tolerate each other close enough to breed.  She had seen a scant number in her life, and those so lonesome as to make the heart sting on their behalf.  Exile birds.  Everywhere they were seemed far from home.

-I wish I had something to pay you with, Inman said. – I might not have took it anyway, the man said.

There were crows in the limbs above him, three of them, and the were harrying a rat snake  they had discovered up in the tree.  They sat on the limbs above the snake.  They sat on the limbs above the snake and grabbed at it, and now and again one flew close by and feinted at it with glinting bill.  The snake made the customary vicious displays of its kind, erecting itself and hooding out its neck and hissing and striking as if it were deadly.  But all its efforts were met with hilarity and ridicule by the crows, and the snake soon departed. The crows stayed on through much of the afternoon, celebrating their victory.  Inman watched them anytime his eyes were open, observing closely their deportment and method of expression.  And when his eyes were closed, he dreamed he lived in a kind of world where if a man wished it he could think himself to crow form, so that, though filled with dark error, he still had power either to fly from enemies or laugh them away.  Then, after awhile of passing time in such wise, Inman watched night fall, and it seemed to him as if the crows had swelled out to blacken everything.

Ruby pressed her lips to the velvet nose of the horse and then backed off an inch and opened her mouth wide an blew out a deep slow breath into its flanged nostrils.  The dispatch sent by such a gesture, she believed, concerned an understanding between them.  What it said was that she and Ralph [horse] were of like minds on the issue at hand.  You settled horses’ thinking that way.  They took it as a message to let down from their usual state of high nerves.  You could calm white-eyed horses with such a companionable breath.

[Ada’s letter] Working in the fields, there are are brief times when I go totally without thought.  Not one idea crosses my mind, though my senses are alert to all around me.  Should a crow fly over, I mark it in all its details, but I do not seek analogy for its blackness.  I know it is a type of nothing, not metaphoric.  A thing unto itself without comparison.  I believe those moments to the root of my new mien.  You would not know it on me for I suspect it is somehow akin to contentment.

She [Ada re: of the character in her books she reads] wished all the people of the story to be more expansive, not so cramped by circumstance.  What they needed was more scope, greater range.

Its ultimate line was: Come back to me is my request. …just saying what your heart felt, straight and simple and unguarded, could be more useful than four thousand lines of Keats.  She had never been able to do it in her whole life, but she thought she would like to learn how.

My imagination thus wholly engaged in the contemplation of this magnificent landscape, infinitely varied, and without bound, I was almost insensible or regardless of the charming objects more within my reach.

Where the [creek] ran shallower and slower, then, were the places prone to freezing. He [Ada’s father] would have said what the match of the creek’s parts would be in a person’s life, what God intended it to be the type of.  All God’s works would elaborate analogy.  Every bright image in the visible world only a shadow of a divine thing, so that earth and heaven, low and high, strangely agree in form and meaning because they were in fact congruent.

But you could not say the song had been improved, for as was true of all human effort, there was never advancement.  Everything added meant something lost, and about as often as not the thing lost was preferable to the thing gained, so that over time we’d be lucky if we just broke even.  Any thought otherwise was empty pride.

As they walked, Ada talked to Inman in the voice she had heard Ruby use too speak to the horse when it was nervous.  The words did not much matter.  You could say anything.  Speculate the most common way on the weather or recite the lines from the Ancient Mariner, it was all the same.  All that was needed was a calming tone, the easement of a companion voice.

Any wound might heal on the skin side but keep on burrowing inward to a man’s core until it ate him up.  The why of it, like much in life, offered little access to logic.

And it was pointless, he [Inman] said, to think how those years could have been put to better use… There was no recovering from them now.  You could grieve endlessly for the loss of time and for the damage done therein.  For the dead, and for youe own lost self.  But the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on.  And those old ones knew a thing or two and had some truth to tell… for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were. All your grief hasn’t changed a thing.  What you have lost will not be returned o you.  It always be lost. You’re left with only your scars to mark the void.  All you can choose to do is go on or not.  But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.

[Inman] There was a goatwoman that fed me, and she claimed it’s a sign of God’s mercy the He won’t let us remember the reddest details of pain. He knows the parts we can’t bear and won’t let our minds render them again.  In time, from disuse, they pale away.  At least such was her thinking.  God lays the unbearable on you and then takes some back. … Ada begged to differ with part of the goatwoman’s thoughts.  She said, I think you have to give Him some help in forgetting.  You have to work at not trying to call such thoughts up, for if you call hard enough they’ll come.

…being beaten breed compassion.  It can.   But it can also breed hardness. There to some degree a choice.

News of the World: A Novel

Some excerpts that move me.

More than ever knowing in his fragile bones that it was the duty of men who aspired to the condition of humanity to protect children and kill for them if necessary.

Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.

native Americans looked not at the color of skin but at the intentions, the body posture, the language of hands. That was how they stayed alive.

Life was not safe and nothing could make it so, neither fashionable dresses nor bank accounts. The baseline of human life was courage.

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.