Holy books and melting icicles


I had a dream this morning, fast asleep in Little House, with the bright light of day streaming in the cabin window- first I woke up, at 7:34, in time for work, but it was the weekend so I pulled a striped t-shirt over my face and went back to sleep, and then the dream. I was in charge of designing dresses for Lindsay Lohan, so she could spruce up her image. And I designed the most glitteringest, most well-tailored gowns, each one the color of sunrise in the desert and crafted of the most bleary and indistinct fabrics. Looking at her was like looking at a glamorb shot from 1995, but shot into the future, and taller. And covered in diamonds. The whole world was impressed. There was bleary, indistinct applause, a dull roar.

I read an article on the internet about Marilyn Monroe the other day, while I was having wifi times in the Land of Electricity. Or rather, it was about her measurements. Marilyn Monroe was only 5 foot 5. Her legs were short. Her shoulders were tiny. Her breasts were huge. There are, of course, women who still look like that. Running around everywhere. I have friends who look like that. No-one idolizes them.

This blog post is rather disjointed. Just so you know.

Last night River and I celebrated my weekend return to Little House by reading from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek aloud, in the fading light of evening. I read while River washed the dirty pots with a rag and an amber glass of town water. River had never read Pilgrim and I had talked the book up so much that we were both half-convinced that she would be disappointed, and I hadn’t picked it up in a few months and half-thought that I, too, might be disappointed. But of course we were not. I started in on my favorite chapter, at least my favorite in the half of the book that I have actually finished, called Intricacy. Pilgrim is not the sort of book where it matters where in the book you start reading. It’s more of a holy book than a story, a series of near-religious observations about the nature of living things, backed up with quotes she’s pulled from the musty books in her library. This was an old copy that River got on interlibrary loan, and on the inside of the dust jacket is a picture of young Annie, with all the wisdom of her 25 years, lips parted, looking out at the world like a vessel shot through with light, a conduit to god, which she defines, in the book, as Evolution.

“What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods, Hollins Pond, and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers’ barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not?”

And I am not only partial to her own words, but to the sentences of others that she adds to her text. She quotes Thoureau so often that I have never felt the need to actually read any of his books. She has distilled him for me, filtered him through her brilliant, glowing, 25 year old brain, in that drop of time forty years ago, and her writing is, in a way, a translation of his, as his writing was a translation of all the written language that came before it. And there are bits of his works, still whole, in Pilgrim, baked in there like chocolate chips.

We read Pilgrim aloud long after the dishes were done, and the light was fading in the big four-paned window. Finally it was too dark to read without a headlamp, though the snow was still glowing outside when I squatted to pee, and one could make out the shapes of the shed, the sauna, and the chopping block. Nearly eleven o’clock! The days are getting longer, quickly, where we are, a mere hundred miles from the arctic circle, although that sounds like bragging. In any case there is an abundance of daylight, a cornucopia of sunshine, and it makes me feel like the wealthiest person on earth. I think of my friends in Portland, and their dank and rambling Victorians, with their fogged-up, mildewed window-glass and drafty, high-ceilinged rooms, and I think of the dripping sky there and damp spring breezes, and although I miss my friends, and think of them, and their fashion, I do not envy their environment.

The sunlight! It is golden and dry and plentiful, like straw. I do not mind that the world is still thawing. The icicles glint like crystals in the doorway, and drip crystal droplets onto the wooden steps, where the droplets freeze again, at night. Sounds are incredibly clear, like the air, and fresh, like the water in the creek. The snow is bluish with light, and the shadows, bright shadows, more bluish still. The sky is blue, endlessly blue, from six a.m. till ten and it bleeds a little, every day, into the night. You can almost smell the earth, where it thaws beneath the snow. I can’t believe that eventually it will be summer here, hot good dry summer, with a pounding sun in an empty sky, and dust. People grow gardens, fast hot gardens, giant bolting brassicas and hills of potatoes and sweet thin carrots. The rivers thaw and flow, and the fish swim up them from the sea to spawn. They don’t eat a thing the whole time, their jaws grow hooked with determination and hunger as they swim against the current, jumping logs and waterfalls until they get to the place where they were born. They die a little each day, undead zombie fish, and just as their flesh begins to turn mealy and grey and their skin starts to flake off they lay their eggs and are finished, and they are fished from the stream by the bears, and eaten. Folks around here build fish wheels, and the current turns the wheel, and the baskets scoop the fish, and the people cut the fish and hang them to dry on wooden racks, with the smoke of green poplar to keep the flies from laying maggots. We know a thing or two, here in Little House, about the smoke of green poplar. We were trying to burn it in the woodstove, before the old Athabascan men with chainsaws bucked up the cabin-sized pile of spruce logs the oil company had stacked for us, a few sticks left un-mulched when they razed the drunken bog-forest to build a road, a peace offering to the woodland creatures. Before the men with chainsaws bucked the wood for us we had a lot of green poplar and we would burn it, although maybe the word “burn” is an exaggeration. It made a lot of smoke, which we fought about, although maybe the word “fight” is an exaggeration. I hate wood smoke and would rather have the cold of the open door, River hates the cold of the open door and would rather have the smoke. The men cut the wood and then peace prevailed.

The river is still frozen, in spots, we are still walking across it. I am afraid of it on account of the dream I had once, where I was drowning. It seemed so realistic, like it was really going to happen, or that it had already happened, either way it was irrefutable, and I decided that that was how I would die, by drowning. And so now I am extra afraid of crossing the half-frozen river, partly because I am new to this river-crossing life and do not know yet how to tell if ice is good or not, and partly because of the dream. When I wake up in the dark, and go outside to pee, I think about it.

What else? I like a lot of things. I like my quiet life. I like the way River tucks her 45 into the back of her pants, when we walk to town. It frightens the men who work on the oil-road, which is good. I like her stack of guns, standing barrel-up against the wall, in the space between the bookcase, stuffed with herbs, and the white-painted table where we wash the dishes. I like the way she strives to live on potatoes and fish, which is very Alaskan, and then grows weary of them. I like her strange infusions, rose and wormwood and oat straw, like magic potions, and the way she seems to walk so easily in the land of woo-woo herbal and constitutional medicine, where I am too skeptical to venture. I like the way she brushes her hair with rosemary oil, to save it from split ends, which makes the cabin smell like rosemary oil, and the dog, and all the things- just barely, like a sort of olden dryer sheet.

This weekend, I’m pulling wood. In a sled. There is a truck-sized pile of spruce rounds at the end of the trail, and we need to move it to the woodpile next to the sauna before the snow melts and we can’t use the sleds anymore. So that’s what I’m doing, harnessing myself to the sled like a pony and clomping down the hard-packed trail. And I’m also going to do a lot of thinking, and staring out the window, and eating of pinto beans and stir-fried cabbage, and maybe some smoked salmon, or some salmon that River canned last year, and has been storing in the dusty back part of the shelf. And to finish this blog post here is some Thoreau, via Annie Dillard’s brain-

“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed with them.”

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