In the seventeenth century, his Holiness the Pope adjudged beavers to be fish. In retrospect, that was a zoologically illogical decision; but beavers were not miffed at being changed into fish. They decided not to truckle to their new specification, not to be perfect fish, textbook fish; instead they became fanciful fish, the first to have furry babies, the first to breathe air and the first fish to build for themselves commodious conical fortresses in the water. If Prince Maximilian, traveling up the Missouri River, had taken it in mind to recategorize them as Druids or flamingos, beavers would have become toothy Druids, or portly brown industrious flamingos.” (p. 5)
Things That Are is a perfect summer porch book. (Though I believe it would also make good reading curled up by a fire during a snowstorm.) I found it whimsical and delightful. A friend suggested that it reminded her of Annie Dillard, but quirkier. I like that description too. I couldn’t limit myself to one quote, but I will limit myself to two:
What happens to jellyfish out of water is similar to what happens to bridesmaid hairdos in water. Jellyfish in the water look like pink and green flower hats and bright dripping egg yolks and manes of lions, but out on the beach sand they look like melting plastic bags.” (p. 84)
—Amy Leach, Things That Are, winner of the Nautilus Award, published by Milkweed Editions, 2012. It also has beautiful illustrations by Nate Christopherson.
Is the stair here?
Where’s the stair?
‘The stair’s right there
But it goes nowhere.’
And the abyss? the abyss?
‘The abyss you can’t miss:
It’s right where you are—
A step down the stair.’
Each time ever
There always is
Noon of failure,
Part of a house.
In the middle of,
Around a cloud,
On top a thistle
The wind’s slowing.
(“The Abyss,” Part 1)
Many arrivals make us live: the tree becoming
Green, a bird tipping the topmost bough,
A seed pushing itself beyond itself,
The mole making its way through darkest ground,
The worm, intrepid scholar of the soil—
Do these analogies perplex? A sky with clouds,
The motion of the moon, and waves at play,
A sea-wind pausing in a summer tree.
What does what it should do needs nothing more.
The body moves, though slowly, toward desire.
We come to something without knowing why.
—Theodore Roethke, The Far Field: Last Poems. Winner of the National Book Award.
It was five years before the plum trees I had planted flowered, five years before the oriole came back to weave his flame in and out of the clusters of white. I shall soon have been planted here myself for ten years, and I have a sense that the real flowering is still to come, and all I have experienced so far only a beginning. . . .
Now the adventure before me siezes me in the night and keeps me awake sometimes. Growing old . . . why, in this civilization, do we treat it as a disaster, valuing, as we do, the woman who ‘stays young’? Why ‘stay young’ when adventure lies in change and growth?
It is only past the meridian of fifty that one can believe that the universal sentence of death applies to oneself. At twenty we are immortal; at fifty we are too caught up in life to think much about the end, but from about fifty-five on the inmost quality of life changes because of this knowledge.”
–May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep
“Color–that’s another thing people don’t expect. In her imagination, in her dreams, everything has color. The museum buildings are beige, chestnut, hazel. Its scientists are lilac and lemon yellow and fox brown. Piano chords loll in the speaker of the wireless in the guard station, projecting rich black and complicated blues down the hall toward the key pound. Church bells send arcs of bronze careening off the windows. Bees are silver; pigeons are ginger and auburn and occasionally golden. The huge cypress trees she and her father pass on their morning walk are shimmering kaleidoscopes, each needle a polygon of light.”
–Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See won the Pulitzer Prize and also an Alex Award (awarded to books written for adults that also have strong appeal to teens). Highly recommended. It’s longish (> 500 pages), but it has short chapters alternating perspectives, and you keep wanting to read one more and one more. Another. Just one more.