Ex Libris Kirkland

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Subtitle Narrative Essays Old and New
First Written 2017
Genre Nonfiction
Origin US
Publisher Ecco
ISBN-10 0062432966
My Copy library copy
First Read October 01, 2017

The Abundance

This is a short collection of essays from Dillard's nonfiction career. I'd read her phenomenal 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek', of course. But I read her amazing essay about a solar eclipse recently - which was amazing - and knew I wanted to find more. The eclipse essay is featured in this book as well, but the rest is SO good it feels like a greatest hits album of Dillard.

The essay that parallels polar exploration and (of all things) going to church was incredible. The slow interpolation of the two tracks - a history of polar explorers (intrepid, brave, mostly doomed), and a meandering interrupted tale of attending a church service - was just incredible. They seem as disparate as two topics could be, and she slowly, slowly lassos them together. When she cinches them close enough that you see them connect - magic!

She is also very, very funny.

Noted on October 10, 2017

Earth sifts over things as dirt or dust. If you stay still, earth buries you, ready or not. The debris on the tops of your feet or shoes thickens, windblown dirt piles around it, and pretty soon your feet are underground. Then the ground rises over your ankles and up your shins. If the sergeant holds his platoon at attention long enough, he and his ranks will stand upright and buried like a Chinese emperor's army.

Micrometeorite dust can bury you, too, if you wait: A ton falls on earth every hour. Or you could pile up with locusts. At Mount Cook in Montana, at 11,000 feet, you can see on the flank a dark layer of locusts. The locusts fell or wrecked in 1907, when a swarm flew off course and froze. People noticed the deposit only when a chunk separated from the mountain and fell into a creek that bore it downstream.

The rate at which dirt buries us varies. New York City's street level rises every century. The Mexico City in which Cortés walked is now thirty feet underground. It would be farther underground except that Mexico City itself has started sinking. Digging a subway line there, workers found a temple. Debris lifts land an average of 4. 7 feet per century. King Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. The famous Western Wall is a top layer of old retaining wall near the peak of Mount Moriah. From the present bottom of the Western Wall to bedrock is sixty feet.

Quick: Why aren't you dusting? On every continent we sweep floors and wipe tabletops not only to shine the place but to forestall burial.

Quoted on October 10, 2017

Chert, flint, agate, and glassy rock can flake to a cutting edge only a few atoms thick. Prehistoric people made long oval knives of this surpassing sharpness, and made them wittingly too fragile to use. Some people-Homo sapiens-lived in a subfreezing open air camp in central France about eighteen thousand years ago. We call their ambitious culture Solutrean; it lasted only about three thousand years. They invented the bow and arrow, the spear thrower, and the needle- which made clothes such a welcome improvement over draped pelts.

Solutrean artisans knapped astonishing yellow blades in the shape of long, narrow, pointed leaves. The longest Solutrean blade is fourteen inches long, four inches at it's beam, and only one quarter inch thick. Most of these blades are the size and thickness of a fillet of sole. Their intricate technique is overshot flaking; it is, according to Douglas Preston, "primarily and intellectual process." A modern surgeon at Michigan Medical School used such a blade to open a patent's abdomen; it was smoother, he said than his best steel scalpels. Another scientist estimated a Solutrean chert blade was one hundred times sharper than a steel scalpel. Its edge split few cells, and left scant scar. Recently, according to the ever fine writer John Pfeiffer, an Arizona rancher skinned a bear with an obsidian knife in two hours instead of the usual three and a half; he said he never needed to press down.

Hold one of these chert knives to the sky. It passes light. It shines dull, waxy gold- brown in the center, and yellow towards the edge as it clears. At each concoidal fractured edge all the way around the double-ogive form, at each cove in the continental stone, the blade thins from translucency to transparency. You see your skin, and the sky. At its very edge the blade dissolves into the universe at large. It ends imperceptibly at an atom.

Each of these delicate, absurd objects takes hundreds of separate blows to fashion. At each stroke and at each pressure flake, the brittle chert might-and by the record, very often did- snap. The maker knew he was likely to lose many hours' breath holding work at a tap. The maker worked in extreme cold. He knew no one would ever use these virtuoso blades. He protected them, and his descendants saved them intact for their perfection. To any human on earth, the sight of one of them means: someone thought of making, and made this difficult, impossible, beautiful thing.

Quoted on October 10, 2017

Must I join this song? May I keep only my silver? My backgammon board, I agree, is a frivolity. I relinquish it. I will leave it right here on the ice. But my silver? My family crest? One knife, one fork, one spoon, to carry beneath the glance of heaven and back? I have lugged it around for years; I am, I say, superlatively strong. Don't laugh; you'll make me laugh.

Quoted on October 10, 2017

A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens.

Quoted on October 10, 2017

Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship, correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed in from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things. Alas, among the tourists on Deck C, drinking coffee and eating donuts, we find the captain, and all the ship's officers, and all the ship's crew.

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.

Quoted on October 10, 2017

Doubt and dedication often go hand in hand. And “faith,” crucially, is not assenting intellectually to a series of doctrinal propositions; it is living in conscious and rededicated relationship to God.

Quoted on October 10, 2017

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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