Repair and Revere

Hurricane Sandy (Photo: NASA via Getty Images)

Storms, especially the ones as enormous as Sandy, move me to sober. Serious circumspection seems appropriate as my friends in New York and Virginia get dropped from the grid and swamped with water.

But it is also a humbling reminder that we can never step out of the complex and extraordinary life of this planet, this place we call home.

I didn’t know about nature writer Ellen Meloy until after she passed away in 2004. Her books include Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild and The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky. Her quiet wisdom about our right relationship to earth rings true for me again and again.

Here are a few words from her that have helped me reset my dial this morning:

Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home—not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colors. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and places that warn you away. How you can fall in love with the light.

For a homebody surrounded by the familiar or a traveler exploring the strange, there can be no better guide to a place than the weight of its air, the behavior of its light, the shape of its water, the textures of rock and feather, leaf and fur, and the ways that humans bless, mark or obliterate them. Each of us possesses five fundamental, enthralling maps to the natural world: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. As we unravel the threads that bind us to nature, as denizens of data and artifice, amid crowds and clutter, we become miserly with these loyal and exquisite guides, we numb our sensory intelligence. This failure of attention will make orphans of us all.

I think about home and what it means a lot, and that thinking informs my experience of painting both consciously and unconsciously. It feels like it deserves to be part of one’s daily ritual, to remember what place is and where we fit in it.

In a review of Meloy’s The Anthropology of Turquoise, another thoughtful writer Chelsea Biondolillo catalogs ways of writing about nature and how they reflect on our condition:

Near the end of the series of essays which make up The Anthropology of Turquoise, Meloy gives a few descriptions of nature writing which serve to position her work in the larger context of naturalist literature. The first, “The literature of loss,” is exemplified perhaps most beautifully in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. The second, “An ‘antidote to despair,’” brings to mind David Quammen’s humorous pieces for Outside Magazine, collected in part in The Flight of the Iguana. The third is where Ellen herself fits in: “The antibodies to doom, words and experiences that remind us of our vital connections to the natural world so that we might repair and revere them.” She joins Diane Ackerman and Thoreau in this category.

The antibodies to doom, words and experiences that remind us of our vital connections to the natural world so that we might repair and revere them. That’s a mantra for any day, post Sandy or otherwise.

5 Replies to “Repair and Revere”

  1. I hadn’t heard of Meloy; her writing is beautiful, and contains so much truth, as in this statement, “This failure of attention will make orphans of us all.”
    Thank you for the introduction to her.

  2. Maureen, isn’t that a great line? And check out Chelsea Biondolillo’s blog as well,

    Re Sandy: Glad you have power, my son and his wife lost theirs last night.

  3. Thanks for such a reminder this morning. Poet Mary Oliver and Annie Dillard must also belong to the writers that tell us of the natural world and are antibodies to doom. Our senses bring us the world, it’s up to us what we do with that experience. This morning our attention brought forcibly to the power of the natural world, I am glad to be reminded of writers who help us understand that world, with all its variety, beauty, and tragedy.

  4. Thanks for yet another good book recommendation! I read quite a bit while waiting for the grid to come back…my part of PA was pretty hard hit (6 days w/o power or water), and reading was a great way to fill the cold hours. I did manage to post one blog entry Friday while at a friends’ house.

    1. Ann, so sorry you were without power for such a long time. But yes, a good chance to catch up. After all, can you imagine how dire life would be without books? Thanks for your comment.

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