Land in the Sky: After Words

PilgrimsNature. God or gods. The body. The puzzling, the dark, the inexplicable, the infinite types of ambiguity, the mysterious closed in upon itself, fragmented to the eye that sees. Things before names. The emptiness. The silence The striving. With luck, to come back with a story. This is the oldest meaning of the word enigma: “a story or tale.”

Nature loves to hide. The booming blue grouse—Dendragapus obscuras—proclaiming his territory in fire-scarred red-fir forest. The original ventriloquist, he can throw his voice here, there, above, below. He is a lover of trees and seldom seen. Though the pitch of his call is so low some are unable to hear it, a body passing through this forest always feels the voice, always knows it’s there. Late April, in the upper montane forest of the Sierra Nevada. Relict banks of snow melting into rich duff, millions of fir seeds scattering and scattered, each bursting with a tiny red root, desiring earth. Few will survive this exuberance. Orgy of moisture followed by orgy of light. But still, the snowpack is below “normal.” Dust is inevitable. Some trees will fall to native beetles engraving their trace in xylem and phloem. Ravishing. Insects, too, have their orgy. As do woodpeckers.

The signature of all things. The book of nature. Not just a tired metaphor, but the fundamental way in which the world was once known, may still be known. Somewhere along the way, we confused a process with a literary trope, substituted manner for action, and set ourselves up in paddocks. The institutions. Here we make our stands, view the spectacle, and write our own books. We no longer read the weather but the weather report. Nevertheless, the older world still haunts our words. It’s the “it’ when we say: “It’s raining.”

[Conclusion to Pilgrims to the Wild, by John P. O’Grady. Published by the University of Utah Press:]