The whole show has been on fire from the word go


“We bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull. Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous. About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star. The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there…

We don’t know what’s going on here. If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite? We don’t know. Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf.

We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise. At the time of Lewis and Clark, setting the prairies on fire was a well-known signal that meant, “Come down to the water.” It was an extravagant gesture, but we can’t do less. If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.”

~ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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  1. Her writing is truly like the fires in the

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WMS. She is a master weaver, an expert practitioner who somehow manages to make it all look effortless. Awesome…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s it! I felt like I was in a trance while reading this passage. There can be no lesser words than what she has written to describe what she has witnessed.

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  4. “The least we can do is try to be there…”

    A friend used to often say to me, “the least you could do is show up when you come into the room.”

    More recently, a friend reminded me, “the fire lives!”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. David,
    Whether one sees them or not, there are unique-dear I say miraculous-events that many regard a going against the natural. Yet these events are quite in step with the natural, or they could not happen in the first place. The only thing rare about these events is the rarity in them being observed.
    This witnessing, proves there is much more to all living things than simply taking up space in some evolutionary process.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. we must do no less than the extravagant gesture.

    Liked by 1 person

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