Tag Archives: Annie Dillard

Slipping from the tedious plane.

I was telling Mr. Greenjeans about how An American Childhood by Annie Dillard encouraged me in my writing. He comes from the author’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is the backdrop for her growing-up adventures told from her vividly revealing point of view. I took the book off the shelf to put aside for him, and turned the pages a while, seeing passages I’d marked long ago.

Hers is a unique point of view, of course, as each of us is an unrepeatable individual looking out on our world. Whether it is her perspective that is unusual as well, or only her ability to convey it in words, I don’t know. I do know that few children today have the liberty of youth that Dillard describes as regularly offering periods of time so deep and distraction-free that you can “lose yourself.” In a chapter on her love of books and reading, she tells how she felt:

The actual world is a kind of tedious plane where dwells, and goes to school, the body, the boring body which houses the eyes to read the books and houses the heart the books enflame. The very boring body seems to require an inordinately big, very boring world to keep it up, a world where you have to spend far too much time, have to do time like a prisoner, always looking for a chance to slip away, to escape back home to books, or to escape back home to any concentration–fanciful, mental, or physical–where you can lose your self at last. Although I was hungry all the time, I could not bear to hold still and eat; it was too dull a thing to do, and had no appeal either to courage or to imagination. The blinding sway of their inner lives makes children immoral. They find things good insofar as they are thrilling, insofar as they render them ever more feverish and breathless, ever more limp and senseless on the bed.

-Annie Dillard, in An American Childhood

The fullness of spending and leisure.

A pair of blue jays were playing in my manzanita and pine when I came back from my walk this foggy morning. I hadn’t seen any here in many months. Oh, down by the creek I do, not far away; I don’t wonder that they prefer to hang out where there’s even more going on, more things to eat. True, there are no manzanita bushes or Canary Island Pines by the creek; maybe they came here for the the dried manzanita berries under the bush.



Anyone who has been following the Iceland poppy contest in my garden will want to see what I think is the winner of the endurance trial. It is probably an indication of how cool our summer has been, that one plant stayed alive all through August and accomplished a lonely bloom on September 7th. Surely it is the last! — and the plant does appear to be shriveling, as its companions did a few weeks ago.



In the vegetable boxes, mice, as I suppose, are eating tomatoes. I don’t seem to have energy to find a deterrent to these nightly raids; I do know that the mice probably need the fruit more than I do… but it’s an ugly mess they are making, and the solution is probably to pull out the Early Girls that are the favored item on the mouse menu. With the weather we’ve been getting, it’s not likely that the tomatoes will get as ripe as I require, anyway, and I have seen some appealing recipes for fried green tomatoes lately.


My front yard re-landscaping might be completed this month. Right now we are waiting … the hardscape is finished, these pictures showing the work of two weeks ago.


And back in the back yard, I finally bought a bench for the corner by the birdhouse, and Soldier happened to be here soon after to assemble it for me. Look how tall the native currants have grown up in that corner! As soon as the rains begin (God willing, they shall) the calla lilies will start sprouting enthusiastically and I’ll have to pull them out, eternally.


Soldier’s whole family was here for part of a day, and Liam worked in the playhouse, making a pie (so he said) out of flowers and herbs I told him he might pick for the purpose.




Autumn Joy sedum is still looking beautiful, as it has for at least nine months now, and the acanthus is sending out new flower stalks.




As I’ve been writing, and drinking my tea, the sun came out. Now it seems possible that I might get myself out to do some cleanup in the garden. Today I am going to soak my pea seeds, and hope to plant them tomorrow.

I have a feeling that it will always be a challenge, keeping up with all the things I want to do and need to do in the garden, not letting the housework go too neglected, reading and writing and praying, loving my friends and family, communing and working at church…. Life is very full. Today is very full. I looked for a closing quote to express something of what I’m feeling, but could find nothing more suitable than these lighthearted admonitions.

All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast. ~John Gunther

That one I’ve already taken care of.

Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you. ~Annie Dillard

And this one is next!


We’re looking and making words.

This poem reminds me of the effect Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood had on me the first time I read it. Her noticing of so many details in the history and geography and biographies of her life made me realize that I’d had just as fascinating a childhood. From then on I began to look around with a new eye.

Looking Around, Believing

How strange that we can begin at any time.
With two feet we get down the street.
With a hand we undo the rose.
With an eye we lift up the peach tree
And hold it up to the wind — white blossoms
At our feet. Like today. I started
In the yard with my daughter,
With my wife poking at a potted geranium,
And now I am walking down the street,
Amazed that the sun is only so high,
Just over the roof, and a child
Is singing through a rolled newspaper
And a terrier is leaping like a flea
And at the bakery I pass, a palm,
Like a suctioning starfish, is pressed
To the window. We’re keeping busy —
This way, that way, we’re making shadows
Where sunlight was, making words
Where there was only noise in the trees.

by Gary Soto

Clouds rain and vanish.

GLP1120486 explosion crpWe got a little rain today, but it was pretty much over by early afternoon, and while driving home from an errand I was feasting on the fantastic cloud formations spread all over the sky.

It might have been nice to go to a hilltop to capture them with my camera, but what turned out to be good about staying on the flats, standing in the middle of the street or in the back yard, was that I didn’t have to take all the pictures at once. I shot a dozen, did some laundry and kitchen work, and then it occurred to me that the clouds would have changed, and I could get different views, so I went outdoors again (also noticing flowers).

GLP1120492Several times I did this and out of the batch I kept a few that are sort of interesting, but really, what is a cloud if you can only experience it out of time, flat and tepid and in the still air of another place not its own?

I took Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being off the shelf so I could look up all the sections labeled “CLOUDS” that are scattered throughout the book. The first one is this:

CLOUDS – We people possess records, like gravestones, of individual clouds and the dates on which they flourished.

In 1824, John ConGL P1120493 cotton & treesstable took his beloved and tubercular wife, Maria, to Brighton beach. They hoped the sea air would cure her. On June 12 he sketched, in oils, squally clouds over Brighton beach. The gray clouds lowered over the water in failing light. They swirled from a central black snarl.

In 1828, as Maria Constable lay dying in Putney, John Constable went to Brighton to gather some of their children. On May 22 he recorded one oblique bluish cloud riding high and messy over a wan sun. Two thin red clouds streaked below. Below the clouds he painted disconnected people splashed and dotted over an open, wide coast.

Maria Constable died that November. We still have these dated clouds.GLP1120480 freesias rain

I don’t think so. Maria and John were made in the image of God; they were from the beginning, and I believe they remain, more Real than clouds, the paintings of which are paltry substitutes for what the real things so briefly were.

On another page Dillard quotes John Muir, who while exploring the Sierra Nevada in California in 1869 wrote about several cloud formations he saw, and mused,

“What can poor morGL-P1120516tunnel & peakstals say about clouds?” While people describe them, they vanish. “Nevertheless, these fleeting sky mountains are as substantial and significant as the more lasting upheavals of granite beneath them. Both alike are built up and die, and in God’s calendar, difference of duration is nothing.”

The poor mortal John Muir certainly did say something about clouds when he made that striking comparison…and some things about God and the nature of earthly and heavenly materials — it’s too crazy much for me to think about at the moment.

But if you like to look at clouds such as Muir would have seen in Yosemite, you can do as I have and visit the Yosemite Conservancy page that features several webcams with frequent gorgeous cloud shows. The Park Service also has these cameras. It’s best to visit when you know a storm is brewing up there, not like today with its view (below) of drifty vapors.

GL turtleback webcam 2-28-15

I liked what my godmother said about clouds when I told her about my cloud pictures. She had just read a Lenten meditation by Elder Nektary of Optina, who was speaking of how on the Last Day we will be “carried on the clouds.” We read the same thing in the Bible in I Thessalonians 4:

…For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

I will indeed comfort myself with this word from the Father, so that in the future the cloud shows I see will not only be thrilling but remind me that as fleeting as this life may be, at the GLP1120478 ranunculus rainResurrection of the Dead I will be transported splendidly to my permanent and eternal and most substantial home.

Flowers last a tiny bit longer than clouds (but not nearly as long as granite). This afternoon I “recorded” some of them as well, still sparkling with raindrops.

It turns out that Kim was spending her afternoon in a similar fashion but she was speedier than I at filing her records of blooms and clouds. I hope you all get to enjoy your own living, breathing shows of earth and sky whether or not you try to memorialize them.

GL P1120520 sky 2-28-15