Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Empty nest, part 2

Good morning. The storms were very heavy, complete with lightning and the startling popping and pinging of hail against windows, but by ten o'clock everyone was safely pulled into the driveway and then inside and behind locked doors.

So you see, even if Four or some other aggressively glossy magazine did come to my inbox and shout "We love your samples! We want to send you to Planet X for a story on the best sustainable salmonberry farms!" -- I would surely gulp and say O God. What fascinates me instead, what I think is my proper "mark," has always been old knowledge. The kind of thing you can find without fuss and marvel about in a diary. I like either the detailed knowledge of people who are almost artists in themselves of any certain branch of it, or knowledge that used to be common and quoted, and is no more. It's wondrous how both can crop up anywhere. For the one, you have only to buy a pretty spring plant at the local garden center and google the name on its tag to discover that there is such a thing as the Saxifrage Society, as well as a whole literature that saxifrage enthusiasts consider canonical on their subject. Reginald Farrar's My Rock Garden, for instance, was once hugely popular in this country, and even today is not available for free on Amazon because the book is still wanted enough that someone can make money selling it.

To get the other old knowledge, the once-common kind, again you have only, for instance, to watch Agatha Christie's Pocketful of Rye, starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. (To play this on your Kindle Fire while eating a bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich in a temporarily quiet, empty-nest house, is perfectly blissful.) About two thirds of the way through the program two great actresses, Hickson and Fabia Drake, have reason magisterially to recite, "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." Testator is not a word one hears every day, so to google that brings up the quote no matter how quickly you have forgotten all the rest of it. It comes from [St. Paul's Letter to the] Hebrews 9:16. What a universe opens there, several whirling and nested and concentric ones in fact: the universe that Agatha Christie knew and felt it natural that her wisest characters should know. And then the Epistles. Whether or not the murdered maid Gladys should be a Christ figure is a legitimate question.

In time I suppose stinging nettle recipes and the life of sustainable salmonberry farms will also be a part of a corpus of "old knowledge" which will appeal to the diarists of the future, all looking out their private windows and drumming fingers on desks. But for the moment, there is something rather fragile-seeming, rather contrived, about our endless modern fresh bits of information which are, you might say, pared like thin vegetal coins off a very old and true carrot. Bright and bursting with juices are these novelties to be sure, but nothing in comparison with the parent carrot, in all its bumpy long dirty glory, dragging along its lashing feathery old abundant green top .... At any rate no diarist is likely to be the sort of writer who wants or gets assignments to go out and report excitedly on that freshest new coin. You must go to Four, or anyplace else run by adventurous People, for that.

Then you must go to my backyard for a look at, well, the kinds of things you see in my backyard. It is alive with anonymous creatures, doing what they should, living for the gods I suppose. This being spring, I imagine Turdus migratorius is not yet an empty-nester. 


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