I recently went to the mountains, and while sitting among the trees this poem came.
When I go to the woods
I bring no books along
preferring instead to read
the primary sources:
the opinion columns of pines
persuasive essays by incense cedars
an array of novels from oak trees.
Quaking aspens are poetry of light
There is philosophy in fallen logs.
I study the hieroglyphs of former
wildfires to glean memories
of the Before time.
Even dead trees have purpose
as nurseries for animals and plants;
the rhymes arising from them
are kissed by the wind,
then float away.
“Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity.”
– A. Edward Newton
There is nothing wrong with learning, or reading and owning books. Yet I recognize in myself an attachment to a delusion that words can end my suffering. Books represent security to me — the idea that if I read enough, learn enough, I can control life. I can create safety. The awareness that I don’t know enough, and that words and ideas will impart wisdom. Sometimes I tell myself I need to purchase a book because I cannot borrow it from the public library even via interlibrary loan (I like to read somewhat uncommon titles). At the root of this story, however, is the reflexive movement toward the familiar role of student. I delay action and avoid discomfort by returning to a role I know so intimately.
In the past I’ve purged books from my shelves. I engage in a little dance with the books that remain, telling myself that some of them I will probably use sometime (they number in hundreds). It’s an interesting experience to look at a book and decide whether it departs, and why. Sometimes I feel like a queen hoarding and counting her gold pieces.
And yet, books have been steady companions in my life.
At the turn of the century
it is a long way down
to the mind’s I. A treehouse
chronicles my journey to this
lost continent, which requires
the amber spyglass to navigate.
When I arrive I am barely a
shadow. There is
snow falling on cedars; through
the woods I hear the single hound
wailing for her hometown. After
twenty years at Hull House, I
mourn for that bastard out of
Carolina who left her tender
at the bone. I wander through
trees toward her cries and find
her. My journey ends across the
river, past the canal town. Before
crossing over, I ask her for
directions. “I don’t know,” she
replies. “I’m a stranger here myself.”