The March sun wasn’t yet warm enough to slump the snow when the Evening Grosbeaks descended on Louise’s feeding station. She was watching out her kitchen window, as she always did, a cup of strong coffee in hand, her reward after her vigorous bird walk at dawn, a habit of forty years that she had not yet given up, even on the cusp of ninety.
The flock of black and yellow birds that mobbed her tray of sunflower seeds was larger than she had seen in years, hordes of them. For decades, she’d been collecting data on the Evening Grosbeak for her ornithologist friend Doris—how many came to her feeder, male or female, when and where they nested, how long the eggs took to hatch and the young to fledge. She made a mental note to check her records to see if the numbers this spring were truly record-breaking or just an impression sparked by the thrill of such an influx of birds massing in her forest.
Lydia would never admit it to anyone, but she loved to dust. Sometimes, although it pained her, she left her dusting cloth inside the cupboard for three days in a row, just for the thrill of seeing that shiny, dustless track when she stroked the cloth across a table.
She was never happier than she was on dusting day. She marked it on the calendar with a happy face so her husband, the only surgeon in the town, would not make fun of her small joy. In her heart, she believed that the satisfaction that welled up in her at the sight of a shiny surface was as meaningful as what she imagined he must feel every time a wound healed over in a smooth, pale line.
Humans have been writing stories for at least four thousand years. The earliest that we know of, written on 12 clay tablets, is the epic of Gilgamesh, the fifth king of Uruk, who lived in ancient Sumeria, somewhere between 2750 and 2500 BCE. In this first recorded story, Gilgamesh sets out on a quest for the font of all wisdom. He journeys to a new place, through many adventures, and returns to tell his tale.
The quest, the movement from one place to another in search of wisdom, is a deeply embedded theme in literature of every culture, which started me thinking about place, and what it means to a writer.
And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed his head from his body. Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.
The Book of Judith 13: 8-10
from The Apocrypha
Words on the Land I
The sound of mist lifting. The sound of bark warming. The sound of a caterpillar wrapping around a stem of marsh grass. The sound of a frog leaping. The sound of a turtle slipping. The sound of a pine scale dropping to a midden in the duff. The sound of a phoebe calling—will someone answer him, please? The sound of a cloud passing. The sound of mosquitoes honing. The sound of a red damsel fly at rest on a white knee. The sound of dew falling. The sound of a moon rising. The sound of no words on the land.