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Friday, February 20, 2009

Books and the World

A friend has come to visit, bringing Florida’s Birds: A Handbook and Reference, by Herbert W. Kale, II, & David S. Maehr. And the National Audubon Society Pocket Guide [to] Familiar Birds of Sea and Shore, and already I have learned something that may stick: the female belted kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) is more colorful than the male. I would not have guessed that this kingfisher, perched on a wire hung with fishing line and bobbers over Hammock Creek, was a female, since the general rule for birds is that the more colorful is the male. That makes me think that the natural law people overlook something very important: in nature, it seems, every rule admits of exceptions. Exceptions are as natural as rules. That’s my philosophical insight for today.

Fortified with insight, fresh air and coffee, I turn to the late John Updike. Oh, the luscious sentences! No, that word is all wrong, overblown. His are the sentences of a poet. The foreword alone to Hugging the Shore, his book of critical essays, is a laugh-aloud piece—I’m talking about laughter of appreciation for the way Updike skewers the essential time after time. Here is the first sentence of the foreword, the explanation for the title of the collection:

Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.

And here’s a borrowed thought for the day, a major insight Updike shares with us:

At all times, an old world is collapsing and a new world arising; we have better eyes for the collapse than for the rise, for the old one is the world we know.

It’s good to have good friends when an old world is collapsing--i.e. (read that quote again), at all times! We hugged the shore yesterday in their good company, over beer, oysters, mussels and snails, a great pleasure and quite a change from our usual quiet routine.

To answer questions about where we are this winter, here is an orienting shot:

Looking back in the other direction, toward the island (between the two forks) where the house is, one sees no houses from the bridge but only elegant egrets taking the morning sun in trees draped with Spanish moss and—look carefully—a couple of towels (not ours) also positioned to catch the sun.

Last night before dinner we all trooped out to the bridge to see the sunset. That’s a lie. We sauntered. We strolled. We lolly-gagged. It’s back to work today, but there will be another sunset tonight.

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