Title: Holy the Firm.
Author: Annie Dillard.
Genre: Non-fiction, nature, philosophy.
Publication Date: 1977.
Summary: In 1975, Annie Dillard took up residence on an island in Puget Sound in a wooded room furnished with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person." For the next two years she asked herself questions about time, reality, sacrifice, death, and the will of God. She writes about a moth consumed in a candle flame, about a seven-year-old girl burned in an airplane accident, about a baptism on a cold beach. But behind the moving curtain of what she calls "the hard things -- rock mountain and salt sea," she sees, sometimes far off and sometimes as close by as a veil or air, the power play of holy fire. This is a profound book about the natural world - both its beauty and its cruelty
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Under the quilt in my knees’ crook is a cat. She wakes; she curls to bite her metal sutures. The day is real; already, I can feel it click, hear it clicking under my knees.
The day is real; the sky clicks securely in place over the mountains, locks round the islands, snaps slap on the bay. Air fits flush on farm roofs; it rises inside the doors of barns and rubs at yellow barn windows. Air clicks up my hand cloven into fingers and wells in my ears’ holes, whole and entire. I call it simplicity, the way matter is smooth and alone.
♥ I was trembling from coffee, or cigarettes, or the closeness of faces all around me. (Is this what we live for? I thought; is this the only final beauty: the color of any skin in any light, and living, human eyes?) All hands rose to the question. (You, Nick? Will you? Margaret? Randy? Why do I want them to mean it?) And then I tried to tell them what the choice must mean: you can’t be anything else. You must go at your life with a broadax. … They had no idea what I was saying. (I have two hands, don’t I? And all this energy, for as long as I can remember. I’ll do it in the evenings, after skiing, or on the way home from the bank, or after the children are asleep. …) They thought I was raving again. It’s just as well.
♥ But the mountains are, incredibly, east. When I first came here I faced east and watched the mountains, thinking, These are the Ultima Thule, the final westering, the last serrate margin of time. Since they are, incredibly, east, I must be no place at all. But the sun rose over the snowfields and woke me where I lay, and I rose and cast a shadow over someplace, and thought, There is, God help us, more. So gathering my bowls and spoons, and turning my head,
as it were, I moved to face west, relinquishing all hope of sanity, for what is more.
♥ The room where I live is plain as a skull, a firm setting for windows. A nun lives in the fires of the spirit, a thinker lives in the bright wick of the mind, an artist lives jammed in the pool of materials. (Or, a nun lives, thoughtful and tough, in the mind, a nun lives, with that special poignancy peculiar to religious, in the exile of materials; and a thinker, who would think of something, lives in the clash of materials, and in the world of spirit where all long thoughts must lead; and an artist lives in the mind, that warehouse of forms, and an artist lives, of course, in the spirit. So.) But this room is a skull, a fire tower, wooden, and empty. Of itself it is nothing, but the view, as they say, is good.
♥ You can’t picture it, can you? Neither can I. Oh, the desk is yellow, the oak table round, the ferns alive, the mirror cold, and I never have cared. I read. In the Middle Ages, I read, “the idea of a thing which a man framed for himself was always more real to him than the actual thing itself.” Of course. I am in my Middle Ages; the world at my feet, the world through the window, is an illuminated manuscript whose leaves the wind takes, one by one, whose painted illuminations and halting words draw me, one by one, and I am dazzled in days and lost.
There is, in short, one country, one room, one enormous window, one cat, one spider, and one person: but I am hollow. And, for now, there are the many gods of mornings and the many things to give them for their work - lungs and heart, muscle, nerve, and bone - and there is the no man’s land of many things wherein they dwell, and from which I seek to call them, in work that’s mine.
♥ It is November 19 and no wind, and no hope of heaven, and no wish for heaven, since the meanest of people show more mercy than hounding and terrorist gods.
♥ It is the best joke there is, that we are here, and fools - that we are sown into time like so much corn, that we are souls sprinkled at random like salt into time and dissolved here, spread into matter, connected by cells right down to our feet, and those feet likely to fell us over a tree root or jam us on a stone. The joke part is that we forget it. Give the mind two seconds alone and it thinks it's Pythagoras. We wake up a hundred times a day and laugh.
♥ So this is where we are. Ashes, ashes, all fall down. How could I have forgotten? Didn’t I see the heavens wiped shut just yesterday, on the road walking? Didn’t I fall from the dark of the stars to these senselit and noisesome days?
♥ And you can get caught holding one end of a love, when your father drops, and your mother; when a land is lost, or a time, and your friend blotted out, gone, your brother’s body spoiled, and cold, your infant dead, and you dying: you reel out love’s long line alone, stripped like a live wire loosing its sparks to a cloud, like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting.
♥ So I read. Angels, I read, belong to nine different orders. Seraphs are the highest; they are aflame with love for God, and stand closer to him than the others. Seraphs love God; cherubs, who are second, possess perfect knowledge of him. So love is greater than knowledge; how could I have forgotten?
♥ A blur of romance clings to our notions of “publicans,” “sinners,” “the poor,” “the people in the marketplace,” “our neighbors,” as though of course God should reveal himself, if at all, to these simple people, these Sunday school watercolor figures, who are so purely themselves in their tattered robes, who are single in themselves, while we now are various, complex, and full at heart. We are busy. So, I see now, were they. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead - as if innocence had ever been - and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been. There have been generations which remembered, and generations which forgot; there has never been a generation of whole men and women who lived well for even one day. Yet some have imagined well, with honesty and art, the detail of such life, and have described it with such grace, that we mistake vision for history, dream for description, and fancy that life has devolved. So. You learn this studying any history at all, especially the lives of artists and visionaries; you learn it from Emerson, who noticed that the meanness of our days is itself worth our thought; and you learn it, fitful in your pew, at church.
♥ We are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at all. We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if we ever wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of light uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it’s time to break our necks for home.
♥ There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.
♥ How can people think that artists seek a name? A name, like a face, is something you have when you're not alone. There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.
What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are? What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that's burnt out, any muck ready to hand?
♥ And learn power, however sweet they call you, learn power, the smash of the holy once more, and signed by its name. Be victim to abruptness and seizures, events intercalated, swellings of heart. You’ll climb trees. You won’t be able to sleep, or need to, for the joy of it.
♥ People love the good not much less than the beautiful, and the happy as well, or even just the living, for the world of it all, and heart’s home.