Tuesday, September 17, 2013


From The Nearsighted Naturalist by Ann Haymond Zinger, Univ of Arizona Press, 1998, page 168.

“My peace of mind comes from picking up pebbles. Some people fly-fish. Some people hang-glide. Some people do needlepoint, I pick up beach pebbles. Here most pebbles don't survive the battering to reach quail-egg size. Some of the most intriguing and colorful rocks don't smooth out into elegance. The grainy granules retain their rough grainy texture --- they don't give in to the water. I admire them for their recalcitrance alone.
Most pebbles show their best side, their promise of perfection on top, hiding their flaws in the sand. A good pebble collector becomes a cynic about surface perfection while retaining an eternal optimism that on this shore of trillions of pebbles, there is one perfect one. I, who am not foolish enough to ever buy a lottery ticket, will spend hours with far worse odds trying to find that perfection of pebble.
Asking me why I pick up river rocks or ocean pebbles is like asking me why I write natural history, I've picked up pebbles along the shorelines of Greece and the Green River of Utah, the Jersey Islands and Saint-Malo, the outer banks of North Carolina and the San Juan River of the Southwest, for pursuing and perusing pebbles gives me pleasure. They are reminders of a natural world that grinds everything down to size. Some the sea shatters and breaks, some it makes beautiful, some it just gives up on. There is an aesthetic pleasure here, and an athletic one in bending and stretching; an intellectual pleasure in trying to figure out the physics of pebbles, the puzzles of tides, the working out of a pebbled set of values that depends upon rock and place and time.
While I pace the beach, I feel the worry seep out of my shoulders.”

Long ago, I took the picture above when both of my grandsons were still living at home. We spent several hours at the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve on Lake Michigan. The water-worn rocks here are very varied in color, size and shape. 
Ann Zinger is a naturalist and nature artist. She has written many books, and all of them are a delight to read. I am particularly fond of Run, River, Run: A Naturalist's Journey Down One of the Great Rivers of the West. This book is about the Green River and pretty much contains everything you could learn about this important Western stream.And you won't want to miss her Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Both of these are what I call "penny books" --meaning that used copies on Amazon are available for 1 cent plus shipping, which is $3.98. And they are widely available from libraries, too. If you like natural history, Zwinger is very enjoyable reading, a great mix of science, art and personal impressions.
In the poetry zone, I got another copy of Tremor, by Adam Zagajewski, (1985) which is holding its place as one of my all time favorite books of poems! I must report that it is not a "penny book" though--I got one at a decent price and it came in the mail today. I have just reread it, all of it. Do you prefer an 80 page book of poetry by a single poet, as I do?? This one is just about perfect and contains some of my all-time favorites like "Franz Schubert: a press conference." One thing I had forgotten though, is how much of the natural world,--flowing water, verdure and singing birds--is in almost every poem.

Here is just a short taste, from page 19; there will be more in the coming days:

A River

Poems from poems, songs
from songs, paintings from paintings,
always this friendly
impregnation. On the other bank 
of the river, within range of being,
soldiers are marching. A black army,
a red army, a green army,
the iron rainbow. In between, smooth
water, an indifferent wave.

These poems were translated from the Polish by Renata Gorczynski, who has done a terrific job of making them flow so naturally in English. In the preface Czeslaw Milosz says of Zagajewski, "His poems have been acquiring a more and more sumptuous texture, and now he appears to me as a skillful weaver whose work is not unlike Gobelin tapestries where trees, flowers and human figures coexist in the same pattern. That rich and complex world re-created and transformed by art is for him not a place of escape. On the contrary, it is related in a peculiar way to the crude reality of our century, even if it is on the other side of "smooth water, an indifferent wave." "

And now we are in a new  century, but crude realities persist. And birds still sing. Good night!

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