July 31, 2021

I’m reading a book right now called Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald. She’s a very intelligent, very scientific writer, whose work I first discovered when she wrote a memoir about grappling with her father’s sudden death. It was the first thing I read after my own father’s sudden death that made me feel as though someone else might understand. This new book is like that other book, but different. I am not scientific. I would sooner set myself to relearning calculus than take another biology class. But I love the natural world, love especially the trees—things that became, years ago, my primary reason for staying in Portland, after suffering a terrible heartbreak that made me want to jettison myself into another life, another skin, another world. But I could not say goodbye to these trees. The place where I live now is surrounded by trees and ivy (so much ivy), and this evening, I lie out flat on my deck and read Macdonald’s book, pausing every page or so to look up at the trees. It’s been hot, and I haven’t been sleeping well, and life with all its major and minor grievances has put me in a foul mood. I have come outside, despite the heat, to escape the oppressive drone of the air conditioner. I’m reading an essay about Macdonald’s expedition to a remote location in Chile, studied for its resemblance to Mars, or what Mars once was. Billions of years. Microscopic forms of life. Extreme cold. Extreme wind. The scientist, who is the subject of Macdonald’s essay, who feels most at home in this harsh terrain. I look up at the trees, my trees (such as they can be). While I’ve been out here, the temperature has dropped, and a breeze begins to slip across my skin. It was supposed to be just as hot today as it was yesterday, wasn’t supposed to cool down until late tonight. Yet, here we are. How little we still know. How much we try to predict, to control this world, our worlds, and still, they slip through our fingers. And really, thank God. All the unknowing drives me mad, but I am also convinced it is the only thing that keeps me sane. I return to Macdonald’s story. The trees sway and settle. The wind slips over me again.

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