Anne Notations

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lights. Camera. ... Tree

When I was around 25 years old, in the midst of my mind's awakening (the one that was supposed to happen in college, but oh well, I was always a late bloomer), I became something of a freestyle autodidact. I tore through books about spirituality, mysticism, nature, philosophy, more nature, physics, religion, nature. And then I read the book that changed everything: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.

Aside from being gutted with envy that Dillard had written such a masterpiece when she was not much older than I at the time, and won a Pulitzer for it no less, I was captivated by the book. It seemed that with every turn of a page, my socks got knocked off by a description, an observation, a tying-together of seemingly disparate anecdotes or qualities that yielded some stunning insight. The thing about chlorophyll and human blood? Whoa. The giant water beetle sucking the frog dry before her eyes? Damn. The long riff on fecundity and the lavish redundancy built into reproduction of most species: yikes.

Seriously, if you haven't read Pilgrim yet, please do so now. If you like it, move on to Dillard's slim volume Holy the Firm and then her essay collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk.

Late this afternoon I saw something that made me think of Pilgrim for the first time in a while. Dillard had written about the sudden blazing sight of a tree in the sunlight, and used this anecdote about a blind girl who regained her sight as a guidepost for seeing the world afresh:

Many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision. To one patient, a human hand, unrecognized, is "something bright and then holes." Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy calls out "It is dark, blue and shiny.... It isn’t smooth, it has bumps and hollows."

A little girl visits a garden. She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer. (She) stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names by taking hold of it, and then as "the tree with the lights in it.”

No lanterns hung in that little girl's tree, nor in the one Dillard saw in West Virginia back in the 1970s. Nor was electricity involved in lighting this towering golden tree that stood out from among dark pines in the setting sun this evening.

I was in the parking lot at Stop & Shop. I had a long shopping list, and it was growing dark. But there was time – there had to be time – to stop and see. To see the tree. The tree with the lights in it.

If you click on this photograph, you won't be sorry.

What did you see today?


  • Beautiful!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 07, 02:28:00 PM EST  

  • I love when the trees have lights.

    I missed that sight most of all when we lost our huge gum tree a few years ago, but now the seedling of that gum tree is just high enough to be touched by the setting sun, so I'm grateful to be getting those lights back. :)

    Beautiful photos, and I'll definitely check out Annie Dillard's book.

    By Blogger BrideOfPorkins, at Sat Nov 07, 06:17:00 PM EST  

  • Be awestruck and even jealous of Dillard all you want, but the best thing in this post by far is the tree you captured with your photoraph and your writing.

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at Sun Nov 08, 07:37:00 AM EST  

  • I had a similar experience last week. My office window looks out toward the park. When I glanced out, it was raining directly overhead, but the sun was shining in the west, lighting the top of the trees. So amazing!

    By Blogger bozoette, at Mon Nov 09, 02:13:00 PM EST  

  • To see evidence of your consistency see your comment here:

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at Sun Nov 15, 04:42:00 AM EST  

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