Friday, June 04, 2010

`A System in Itself'

We drove my student and four others to a park on the western shore of Lake Sammamish where we met a dog walker who let the kids hold the leashes on her three schnauzers. Everyone enjoyed the anomalously beautiful morning – sun, blue skies, fat white clouds. A violet-green swallow worked the long lawn sloping to the beach. It glided inches above the grass, dipping or adjusting course only to catch insects in its beak.

On the beach, in the cold wind off the lake, two women squeezed into black wet-suits. A crew team out of a Thomas Eakins painting skimmed past. A Japanese woman and her little girl dug in the sand. I walked with my student to the end of the pier where two young men stood fishing, and I asked if they’d had any luck. The taller guy leaned over and pulled a stringer from the water with two rainbow trout hanging from the end, one of them measuring nineteen inches. The pair had caught two fish in three hours, starting at 6:30 a.m., and both were blissful. I asked what they planned to do with their bounty and the tall laconic guy said, “Eat ’em.” He and his buddy reminded me of Ishmael: “Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

The beach and lake surface were tufted with seed-bearing fuzz from the cottonwoods. A Stellar’s jay landed on a split-rail fence and bounced along its top for fifty feet or more, pecking at the wood. The dominant wildflower was dandelion. The flowers on three chestnut trees had fallen and the burs – botanists call them cupules – were still small and hairy, not yet spiky. Three squirrels spiraled up the trunk of the tallest. On May 9, 1858, Thoreau notes in his journal:

“A dandelion perfectly gone to seed, a complete globe, a system in itself.”

Three days later, at the end of a lengthy entry, he writes:

“Saw some unusually broad chestnut planks, just sawed, at the mill. Barrett said that they came from Lincoln; whereupon I said that I guessed I knew where they came from, judging by their size alone, and it turned out that I was right. I had often gathered the nuts of those very trees and had observed within a year that they were cut down. So it appears that we have come to this, that is I see any particularly large chestnuts at the sawmill, I can guess where they came from, even know them in the log.”

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