Tuesday, November 22, 2011

`It Domiciliates Me in Nature'

Shuttling between homes, I’ve come to understand that the Pacific Northwest is meteorologically (and culturally) antipodal to Houston. While Texas remains in a protracted drought, we wake to the purr of rain on the roof, the sound of Puget Sound, its elevator music. With it comes a socked-in feeling and the certainty of limits – welcome reminders. Last week my brother posted a photo of the sun setting behind a neighbor’s house in suburban Cleveland. Turneresque displays are routine in Houston; in Seattle they would make the front page, if anyone still read the newspaper.

Residents at both ends of my bipolar existence complain about the weather, of course, and most everything else. Chesterton reminded us that “travel narrows the mind,” a side-effect I’m encouraging. I like to like where I am, even if I’m deluded, in contrast to the scout leader I spoke with on Saturday who explained to me that the abundant rain in Washington is the result of “climate change.” From the drought and unceasing rain I’ve relearned something about proper proportions, personal and species-wide.

Thoreau took a walk in the rain on May 17, 1858. He watched a farmer try to finish his planting “while slowly getting a soaking, quietly dropping manure in the furrows.” Thoreau implicitly approves of the farmer’s uncomplaining stoicism, and writes:

“The rain is good for thought. It is especially agreeable to me as I enter the wood and hear the soothing dripping on the leaves. It domiciliates me in nature. The woods are the more like a house for the rain; the few slight noises sound more hollow in them; the birds hop nearer; the very trees seem still and pensive. The clouds are but a higher roof. The clouds and rain confine me to near objects, the surface of the earth and the trees.”

“Domiciliates” – makes a home for – is a word Thoreau the Latinist deploys with pleasure. He, too, made a home in nature, first in 1845, and then for the rest of his life.

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