“The Peace of Wild Things”

Finding the Ultimate Peace

I was wondering what to write about today, when I saw this poem quoted on Facebook by my friend Lynette Cahill. At that point, I said to myself, “Yep, that’ll do it!” It is called “The Peace of Wild Things” and was composed by Wendell Berry.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

On Angel’s Wings

Angel’s Wings Cactus aka Bunny Ears Cactus

On Wednesday, I drove down to the South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The garden admission price for seniors was only $6.00, and I wanted to go somewhere where I could take a nice walk and sit down to read a book.

There is an interesting story behind the garden. At one time the land around there was under the ocean, and a layer of diatomaceous earth formed. This mineral substance is used for filtration and for insulating or strengthening building materials. Consequently, in 1929, the Dicamite Company began strip-mining the diatomaceous earth, followed by the Great Lakes Carbon Company. By 1956, the mining activity came to an end; and the site was sold to the County of Los Angeles, which used it as a sanitary landfill.

Those days fortunately are over. It was decided to turn the property into a botanical garden, which it is today. There is a road around the property which makes for a nice mile plus walk, and there are numerous trails that cut through the center. There used to be a lake, but I suspect it was allowed to sink or evaporate during the recent California drought.

California Poppies (Our State Flower)

Nowadays there ever more interesting plants on display, from the monstrous Moreton Bay Fig Trees to California Poppies—not to mention Angel’s Wing Cacti. I like the idea of properties being returned to nature, even if it is under manicured circumstances. That’s what happened on Vancouver Island in Canada, when a disused quarry outside of Victoria became the world famous Butchart Gardens. The South Coast Botanic garden isn’t quite there yet, but I have high hopes.


Serendipity: A Re-Discovery

Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

Have you ever laid something precious aside and, years later, suddenly be reminded of it? Then, going back to it, you find it was not only as good as you ever thought it was, but even better.The last book I read by Loren Eiseley was The Man Who Saw Through Time, about Sir Francis Bacon, back in 1990. Then I saw a blog by Fred Runk, whose perceptive comments you may have encountered in this space, quoting and commenting on a poem by Eiseley. It seemed as if a vortex formed around my head, in which I saw the waste of nearly a quarter century without once having encountered one of my favorite writers. I am making up for lost time by reading The Star Thrower, his last book, with essays on nature and science and a few of his early poems.

There is something small and humble about Eiseley as he examines nature and our place in it. Survival of the fittest?

A major portion of the world’s story appears to be that of fumbling little creatures of seemingly no great potential, falling, like the helpless little girl Alice, down a rabbit hole or an unexpected crevice into some new topsy-turvy realm…. The first land-walking fish was, by modern standards, an ungainly and inefficient invertebrate. Figuratively, he was a water failure who had managed to climb ashore on a continent where no vertebrates existed. In a time of crisis he had escaped his enemies…. The wet fish gasping in the harsh air on the shore, the warm-blooded mammal roving unchecked through the torpor of the reptilian night, the lizard-bird launching into a moment of ill-aimed flight, shatter all purely competitive assumptions. hese singular events reveal escapes through the living screen, penetrated, one would have to say in retrospect, by the ‘overspecialized’ and the seemingly ‘inefficient,’ the creatures driven to the wall.

In another essay, he talks about how life on our planet would have failed if it weren’t for the birth of flowers and everything that came in their train. At another time, we see him playing with an unafraid young fox with a pile of bones and selecting one and handing it to him. In yet another essay, we see him watching while an unusual squirrel manages to climb a post that had a wrap-around funnel protecting the food left for birds.

This is not BIG nature. It is all little nature with a lot of very BIG implications. Eiseley is a wonderful essayist and poet, deserving not only of scientific fame, but literary fame as well. It is no accident that the Introduction to The Star Thrower was written by an admirer named W. H. Auden.

In future, I will write more about Eiseley. Having rediscovered him, I cannot let him down.

“The Divinity of the Groves”

Tree Cutting

Tree Cutting

Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a strange emotion.

It was as if someone were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not threatening, but pleading—something too fine for the sensual ear, but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and distant that I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It seemed a woman’s voice, some lost lady who had brought nothing but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me was that I was destroying her last shelter.

That was the pathos of it—the voice was homeless. As the axes flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long sad wanderings, of hardly won shelter, and a peace which was the little all she sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it. No thought of wrong-doing. The spell which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil, was to me, of the Northern race, only delicate and rare and beautiful. Jobson and the rest did not feel it, I with my finer senses caught nothing but the hopeless sadness of it. That which had stirred the passion in Lawson was only wringing my heart. It was almost too pitiful to bear. As the trees crashed down and the men wiped the sweat from their brows, I seemed to myself like the murderer of fair women and innocent children. I remember that the tears were running over my cheeks. More than once I opened my mouth to countermand the work, but the face of Jobson, that grim Tishbite, held me back.—John Buchan, “The Grove of Ashtaroth,” The Moon Endureth: Tales and Fancies