Dillard and Roosevelt: Fecundity & Death

Reading this leads me to previous thoughts on Dillard’s Fecundity:

Annie Dillard on Life, Fecundity, Chance, and Death:

I don’t know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day include our own cheap lives. Every glistening egg is a memento mori.


As far as lower animals go, if you lead a simple life you probably face a boring death. Some animals, however, lead such complicated lives that not only do the chances for any one animal’s death at any minute multiply greatly but so also do the varieties of the deaths it might die. The ordained paths of some animals are so rocky they are preposterous. The horsehair worm in the duck pond, for instance, wriggling so serenely near the surface, is the survivor of an impossible series of squeaky escapes.


Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me. This is easy to write, easy to read, and hard to believe. The words are simple, the concept clear–but you don’t believe it, do you? Nor do I. How could I, when we’re both so lovable?


The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to. It is a covenant to which every thing, even every hydrogen atom, is bound. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die; you cannot have mountains and creeks without space, and space is a beauty married to a blind man. The blind man is Freedom, or Time, and he does not go anywhere without his great dog Death. The world came into being with the signing of the contract. A scientist calls it the Second Law of Thermodynamics. A poet says, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/ Drives my green age.” This is what we know. The rest is gravy.

Annie Dillard’s writings and words are some of the loveliest I’ve ever had the privilege and joy in reading.
Reading Dillard, you feel like a chaste and joy-filled pilgrim sauntering along next to a gurgling creek in this freshly-hued natural world. But make no mistake: Dillard does not just tinker with pretty words; her beautifully-crafted sentences are stitched together rigorously with the strongest sinews of cool logic and understanding of the natural sciences.

A robust rejoinder to Dillard’s musings may be from that Great Hunter alpha male and lover of Life, Theodore Roosevelt:

“Only those who are fit to live do not fear to die. And none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same great adventure.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s words above were a mantra I chanted constantly to myself when I was a kid, usually when I was on my BMX bike perched atop a steep slope which none of the neighbourhood kids dared to ride down, or tipping off the edge on my skateboard into the biggest Tunnel of Death (more like a monsoon drain); all the while sweating buckets of cold fear and hoping this would not be my last ride…

The quote was a mantra I lived by, until I received another set of encyclopedia which sets out Roosevelt’s life in more detail and left me decidedly less enamored of this cuddly teddy.

[Memories… One volume from that encyclopedia series was probably my most treasured reading in those early years, titled: “God, Gold and Glory”.
Curiously, of all the history (modern, classical, pre-) reading I was doing in those days, none affected me to the extent that this particular volume did. I wept, lamented and raged for the peoples of a south america who was oceans, continents, centuries, customs and even further, away from where I was. For a long time, the dirtiest word in my dictionary was Conquistadors.
Strange, the things that can take a child’s fancy…

Later, I was to put all those feelings into an essay titled: Chichen Itza, part of my wistful Angus Ross Prize dreams…