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…
]

3 thoughts on “Dillard and Roosevelt: Fecundity & Death

  1. While tapping out the Fecundity & Death post above, the images (and music) I have running in my head are so clear and forthcoming, I have no choice but to reference it here.

    From Peter Gabriel’s Digging In The Dirt (1992).
    [Amongst the strongest images I retained from the growing years…
    Ahh, good old stop-motion animation.

    The real question is: Which came first in my mind, Dillard’s delightfully fecund/fertile words, or Gabriel’s richly composted images?
    ]

    “Digging In The Dirt”

    Something in me, dark and sticky
    All the time it’s getting strong
    No way of dealing with this feeling
    Can’t go on like this too long

    Heh…I can never forget the mushroom-spores grave man at 3.50.

    And the maggots and flesh returning to skeletal hands and bones at 4.10 — a scene straight out of the Bible (Ezekiel 37: The Valley of Dry Bones).

    I loved it.

  2. Ezekiel 37

    The Valley of Dry Bones

    1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
    I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

    4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

    7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

    9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

    11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”

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