Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two for The Watcher

Sometimes the work of a fellow blogger so moves us we simply must comment. Other times, it may trigger something that's too involved for the mere comments field on the subject post. Such has been the case lately for me. A couple of The Watcher's recent posts triggered memories of a favorite author, Loren Eiseley. I've no idea whether The Watcher reads or has ever read Eiseley, but I want to share a couple tidbits of Eiseley's work with you.

Inspired by The Watcher’s post of December 30th on why birds are “God’s favorite children”, I wanted to contribute another reason—they OWN the planet.
It happens every spring and nobody seems to take any notice at all. There are no congressional investigations, no cross-examinations of witnesses before television, no one hurls himself out of a window. Nevertheless, it happens every spring and there is no doubt that it smacks of sheer communism. I refer to the expropriation and reassignment of land in these states and the incredible way in which even city properties fall victim to it. Yesterday morning I could hear conversations about it just outside my window, and somebody over my rooftop was expropriating in at least half-mile sections. … The whole thing smacks of subversion and disrespect for the laws of private property. It may well merit an investigation. It should begin by a thorough and painstaking investigation of the birds.

—Loren Eiseley, from The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley (K. Heuer, ed.)

I suspect he was under the influence of the McCarthy hearings when he wrote that one, don't you? Perhaps that explains why this vignette was (I believe) never published. Fellow Eiseley fan Gary Raham (see below) suspects Eiseley would not have wanted the unfinished material in his notebooks to see light, but such is often the fate of the illustrious. I only regret that I can't share the incredible sketches of The Lost Notebooks with you as well. If you're a follower of Eiseley's work, you need to see this book!

Inspired by The Watcher’s post of January 18th, in which he waxes poetic about exozoochory (we love that word!), here's Eiseley’s own eloquent testimony on seed dispersal:
When I climb I almost always carry seeds with me in my pocket. Often I like to carry sunflower seeds, or an acorn, or any queer “sticktight” that has a way of gripping fur or boot tops as if it had a deliberate eye on the Himalayas and meant to use the intelligence of others to arrive at them. More than one lost mountaineer lying dead at the bottom of a crevasse has proved that his sole achievement in life was to inch some plant a half-mile further toward the moon. His body may have been scarcely cold before that illicit transported seed had been getting a foothold beneath him on a patch of stony ground or writhing its way into a firm engagement with the elements on the moisture of his life’s blood. I have carried such seeds up the sheer walls of mesas and I have never had illusions that I was any different to them than a grizzly’s back or a puma’s paw.

—Loren Eiseley, from The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley (K. Heuer, ed.), though I suspect this one may have been published in an essay somewhere

Leaving aside his disregard for the evils of introducing plants where plant dictators (like FF) think they don’t belong, I’ve always appreciated Eiseley’s writing for its poetic combination of science, introspection, observation, and outright nature mysticism. It’s an appreciation I share with one of my research enthusiasms, Paul B. Sears, who wrote in a review of Eiseley’s The Mind as Nature:
It is well that we are increasingly respectful of quantitative method and its results. But this respect should never blind us to the fact that no man [or other living thing] is a mere statistic. There is an essential place, not least in science, for those precisely individual accounts, too often lightly—even scornfully—dismissed as “anecdotal.”

—Paul B. Sears, 1963, The Exception is the Rule, American Scholar 32(2):321-322.

Foothills Fancies, you’ve perhaps noticed, is all about anecdotal! Though far less eloquently than Loren Eiseley, who by the way is the topic of an upcoming talk here in the area (and wasn't that a smooth seque):

Wednesday, Jan. 27, 7:00 p.m., "Fireside Chat" sponsored by the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge: “Loren Eiseley – A Poet Wearing the Fox Skins of a Scientist,” by Gary Raham; Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center, 16831 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison.

Loren Eiseley (1907-1977) wrote for Harper's Magazine and Atlantic Monthly, penned best selling books, both non-fiction and poetry, but also served as Provost and Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1960, his The Firmament of Time only lost out to the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for the National Book Award. As a graduate student he discovered a Folsom Point embedded in the vertebra of the extinct Bison antiquus at the Lindenmeier site north of Fort Collins. Yet he struggled his entire career to find the balance between the objective pursuit of science and exercising his ability to explain and dramatize science with the written word. He felt awe contemplating deep time and man's place in the natural world. This event is not recommended for children.

Note: Illustrations, from a collection I did years ago, are copyright S.L. White and not to be used without permission, as are photographs. Thanks!


Watcher said...

Thank you Sally I'm flattered. And embarrassed, as no I haven't read Eiseley, but will do so- he totally sounds like my kind of guy. Once again you have expanded my universe. Thanks and great post.

Kenton and Rebecca said...

Hello Sally,

Loren Eiseley is one of our favorite authors, and we simply can't get enough of his writing. It truly transports you as you read. Thank you for introducing more people to his words!

Dave Coulter said...

Eiseley was one of my brother's favorite writers and I have the "Lost Notebook..." on my shelf. I guess I'd better dig into to it!