This was the sunset over the Bryson City Cemetery last night. I was the only one up there…snow still covering the entrance road:
I love old cemeteries. The older the better. I have a built in compass for them. What does it mean if you grieve for strangers? A pitted tombstone having been worn away from years of rain, ice and lichen growth. Timecapsules that will never be opened. This graveyard is high on a hill. But my home is on a higher hill and I can see the cemetery from my writing window. I wonder when we’ll run out of room for burying people.
We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees. – Annie Dillard
A woman came into the book store the other day. It was slow and we got to talking. She asked: Have you read Annie Dillard? I told her yes, that The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was in my top 10 list. She nodded and said well, I don’t know what Annie Dillard looks like, I’ve never seen a picture, but I imagine if I met her she might look like you. You have that vibe about you. When she said that…I couldn’t remember what Annie looked like either, except for the 1970’s picture on the front of my copy of Tinker Creek, and it looks more like a painting than a photo.
And then a few minutes later: She knows nothing about me except for the few words we’ve exchanged. Right now I’d say I resemble Scooby’s Shaggy, not Annie Dillard. I know I’ve been compared to Hilary Swank before but that’s probably because we both have big teeth.
When the woman left and I suddenly had the thought she might be Annie Dillard herself. She wore an outback style hat and a big warm coat. Annie would wear something like that. I mean, if I were Annie, I’d wear something like that. I’ve really never met anyone famous that I can quickly recall while writing this, except for Johnny Cash…but that was just in a dream. He grabbed my hand and said thanks for coming. He was old, older than anyone really remembers him. And he knew my name. Brett and Boo were walking to the park the other day and found a copy of The Life of Johnny Cash sitting right in the middle of the road. Isn’t that so strange? They brought it back for me and it sits on my shelf. “Winners got scars too” the cover reads. Printed in 1974, same year as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
No one ever said to me: you must read Annie Dillard. I’d pulled a random book off of a shelf , opened it up and was drawn deeply into its pages. The book was Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. And I thought: I have discovered this amazing Annie Dillard. But apparently everyone else already knew about her.
You know I bought and moved the old depot. Annie Dillard wrote An American Childhood in an old pine shed. In the back of my mind I think: My childhood will come back to me in an old pine shed. And I will write about it. Yes, I know it doesn’t work this way.
I went to pick up Boo from school today, but showed up as the only person in the carpool line, not knowing they extended the day to make up for the last few snow days. On the drive back I passed a woman standing alone in a parking lot….the lady from the book store. I waved at her and she waved back. I thought about turning around because maybe, just maybe, Annie Dillard had dyed her hair black and was posing as a backpacker right here in my small town. But I didn’t turn around.
At the end of An American Childhood, Annie asks:
What would you do if you had fifteen minutes to live before the bomb went off? Quick: What would you read?
I’d probably read Annie Dillard. Or maybe Janisse Ray. Janisse reminds me of Dillard. I don’t remember how I found Janisse’s books. Or maybe they found me. Maybe everyone else already knows about Janisse too. Better late than never.
I read the other day that scientists discovered a giant black hole 12 billion times more massive than the sun. But it’s not a new black hole…it’s been around since the dawn of time. Black holes eat matter. Half of me wants to know this information and the other doesn’t. There. Documented. 900 million years old. Better late than never.
“As a life’s work, I would remember everything – everything, against loss. I would go through life like a plankton net. […] Some days I felt an urgent responsibility to each change of light outside the sunporch windows.” -An American Childhood
Urgent responsibility to the change in light over the cemetery two days ago:
Sometimes it’s a cemetery. Sometimes it’s SDSS J010013.02 (the black hole that eats matter ya’ll).
P.S. Will try to get my “sometimes weekly letter” out tonight…but might be morning at the molasses rate I’m working today.