Astute readers have noticed, along with the typo that created a Readling List rather than a Reading List,* a few wild card books nestled amongst the lit fiction and anthologies a while back. Maisie Goes to the Library for one (not the tea-cosy mystery I wish it was sometimes); The Wild Trees for another.
I try not to look at my gradual slide into reading more and more nonfiction as a clue that I should no longer write FICTION (I daily parse out the universe for these kinds of signs, ie: I left academia, therefore I must not really want a literary career, I like to cook now more than I like working on a novel, therefore I should hang it all up, I find it easier to sit down and write this blog than write fiction, therefore I am a real loser, etc).
An excerpt from The Wild Trees appeared in The New Yorker a while back, and it was one of those crazy-long articles I can settle into with satisfaction, as comfortable as a toddler with a necessary favorite blanket. (A sidenote: the other day, The Husband asked me who I thought was the demographic for The New Yorker and I replied that I didn’t know, but it certainly wasn’t anybody around here. This may be one reason I blog, so I can talk to my heart’s content about things I read in the New York Times or The New Yorker that elicit blank stares in my daily life.)
The Wild Trees is about the tallest redwoods in the U.S. and the botanists, sorta like the skate punks of the scientific world, who climb them. I hearby declare The Wild Trees my book of the month, because if nothing else, it renewed my deep appreciation for trees, an especially happy coincidence since this is the exact moment when the trees around here are shedding their leaves and tracing elegant chinoserie against the sky. Yesterday they swayed as the cold front approached, ships with masts and rigging headed for rough weather. Hold fast. Ease, swirl, reverse. Such a precise, polite minuet!
Reading The Wild Trees I began to remember trees I’d climbed as a child and realized what deep memories they might be, buried in my heartwood: a plum tree of greenish dappled space perfumed by the scent of sun-warmed ripe plums, a space made perilous by wasps, a place oddly adult-less, where we clambered and picked without regard for any rules. An elderly neighbor’s deodara cedar, with limbs as straight as floors, weeping sap like jewels from the braille the woodpeckers inscribed on its trunk.
I’m sure we never asked permission to climb! I’m sure my mother never knew how high we went!
Gradually, since I metamorphosed into A Mother, I’ve become a agitator for, and steward of, various outdoor spaces: the outdoor classrooms at both Girleen’s schools, the neglected city park down the street. And sometimes that expenditure of energy seems so unimportant, so suburban. If I was a serious person, I tell myself, I would be putting that energy elsewhere. There are wars being fought! Presidential candidates campaigning! (And of course, always the insectile hum in my brain: novels to be written).
All true. But even so, it somehow seems like it would be good for the world: if the Girleen’s generation had the opportunity and the freedom to climb trees.
*Maybe a Readling List is like a fledgling reading list: the kernel that contains the idea of what you’d like to be reading.