Unreal Nature

May 8, 2015

Eaten of Its Marrow

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:27 am

… its cold is in his bones.

This is from the essay ‘The Angry Winter’ found in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… “The human brain,” meditated the snowbound philosopher, “is the kernel which the winter itself matures.” The winter, he thought, tended to concentrate and extend the power of the human mind.

“The winter,” Thoreau continued, “is thrown to us like a bone to a famished dog, and we are expected to get the marrow out of it.” In foreshortened perspective Thoreau thus symbolically prefigured man’s passage through the four long glacial seasons, from which we have indeed painfully learned to extract the marrow. Although Thoreau had seen the scratches left by the moving ice across Mount Monadnock, even to recording their direction, he was innocent of their significance. What he felt was a sign of his intuitive powers alone. He sensed uncannily the opening of a damp door in a remote forest, and he protested that nature was too big for him, that it was, in reality, a playground for giants.

Nor was Thoreau wrong. Man is the product of a very unusual epoch in earth’s history, a time when the claws of a vast dragon, the glacial ice, groped fumbling toward him across a third of the world’s land surface and blew upon him the breath of an enormous winter. It was a world of elemental extravagance, assigned by authorities to scarcely one percent of earth’s history and labeled “geo-catastrophic.” For over a million years man, originally a tropical orphan, has wandered through age-long snowdrifts or been deluged by equally giant rains.

He has been present at the birth of mountains. He has witnessed the disappearance of whole orders of life and survived the cyclonic dust clouds that blew in the glacial winds off the receding ice fronts.

[image from Wikipedia]

[ … ]

… As Thoreau anticipated, man has been matured by winter; he has survived its coming, and has eaten of its marrow. But its cold is in his bones. The child will partake always of the parent, and that parent is the sleeping dragon whose kingdom we hold merely upon sufferance and whose vagaries we have yet to endure.

My most recent previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.




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