Unreal Nature

May 29, 2015

Sophisticated Fire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… this strange hoarding and burning at the heart of life still puzzled me.

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

… there are rocks in deserts that glow with heat for a time after sundown. Similar emanations may come from the writer or the scientist. The creative individual is someone upon whom mysterious rays have converged and are again reflected, not necessarily immediately, but in the course of years.

… The receptive mind makes all the difference, shadowing or lighting the original object.

[ … ]

… I have seen a tree root burst a rock face on a mountain or slowly wrench aside the gateway of a forgotten city. This is a very cunning feat, which men take too readily for granted. Life, unlike the inanimate, will take the long way round to circumvent barrenness. A kind of desperate will resides even in a root. It will perform the evasive tactics of an army, slowly inching its way through crevices and hoarding energy until someday it swells and a living tree upheaves the heaviest mausoleum.

… Some pages back I spoke of a wild-plum thicket. I did so because I had a youthful memory of visiting it in autumn. All the hoarded juices of summer had fallen with that lush untasted fruit upon the grass. The tiny engines of the plant had painstakingly gathered throughout the summer rich stores of sugar and syrup from the ground. Seed had been produced; birds had flown away with fruit that would give rise to plum trees miles away. The energy dispersion was so beneficent on that autumn afternoon that earth itself seemed anxious to promote the process against the downward guttering of the stars. Even I, tasting the fruit, was in my animal way scooping up some of it into thoughts and dreams.

Long after the Antillean adventure I chanced on an autumn walk to revisit the plum thicket. I was older, much older, and I had come largely because I wondered if the thicket was still there and because this strange hoarding and burning at the heart of life still puzzled me. I have spoken figuratively of fire as an animal, as being perhaps the very essence of animal. Oxidation, I mean, as it enters into life and consciousness.

Fire, as we have learned to our cost, has an insatiable hunger to be fed. It is a nonliving force that can even locomote itself. What if now — and I half closed my eyes against the blue plums and the smoke drifting along the draw — what if now it is only concealed and grown slyly conscious of its own burning in this little house of sticks and clay that I inhabit? What if I am, in some way, only a sophisticated fire that has acquired an ability to regulate its rate of combustion and to hoard its fuel in order to see and walk?

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

-Julie

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