The crows in this part of Madison (where I am with the “grands”) were making a ruckus this morning, which often means one thing–great horned owls, specifically the pair that have made a home in a willow tree in Sarah’s back yard. So I went out searching and watched one fly over my head and land in the tree, sit right next to its mate. Were they staring at me as I stared at them? Even from my distant perspective on the ground, they are huge, Powerful, birds — from another sphere in this world. I wanted to ask, “What news? What news are you bringing? Let’s have it.”
In the meantime, I have this quote from Walker Evans, by way of Phyllis Root:
Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.
I had an eavesdropping experience yesterday, reading The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell. I was actually fulfilling an assignment from Marsha Qualey for our work revising the Required Reading List at Hamline. We wanted to be sure this book from the 60s still deserved a place on the list.
My vote is yes! First, the epigraph, “Say what you like, but such things do happen–not often, but they do happen.” What a wonderful invitation to magic!
Jarrell takes his time putting this family of hunter, mermaid, bear, lynx, and boy together. And that might be a problem for readers looking for action. But there’s an atmosphere to the book that builds, through tone, through taking one’s time, through detail–the mermaid’s burbling language, the lynx’s careful washing of the Hunter and the Mermaid, who says of the freshly-polished hunter, “If I hadn’t lived with you so long, I don’t know whether I’d recognize you. He’s got you so you just gleam.” The family is a world unto itself. Jarrell has built this world. They are all each other needs. There’s no getting and spending, no longing for more. It’s a kind of Eden. When I was done, that world colored mine, shaded it with wanting to slow down, look more closely, stare.
Stare. Let’s, and report back. The crows are at it again. Must go.