Friday, June 21, 2019

The Overstory: First Impressions and "Wild Orchard"

I’m afraid this won’t be a very rational post. I started reading Richard Powers’s The Overstory this week. I’ve read twenty-three pages: a prefatory section called “Roots,” and the first chapter, “Nicholas Hoel.” I read these twenty-three pages over two readings, with a few days in between, because it was so good I waited to pick it up again until I could give undivided attention. Twenty-three pages. In them: a saga that stretches over almost a century. Four generations of a family and a story about the chestnut tree brought west as a seed. Twenty-three pages full of characters and yet, I cared about each one. I cared deeply about that tree. Actually, I cared, already, about all trees. There were so many wonderful things happening in those pages and as I read, I couldn’t believe the things that were possible with words: descriptions, humanity, rhythm, emotion, so many universal, a-ha moments. Really. And at the end of the first chapter, I cried. I know that sounds very dramatic but I did. Like the way you’d cry if you saw a baby born, or a particularly impressive natural phenomenon your mind almost can’t process. Or an exquisite painting. Or how you'd cry if you just read fiction that fuels the part of you that believes in the boundless ability of words to touch hearts and souls, that part of you that has always believed but sometimes forgets, for a while.

I don’t know if the next 480ish pages will be able to maintain this level of wonder for me, but for now, I’m loving The Overstory, irrationally. Obviously.
This chapter also deals with the history of the chestnut blight in America, which you can learn about by watching this brief video:


And now, as promised, your first tree poem...


Wild Orchard

by William Carlos Williams

It is a broken country,
the rugged land is
green from end to end;
the autumn has not come.

Embanked above the orchard
the hillside is a wall
of motionless green trees,
the grass is green and red.

Five days the bare sky
has stood there day and night.
No bird, no sound.
Between the trees

and the early morning light.
The apple trees
are laden down with fruit.

Among blue leaves
the apples green and red
upon one tree stand out
most enshrined.

Still, ripe, heavy,
spherical and close,
they mark the hillside.
It is a formal grandeur,

a stateliness,
a signal of finality
and perfect ease.
Among the savage

aristocracy of rocks
one, risen as a tree,
has turned
from his repose.


1 comment:

  1. The book sounds emotionally satisfying. Thanks also for the William Carlos Williams poem.
    In the Bavarian village I grew up in we had plenty of aged Chestnut trees. As children we used to collect the shiny Konkers for the Forester to feed the deer. We also collected Maikäfers (cockchafers ?) and organised races between them :)


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka