wherein middlemarch is slammed shut

Yesterday I was in the dining room with a copy of Middlemarch sprawled open on a table, staring out the window. My daughter was asleep. Finally a moment to myself. Outside, in the front yard, a large tree, a majestic Chinese Elm, more than 40-years old, shivered in the wind. Although the weather was gray and drear, I was indescribably happy, so happy I couldn’t read. I could only stare and smile. If it’s true that “A poet is someone who thinks about something else,” then I was an abstracted poet, indeed. I had gone elsewhere entire. Pangs of happiness are intense but fleeting. I’ve had them before; they cluster around simple dear necessities: hiking in remote places, eating and drinking good food, watching my kids do perfectly kid-worthy things and reading, always reading. How many times have I slammed a book shut from happiness! On the inadequacy of words, I’m reminded, paradoxically enough, of this passage: “…he felt close to the sort of secrets he often caught himself wondering about, the revelations of which he only ever realized he had been in the proximity, and the phenomenon of becoming conscious, was the very thing that whisked him away, so that any bit of insight or gleaning was available only in retrospect, as a sort of afterglow that remained but that was not accessible through words.”

Postscript. Incidentally, the Chinese Elm is also known as the Lacebark Elm, presumably because its bark sheds in long strips with often intriguing designs. My son, 3, ever the searcher of tasty metaphors, simply calls the bark “bacon” and collects it as though he were a stone-age hunter and gatherer. Behind a smile, he gnaws on it and says “bacon” again, just in case I’ve forgotten.


4 Responses to wherein middlemarch is slammed shut

  1. Colleen says:

    “Pangs of happiness”–yes, exactly. Me too. For the same reasons, mostly, except your hiking is my cycling.

  2. Lovely post Kevin. Those feelings of utter contentment or happiness are special and worth waiting for aren’t they? I love the paradox of reading leading to such happiness but resulting it one putting one’s book down as a result! Similar things give me such pangs too … the other is a sense that the world is full of possibilities (a rare feeling I know if we start to look at the real problems that see to be everywhere but, nonetheless, philosophically it is so!)

    BTW We have a Chinese Elm outside our bedroom – which I love for its spreading habit. I’d never heard of it called a Lacebark but I do love its bark. I looked up Wikipedia to see whether Lacebark was a subspecies but they don’t say it is, so maybe ours is a Lacebark as well. My point though is that in the Wikipedia description is the following sentence: “The samara is mostly glabrous”. Now that’s a sentence I want to say in the future!

    • I love the Chinese Elm. My only complaint is that in the summer months after a rapid warm up large boughs will pop and come crashing down. It’s a very distinctive sound. You can hear it blocks away. Two years ago, my wife having just parked under the elm, we heard the tell-tale pop. Leaves shimmered down, and then an enormous limb crashed on her car, blowing out the windows, bending the axles and totaling the car. That beautiful tree has cost me some money. As for glabrous, it’s glamorous.

      • Oh dear … ours isn’t as big as that yet. There is a lovely subspecies here – I’m not sure what it’s called – that has been used in some of our major roads. It has a gorgeous almost salmon coloured bark and there are many very tall, big ones. I must watch out for them as I’m driving by!

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