Saturday, December 05, 2009


Life in Recession

Donald Culross Peattie, An Almanac for Moderns (December 5):
Not a flower now, and scarce a berry. Birds flown south, and insects gone; leaves all fallen, and the very sap in the trees descended to the roots; mammals and reptiles stolen away to their winter's rest. Everywhere life in recession, life like a flame turned low.

Now, perhaps, is the moment to catch napping the phenomenon life, and examine it to discover what it is. For of a brilliant summer day, with the air humming with midges, with every great tree expanding a full acre of green leaf surface to catch and employ the power of the sun, with mating and birth going on all around us, and the waters bringing forth and the very earth astir, a man can make little enough of it all. There is too much in summer—too much green, too much spawning, too much profusion of kind and form.

But in winter here is the problem in its least common denominators. No ant or bee is abroad to distract with questions of instinct and intelligence. The vine has ceased to grow; no need now to concern ourselves with tropism. The maggot is numb; touch him how you will, no reflex stirs him. Life is so still, almost we are persuaded that we can reduce it to structure and protoplasm, look up in the brilliance of the winter constellations and behold what structure they too have, sort out the elements of which life and the home of life are made, and test the poet's notion that

"All things by immortal power
Near or far
To each other linkèd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling a star."

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