It is, then, a small world there in the goldfish bow, and a very large one. Say the nucleus of any atom in the bowl were the size of a cherry pit; its nearest electron wold revolve around it one hundred and seventy-five yards away. A whirling air in his swim bladder balances the goldfish's weight in the water; his scales overlap, his feathery gills pump and filter; his eyes work, his heart beats, his liver absorbs, his muscles contract in a wave of extending ripples. The daphnias he eats have eyes and jointed legs. The algae the daphnias eat have green cells stacked like checkers or winding in narrow ribbons like spiral staircases up long columns of emptiness. And so on diminishingly down. We have not yet found the dot so small it is uncreated, as it were, like a metal blank, or merely roughed in--and we never shall. We go down landscape after mobile, sculpture after collage, down to molecular structures like a mob dance in Breughel, down to atoms airy and balanced as a canvas by Klee, down to atomic particles, the heart of the matter, as spirited and wild as any El Greco saints, And it all works. "Nature," said Thoreau in his journal, "is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work." The creator, I would add, churns out the intricate texture of least works that is the world with a spendthrift genius and an extravagance of care. This is the point.
Dillard loves focusing on the minutia of creation. Atoms and electrons and algae and dauphnias (which is a small freshwater crustacean used to feed aquarium fish). The tiniest matter of the universe, for Dillard, holds the key to understanding the universe. Rather than looking always to the stars to find the face of God, Dillard looks downward and inward. She finds divinity in the capillaries of a goldfish tail. Prophetical nature.
I, of course, agree with Dillard. You only have to look at the fractal landscape of an icicle to know that there's something more at work than frozen water. The creator, as Dillard says, invests as much genius in snowflakes as black holes. We are surrounded by extravagant design every day, and Dillard finds great inspiration in it.
I am not a biologist or physicist or naturalist. I appreciate nature in all of its complexity and beauty, could spend hours watching the breakers of Lake Superior on a stormy November day. On a daily basis, however, I am indoors a majority of the time, with little exposure to windows. Therefore, I must glean my daily inspiration from other sources. Most of time, those sources are writers.
For instance, at the moment, I am rereading a book by a friend and colleague of mine. It's called The Mad Feast, and it's a collection of essays about food. No, it's not a cookbook, although it does contain recipes. Matt, the author, sort of explodes the meaning of food. For instance, in an essay about Okie Sirloin (barbecued bologna), he contemplates the Dust Bowl, migration, and the evolution of the parking meter. It's weird and, at times, frustrating to read. But it excites me, the way, I imagine, listening to John Coltrane excites a jazz musician. It pushes the boundaries of food writing and travel writing and writing, in general.
Now, will I ever write like Matt? Probably not. It's just not me. However, reading his book gives me license to be weird, attempt things I wouldn't normally attempt. I have poems to write for an editor. Poems that are pushing me in an artistic direction that makes me a little uncomfortable. That's okay. This is the point of creation, to invest an extravagance of care in the least works. I need to surrender myself to that extravagance, the way Dillard and my friend, Matt, do.
Saint Marty is on the prowl for a little spendthrift genius tonight.