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On his twenty-first birthday, he was asked where he wished to go in the world, to which he immediately responded ‘Otago’—knowing that the rushes in Victoria had abated, and having long been enamoured of the idea of the prospector’s life, which he conceived of in terms quixotic and alchemical. He saw the metal shining, unseen, undiscovered, upon some lonely beach of some uncharted land; he saw the moon rising full and yellow over the open sea; he saw himself riding on horseback through the shallows of a creek, and sleeping on the bare earth, and running water through a wooden cradle, and twining digger’s dough around a stick to bake above the embers of a fire. What a fine thing it would be, he thought, to be able to say that one’s fortune was older than all the ages of men and history; to say that one had chanced upon it, had plucked it from the earth with one’s own bare hands.
– From “The Luminaries,” by Eleanor Catton
I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.
Eugh, said Crow, you sound like a fridge magnet.
– From “Grief is the Thing With Feathers,” by Max Porter
The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a pile of ash. But everyone knew that it was only an illusion. The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish; to become so thoroughly lost that they might never have existed in the first place.
– From “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” by Michael Chabon
But for now it’s goodbye to the beaches, and indeed many a celebrated island of yore now lies deep under the waves. An entire world and way of life has disappeared with these fabled places, a lifeway that went right back to the beginning of the species in south and east Africa, where the earliest humans were often intimately involved with the sea. That wet, sandy, tidal, salty, sun-flecked, beautiful beach life: all gone, along with so much else, of course; animals, plants, fish. It’s part of the mass extinction event they are still struggling to end, to escape. So much has been lost that will never come back again, that the loss of the joy of the relatively few humans who were lucky enough to live on the strand, who combed the beaches, and fished, and rode the waves, and lay in the sun – that’s nothing much to grieve for, given everything else that has been lost, all the suffering, all the hunger, all the death, all the extinctions. Most of the mammal species are gone.
Still, it was a way of life much beloved, and still remembered in art and song, image and story – still legendary, still a lost golden age, vibrating at some level below thought, there in their salty blood and tears, in the long, curled waves of DNA that still break inside them all.
– From “Aurora,” by Kim Stanley Robinson
In those days, even in European countries, death had a solemn social importance. It was not regarded as a moment when certain bodily organs ceased to function, but as a dramatic climax, a moment when the soul made its entrance into the next world, passing in full consciousness through a lowly door to an unimaginable scene. Among the watchers there was always the hope that the dying man might reveal something of what he alone could see; that his countenance, if not his lips, would speak, and on his features would fall some great light or shadow from beyond. The “Last Words” of great men, Napoleon, Lord Byron, were still printed in gift-books, and the dying murmurs of every common man or woman were listened for and treasured by their neighbours and kinsfolk. These sayings, no matter how unimportant, were given oracular significance and pondered by those who must one day go the same road.
– From “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” by Willa Cather
“Couldn’t you stop on for just this year?” suggested the Water Rat, wistfully. “We’ll all do our best to make you feel at home. You’ve no idea what good times we have here, while you are far away.”
“I tried ‘stopping on’ one year,” said the third swallow. “I had grown so fond of the place that when the time came I hung back and let the others go on without me. For a few weeks it was all well enough, but afterwards, O the weary length of the nights! The shivering, sunless days! The air so clammy and chill, and not an insect in an acre of it! No, it was no good; my courage broke down, and one cold, stormy night I took wing, flying well inland on account of the strong easterly gales. It was snowing hard as I beat through the passes of the great mountains, and I had a stiff fight to win through; but never shall I forget the blissful feeling of the hot sun again on my back as I sped down to the lakes that lay so blue and placid below me, and the taste of my first fat insect! The past was like a bad dream; the future was all happy holiday as I moved southwards week by week, easily, lazily, lingering as long as I dared, but always heeding the call! No, I had had my warning; never again did I think of disobedience.”
“Ah, yes, the call of the South, of the South!” twittered the other two dreamily. “Its songs, its hues, its radiant air! O, do you remember…” and, forgetting the Rat, they slid into passionate reminiscence, while he listened fascinated, and his heart burned within him. In himself, too, he knew that it was vibrating at last, that chord hitherto dormant and unsuspected. The mere chatter of these southern-bound birds, their pale and second-hand reports, had yet power to awaken this wild new sensation and thrill him through and through with it; what would one moment of the real thing work in him – one passionate touch of the real southern sun, one waft of the authentic odour? With closed eyes he dared to dream a moment in full abandonment, and when he looked again the river seemed steely and chill, the green fields grey and lightless. Then his loyal heart seemed to cry out on his weaker self for its treachery.
“Why do you ever come back, then, at all?” he demanded of the swallows jealously. “What do you find to attract you in this poor drab little country?”
“And do you think,” said the first swallow, “that the other call is not for us too, in its due season? The call of lush meadow-grass, wet orchards, warm, insect-haunted ponds, of browsing cattle, of haymaking, and all the farm-buildings clustering round the House of the perfect Eaves?”
“Do you suppose,” asked the second one, “that you are the only living thing that craves with a hungry longing to hear the cuckoo’s note again?”
“In due time,” said the third, “we shall be homesick once more for quiet water-lilies swaying on the surface of an English stream. But today all that seems pale and thin and very far away. Just now our blood dances to other music.”
– From “The Wind In The Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame
That night, though, far out into the North Atlantic, there were no lights to be seen, for there was no shipping. The deep-water lanes that ducted the big freighters stayed much closer to the Lewis mainland. There was the Hebridean, 500 yards or so off our port stern, its green starboard lamp winking as it rose and fell in the waves. Otherwise, the only lights were celestial. The star-patterns, the grandiose slosh of the Milky Way. Jupiter, blazing low to the east, so brightly that it laid a lustrous track across the water, inviting us to step out onto its swaying surface. The moon, low, a waxing half, richly coloured – a red butter moon, setting down its own path on the water. The sea was full of luminescent plankton, so behind us purled our wake, a phosphorescent line of green and yellow bees, as if the hull were setting a hive aswarm beneath us. We were at the convergence of many paths of light, which flexed and moved with us as we headed north.
– From “The Old Ways,” by Robert MacFarlane
He suddenly felt the intense sad loveliness of being as being, apart from right or wrong: that, indeed, the mere fact of being was the ultimate right. He began to love the land under him with a fierce longing, not because it was good or bad, but because it was: because of the shadows of the corn stocks on a golden evening; because the sheep’s tails would rattle when they ran, and the lambs, sucking, would revolve their tails in little eddies; because the clouds in daylight would surge it into light and shade; because the squadrons of green and golden plover, worming in pasture fields, would advance in short, unanimous charges, head to wind; because the spinsterish herons, who keep their hair up with fish bones according to David Garnett, would fall down in a faint if a boy could stalk them and shout before he was seen; because the smoke from homesteads was a blue beard straying into heaven; because the stars were brighter in puddles than in the sky; because there were puddles, and leaky gutters, and dung hills with poppies on them; because the salmon in the rivers suddenly leaped and fell; because the chestnut buds, in the balmy wind of spring, would jump out of their twigs like jacks-in-boxes, or like little spectres holding up green hands to scare him; because the jackdaws, building, would hang in the air with branches in their mouths, more beautiful than any ark-returning dove; because, in the moonlight there below, God’s greatest blessing to the world was stretched, the silver gift of sleep.
– From “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White
She drifted broadside to the gentle north wind about ten miles outside of the north-bound tanker lanes, gay looking in her fresh white and green, against the dark, blue Gulf Stream water. There were patches of sun-yellowed Sargasso weed floating in the water near her that passed slowly in the current going to the north and east, while the wind overcame some of the launch’s drift as it set her steadily further out into the stream. There was no sign of life on her although the body of a man showed, rather inflated looking, above the gunwale, lying on a bench over the port gasoline tank and, from the long seat alongside the starboard gunwale, a man seemed to be leaning over to dip his hand into the sea. His head and arms were in the sun and at the point where his fingers almost touched the water, there was a school of small fish, about two inches long, oval-shaped, golden-coloured, with faint purple stripes, that had deserted the gulf weed to take shelter in the shade the bottom of the drifting launch made in the water, and each time anything dripped down into the sea, these fish rushed at the drop and pushed and milled until it was gone.
– from “To Have and Have Not,” by Ernest Hemingway
“Every now and again I have to sack a decent copper for police brutality, and I do sack them, you may be sure of that, for doing what the average member of the public might do if they were brave enough and if they had seen the dying child, or the remains of the old woman. They would do it to restore in their mind the balance of terror. Often the law treats them gently, if it worries about them at all, but a copper, now, he’s a lawman – certainly if he works for me – and that means his job stops at the arrest, Mister Stratford. So what’s stopping me from squeezing the life out of a murderer who has broken into the room he thought would hold my little boy with, oh, dear me, such a lot of little knives? Why will I squeeze him only to unconsciousness, while despising myself for every fragment of breath I begrudge him? I’ll tell you, mister, that what stands between you and sudden death right now is the law you don’t acknowledge.”
– from “Snuff,” by Terry Pratchett