Without going out of your door You can know all things on earth Without looking out of your window You could know the ways of heaven The farther one travels The less one knows The less one really knows

Arrive without traveling See all without looking Do all without doing

—George Harrison, The Inner Light


“He went to the Arctic—as to the Antarctic, the Pacific north-west, Australia, the Galapagos, Africa—with the mental preparation of a scientist. Though he had not been trained as one, he had read widely, and could deploy anthropology, geology, biology and physics as they were needed. But he also deployed the eye of the boy who had wandered the creeks and rocks of the San Fernando Valley, and whose greatest joy had been to watch his pigeons flying. The book that resulted from his trip, “Arctic Dreams” (1986), carefully analysed the crystalline structure of rocks and ice, the habits of seals and the thermodynamic function of the hair of polar bears, but delighted equally in the still-mysterious: the life of the narwhal, less known than the rings of Saturn, or the migration of snow geese, which made him feel transcendent when he camped among them. Rationalism, charts and data sets could go only so far. They could not answer his abiding questions: how landscape shaped the people who lived in it, their ethics and imaginations, and how people’s aspirations, in turn, affected landscape, until they were as much a part of it as the creatures were, or as the wind was. Science could not explain how some landscapes bestowed grace on the beholder, and called out goodness.”

— “Barry Lopez died on December 25th,” The Economist, January 2, 2021


“There are so many things I understand now,” she said. “All the people who love me and how hard this has been for them, the cancer. I could see them—my family and my friends. I felt their love for me. I could see what they needed and what they’d given me. I could see Ken and how he’s always been there for me, how he steps back to let me shine. I could see what the cancer’s given me. If it hadn’t been for the cancer, I never would have come here. I wouldn’t have had this time with you and Karl. That’s worth everything.”

“So it really was what they said, a definitive spiritual experience?” She’d seen people. She had felt their love and heard their voices while I was hacking up snakes in some pitch-black cauldron of lava at the center of the earth.

“Absolutely. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. Did you have a hard time?”

“I had a hard time.”

“What was it like?”

“Death,” I said. I didn’t say, Your death. I didn’t say, This thing you live with every minute, this heaving horse’s skull, I held it for you today so that you could talk it out with the people who love you. I had set my intention going in: I wanted to help my friend. In making the journey to Oz, she had found the strength and clarity she needed to go home again.

—Ann Patchett, “These Precious Days,” Harper's, January 2021


“Maria Fernandes died at the age of thirty-two while sleeping in her car in a Wawa parking lot in New Jersey. It was the summer of 2014, and she worked low-wage jobs at three different Dunkin’ Donuts, and slept in her Kia in between shifts, with the engine running and a container of gasoline in the back, in case she ran out. In the locked car, still wearing her white-and-brown Dunkin’ Donuts uniform, she died from gasoline and exhaust fumes. A Rutgers professor called her “the real face of the recession.” Fernandes had been trying to sleep between shifts, but all kinds of workers were spending hours in their cars, waiting for shifts.”

— Jill Lepore, “What’s Wrong with the Way We Work,” the New Yorker, Jan. 11 2021


“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged— the same house, the same people— and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.”

— Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1951


“In a world where the past and future have so little importance, the dead were also soon forgotten, their spirits left to loiter while their bodies and others' memories of them dissolved into the sand pits in which they were buried. Nobody sought to define themselves according to who their ancestors were, or reckoned their identity or entitlement in terms of ancient lineages stretching back in time. There was no need to. Like the other animals they shared the world with, their presence was entitlement enough.”

— James Suzman, Affluence without Abundance, 2017


“Located in a limestone plateau of the Ardèche River in southern France, the property contains the earliest-known and best-preserved figurative drawings in the world, dating back as early as the Aurignacian period (30,000–32,000 BP), making it an exceptional testimony of prehistoric art. The cave was closed off by a rock fall approximately 20,000 years BP and remained sealed until its discovery in 1994, which helped to keep it in pristine condition. Over 1,000 images have so far been inventoried on its walls, combining a variety of anthropomorphic and animal motifs. Of exceptional aesthetic quality, they demonstrate a range of techniques including the skilful use of shading, combinations of paint and engraving, anatomical precision, three-dimensionality and movement. They include several dangerous animal species difficult to observe at that time, such as mammoth, bear, cave lion, rhino, bison and auroch, as well as 4,000 inventoried remains of prehistoric fauna and a variety of human footprints.”

Source: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1426/


“Next to Paul’s head was a clear plastic stick, flat and about a foot long, with a pen attached to the end of it. His father crafted a stick like this when Paul was a child, and he has been using versions of it since. He clamps the end of the stick in his mouth and manipulates the pen to write, type and push buttons on the phone; he used it to sign the hospital’s waiver allowing him to talk to me, although he bristled at having to sign anything at all to tell me his own story. “That is the most ridiculous thing,” he grumbled. Paul’s teeth are flattened and worn from years of using the stick. Though his body inside the lung is scarcely larger than it was when he was a child and his muscles atrophied, his neck measures 18 inches around and his jaw muscles bulge.”

— Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, “The man in the iron lung,” The Guardian May 26, 2020