Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"...Place..." by Diane Lee Moomey

To enjoy a book I have to trust the writer.  Only then can I give in to her power.  Sometimes trust is easy - a voice sounding just like my own, or not like mine but amply  warm or authentic or engaging.  Sometimes the voice is first contact with a mind utterly different than my own but clearly onto something - such as the voice of Diane Lee Moomey.

And trust her I do.  She is kindred to the voices of Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard.  I’ve read her book three times now and will surely return again.  The book is called . . . Place . . . and that’s what it’s about: her lifelong search for …place… a state of mind, a home - not a structure or location but a spot in the spiritual and physical universe.

The power of the book is largely indirect, cumulative.  There are the people: James, her companion homesteader on their frozen one hundred hectares of Canadian Shield, gatherer of maple sap, a man she never fully reveals perhaps out of kindness, perhaps out of sorrow.  There is Marcel, a farmer who rides his tractor while composing poetry in his head, who sells candles at a fair where Diane sells porcelain eggs.  “When the fair is over… Marcel kisses me in front of everyone: a surprise kiss; a stong, hard kiss, beyond Quebec-polite.  This is not an invitation; it is a statement.  We could live Here together and do very well.” 

There is Evan, “another one of those rock-star potters that Ontario is famous for,” from whom she buys clay, with whom she shares a kiln and an attraction.  She says, “As Marcel is actually not wind, but the door through which wind blows, so Evan is not fire, but the kiln that contains it.”

And there is Will:  “Wherever he goes, he carries the presence of those red trees with him; the slow, tenacious movements of vines and of root hairs.  Winds do not blow him down; earthquakes do not topple him…  He moves like a plant, and thinks like one, too.  Days or weeks will go by with no apparent activity, then suddenly comes a flurry of blossoms, a setting of fruit.”

To read this book is to feel in your body - to your very core - how it is to walk (carefully) at midnight, sixty degrees below zero, in the Laurentiens: “No wind will blow; no snow will fall; storms move only in the much warmer regions near zero.  Smoke from chimneys will rise straight up, skies will be clear, stars clean and sharp.  Beneath the snow, Mouse and Shrew may sleep, may move about in tiny tunnels.  Above the snow, no sensible creature…” 

You will feel the dry heat of the noonday desert sun that paradoxically leaves you drenched: “I can feel the thin, high vibration of the ultraviolet seeping beneath arm hairs, altering my cells, changing my skin forever.” 

You will learn the smell of water, the personality of granite.  When a blue jay becomes trapped in your house, you will calm her with a spontaneous language:  “'Chikachikachik,' I continue, and walk slowly to the open door, carrying her in front of me.  As soon as she sniffs the plein air, she shoves off the dowel with surprising force and is gone.  I think, absurdly, of aliens coming to rescue earthlings as we flap against our own glass ceiling…”

You will swim naked at midnight in a small Adirondack lake:

On sudden impulse, I upend myself and dolphin-dive into the dark water, eyes open, pushing down as far as I can.  My fingertips brush the cold layer six feet beneath the surface.

I am not prepared.

Utter emptiness surrounds me.  This water is not simply dark, it is void.  It is nil, it is naught, it is no-thing and no-where.  It has no up and down, no cool and no warm.  It is the dark of the moon, the moment in the night before the dreams begin.  I feel no Presence or Non-Presence, nothing to comfort or to threaten, but all the same I thrash my way quickly back to the surface, splash hastily back to the shore, wrap myself in the towel and sit shivering on the dock.

I have seen my face before my parents were born.

Eventually from her birth on Canadian bedrock she comes to the Pacific Coast, a land crackling above the tectonic Ring of Fire, a land of “loose and temperamental stuff.  The occasional massive boulder on the surface is the black bear in the snowdrift, the swimming pool in the desert - astonishing by the mere fact of its appearance.”  To her surprise, it is Home.

Diane Lee Moomey settled for many years in La Honda, California.  Now she lives in nearby El Granada.  She designs gardens and is a frequent reader at Sullivan’s Lit Night in La Honda.  Perhaps one night, she’ll read this poem (from …Place…):


i drive the coast.
at the fault line,
soft ragged cliffs need only
a couple of richters
to go sliding into the sea.
i park here,
spread my blanket, picnic lunch.

deep beneath me,
rocks could wake, stretch,
roll over in their sleep.
they could, they could do it now.

i could drive on,
out of harm’s way,
but i won’t.

no, i don’t know why.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, What a beautiful review! It so clearly speaks to the spirit and soul of the book, which is not easy to do in this case. I loved Place and see that you did too.