introducing readers to writers since 1995

August 18, 2005

Ginger Strand @ Macdowell, Redux

by Ron Hogan

gstrand.jpgGinger Strand, the author of Flight, sent me a "postcard" from the Macdowell Colony last week. That guest essay is now the second-highest ranking item when you Google her name, right behind her own home page! I'm delighted to get another note from her about what's been going on since then...

If a tree falls at MacDowell and everyone sees it, does it mean anything? That is what we had to ask ourselves last night.

Observed with due eloquence at dinner--"Oh my god, a tree just fell down!"--the downed tree was quickly surrounded by agog artists. A huge and stately white pine, the tree had divided itself at a rather low crotch, and what looked like one half of it had snapped off and crashed to the ground. We gaped. Trees are really very big when you suddenly see them horizontal.

I had been writing about deforestation for two weeks, and couldn't help but feel a flicker of fear--could I be personally responsible? Could my 27 pages on the decimation of white pines and silver firs have summoned a malignant spirit of tree-felling that was going to work on the Peterborough woods? Other explanations were floated: the tree was being choked by vines; lightning had struck it; illness had rotted it for years.

We couldn't help but speculate about what would have happened if the tree had fallen forty-eight hours earlier, on Medal Day, when a donor family had been spotted happily lunching in the sylvan poison-ivy grove beneath that very tree, oblivious to the fell doom poised just above them.

Earlier this summer, in Michigan, I came upon a hawk taking flight with a rabbit in its claws. Knowing the ancients would not fail to interpret such an obvious prognostication, I had muddled for weeks about this sign's meaning. Would my plane home fail to take flight for lack of wind? Should I inform my pilot? What did the bunny stand for, and what the hawk? Now, added to the hawk-bunny conundrum, there was the tree conundrum.

And then something funny happened. Slowly we drifted away from the tree. We finished dessert. We had postprandial cigarettes. We went to the library and watched a film made by one of our number. We laughed. We came back to Colony Hall and discussed sexual politics. We played a little pool. Eventually we drifted back to our studios or bedrooms to sleep, or read, or work.

The tree, we all seemed to realize, was a sign, but it wasn't a prognostication. It was more like a reminder of something we already knew, something built into the spirit of MacDowell. Expect the unexpected. Admire the world. It doesn't always work the way you think it will. Pay attention and you will see that sometimes water flows up, the sky falls, trees lie down at your feet. Sometimes you speak in the forest, and someone else hears you.

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