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As Edward Abbey puts it in Desert Solitaire: “Nobody particularly enjoys the role of troublemaker.But when most writers are unwilling to take chances, afraid to stick their necks out on any issue, then a few have to take on the burden of all and do more than their share.” My cat is dying and I want to tell you the truth about Annie Dillard: she sucks and apparently no one else wants to say it.
Take, for instance (I’m picking at random here) “Schedules” from Best American Essays 1989, in which “Sometimes in June a feeding colony of mixed warblers flies through the pines,” “Nuthatches spiral around their long, coarse trunks,” and “The pine lumber is unfinished inside the study; the pines outside are finished trees. It doesn't take long to locate these in “For the Time Being” (anthologized in BAE 1999): “Okay, we’re a tree.
I see the pines from my two windows.” The walk, of course, gives rise to the birds and the pines and the nicely furnished finished/unfinished thought, which is almost, but not quite, worth the walk. These dead loved ones we mourn were only those brown lower branches a tree shades and kills as it grows; the tree itself is thriving,” or, very late in the essay, as I very nearly gave up the possibility of getting birded: “The birds were mating all over Galilee.
The birds just decorate the essay, give us something natural to look at. I saw swifts mate in midair.” On they come, bird, tree, metaphor.
At least the birds mate in midair: the tree metaphor’s half-dead.
You cannot get through a Dillard essay without running into one of these boring natural phenomena.
They are bad enough on their own, but many essays unfortunately contain all three.
Even in “The Stunt Pilot,” (BAE 1990) an essay about just that, with no shortage of insane airborne acrobatics and dramatic maneuvers, it’s only a matter of time until we arrive at her tropes: “The Bellingham airport was a wide clearing in a forest of tall Douglas firs,” “something caught my eye and made me laugh.
It was a swallow, a blue-green swallow, having its own air show.” At least 1982’s “Total Eclipse,” one of her best-known essays, gets it out of the way early, on the second page: “the trees changed, and in the trees were strange birds.” I admit that some of her bird descriptions are less boring than others: “He examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to the throat.
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