kw: book reviews, nonfiction, essays, sunrise
"Rosy-Fingered Dawn" is a metaphor that goes back at least to Homer, and probably to the beginnings of language. This image, from artist and calendar maker Philip Johnson, best exemplifies the feeling. Dawn Light: Dancing With Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day by Diane Ackerman puts such feelings into words.
While I read the book in sequence, and it is arranged in seasonal order beginning with Spring, one can read these essays in any order; each can stand alone. The author thinks about a great many things, and here uses the days' beginnings as a framework to muse about them all.
The crane business? An early chapter titled "A Calamity of Cranes" describes the efforts of Operation Migration folk and others who raise whooping cranes while wearing shapeless burnoose-like garments, so the young will not imprint on the human form. They imprint them on hand puppets and an ultralight aircraft instead, so they can be taught to socialize as cranes and to migrate to the cranes' historic wintering grounds.
Later we learn that an inspiring force for her was Claude Monet, who pictured the same scene over and over, usually by dawning or early light, and that both Monet and Ackerman are inspired by the Japanese artist Hokusai, most famous for Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Viewing things from many angles, we learn more than any one view can encompass.
The author likes to imagine what being a different sort of creature is like. In her essay "Water, Water Everywhere" she imagines what being water, just water, might be like. After imaginings (scattered here and there; not in any one section) of songbird, owl, rabbit and pine tree, "being water" is perhaps the biggest stretch. Just as the earth is, by volume, mostly oxygen, so we are, also by volume, more than half water, yet it is the non-water that produces structure for the structureless. Only under conditions of low temperature and/or high pressure does water have its own structure, and then it is too rigid for motion.
As I read, I found myself remembering an old saying about Chinese food: "An hour later you're hungry again." While for Chinese food, it may be said that a meal built around white rice doesn't stick with you, for Ms Ackerman's writing, it is simply the desire to dip in, again and again, to the stream of her prose. The book is too short.