Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Almanac For Moderns: The Last Time This Season

More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.

July Sixteenth

People there are who shrink from touching a creature like the red triton, because he is such an eery, chill and impish little animal. To some minds he seems reptilian, to others fishy; to me he is simply very pagan. There is a sort of cool impudence about him; his grin acknowledges the jollity of his gross little love ways, the irrepressible power of life which has enabled so antique a type to survive into the present.

Also, he slyly implies that he is in the family. It is posted up on the very walls of life that he is an ancestor or very closely collateral at least. Haeckel it was who discovered the great biological law that ontogeny lives through philogeny--by which he meant that the embryo lives through a telescoped version of the actual evolution of its species through the ages. In its early stages the human embryo passes through a gilled stage like the aquatic newt larva or mud puppy; the adult newt, of course, breathes air as we do, so he bridges the gap between fishes and reptiles. The reptiles link to the mammals; so too the unborn child sketches this history, only losing his tail as the last moment, as it were.

The well tempered mind embraces these kinships without revulsion at the sight of one's ancestors still walking the earth. Appetite for life--that is symptom of a healthy soul, a readiness to accept its tastes, a disposition to try the new. If newts make you squeamish and you prefer to think about children as cherubin until they lie smiling in their cradles, depend on it, you are ailing.

July Seventeenth

I never hear the thrush now, without wondering if it will be the last time this season that he sings. After each burning day I feel sure that, like a flower of the field, the song will be wilted in the heat. All too soon the thrush will molt. He will be here hopping about silently in the woods and thickets, but he will not sing. Then indeed the dead of summer will be upon us; breathless heat and heavy-hearted silence will settle on the spots where now he still takes up his evening station to refresh the hour when the soul can breathe in quiet, the brief, brief moments between the fiery setting of the sun and the falling of the heavy-leaved darkness.