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Gretel Ehrlich

  • Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.

  • Ritual — which could entail a wedding or brushing one's teeth — goes in the direction of life. Through it we reconcile our barbed solitude with rushing, irreducible conditions of life.

  • The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly; light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding.

  • Animals give us their constant, unjaded faces and we burden them with our bodies and civilized ordeals.

  • There is nothing in nature that can't be taken as a sign of both mortality and invigoration.

  • Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are.

  • We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still. Lovers, farmers, and artists have one thing in common, at least — a fear of 'dry spells,' dormant periods in which we do no blooming, internal droughts only the waters of imagination and psychic release can civilize.

  • If anything is endemic to Wyoming it is wind. This big room of space is swept out daily, leaving a bone yard of fossils, agates, and carcasses in every stage of decay. Though it was water that initially shaped the state, wind is the meticulous gardener, raising dust and pruning the sage.

  • History is an illogical record. It hinges on nothing. It is a story that changes and has accidents and recovers with scars.

  • There was not one cause for our internment, but many — a deep-seated racial prejudice working on top of fear, distrust, and greed. So how is one to say exactly where history begins or ends? It is all slow oscillations, curves, and waves which take so long to reveal themselves ... like watching a tree grow.

  • History is not truth versus falsehoods, but a mixture of both, a mélange of tendencies, reactions, dreams, errors, and power plays. What's important is what we make of it; its moral use. By writing history, we can widen readers' thinking and deepen their sympathies in every direction. Perhaps history should show us not how to control the world, but how to enlarge, deepen, and discipline ourselves.

  • The music sounded flat — it had the kind of depth that comes from bitterness, not wonder.

  • Am I like the optimist who, while falling ten stories from a building, says at each story, 'I'm all right so far'?

  • It's no wonder human beings are so narcissistic. The way our ears are constructed, we can hear only what is right next to us or else the internal monologue inside.

  • Turbulence, like many forms of trouble, cannot always be seen. We bounce so hard my arms sail helplessly above my head. In evolution, wing bones became arms and hands; perhaps I'm de-evolving.

  • We use the word 'wilderness,' but perhaps we mean wildness. Isn't that why I've come here, to seek the wildness in myself and, in so doing, come on the wildness everywhere, because after all, I'm part of nature too.

  • Walking is almost an ambulation of mind.

  • To rise above treeline is to go above thought, and after, the descent back into bird song, bog orchids, willows, and firs is to sink into the preliterate parts of ourselves.

  • To long for love, to have experienced passion's deep pleasure, even once, is to understand the mercilessness of having a human body whose memory rides desire's back unanchored from season to season.

  • Islands are reminders of arrivals and departures.

  • Perhaps despair is the only human sin.

  • A tree is a thought, an obstruction stopping the flow of wind and light, trapping water, housing insects, birds, and animals, and breathing in and out. How treelike the human, how human the tree.

  • ... I understood why war zones are called 'theaters' because they frame a kind of play acting or, worse, deceit, that can stain a human life forever: the deceit of hate on hearsay — hating an enemy one doesn't know ...

  • Thirty years ago, my sister, Gale (so named because a gale hit Boston Harbor the night she was born), some friends and I stole a boat in the middle of the night and sailed it out of the Santa Barbara harbor. Suddenly we were becalmed and the current began pushing us toward the breakwall. With no running lights and no power, we were dead in the water. Out of that darkness a steel hull appeared: it was the local Coast Guard cutter. My father, stern-faced and displeased, stood in the bow.

  • Fog rolled in like a form of sorrow. To live exiled from a place you have known intimately is to experience sensory deprivation. A wide-awake coma. ... The sea was a memory bank into which everything fell and was lost. I dove in but came out empty-handed.

  • The fog lifted in the evening and a blue-black band at the horizon marked the end of the sea and the beginning of thought. Where does a beginning begin when nothing has gone on before?

  • All that's known is this: there is no central processor, no single computer. Nothing that simple. Millions of neurons process information simultaneously and in parallel, not linearly, but the actual chemistry and electrical properties of that integrative process are still being mapped. Even so, it seems odd that during the evolution of brain circuitry and thinking, the ability to understand itself did not get wired in. Such built-in innocence seems like a terrible oversight.

  • In the evening we went for another walk. Sinking into sand, Sam's tracks were bright meteors, appearing suddenly, then fading to black. I stood in water up to my knees, grabbing phosphorescence and invisible plankton, squeezing light out of the ocean's dark brew. Light is chemical, electrical, mineral, just the way memory is, and I wondered if light had invented the ocean and my hand dragging through it, or if memory had invented light as a form of time thinking about itself.

  • Survival is as much a matter of grace as fight. The expression, 'grace under pressure' implies the attainment of equanimity and equilibrium. The fundamental durability of the human body surprises us because the pain can be so intense — yet pain is often transient and hides the tremendous effforts the body is engaged in to heal itself.

  • ... I designed furniture that pulled apart, folded, and broke down into neat stacks. Since arriving in California, I had moved four times and it looked as if I would move again. Was it the land running under my feet or my feet running over the land?

  • How odd it is that sewing is thought to be 'women's work' when surgeons, sailors, and cowboys sew too. Yet how many female thoracic surgeons are there? And if precision motor activities are thought to be performed better by women, why wouldn't they make better surgeons too?

  • As fog moved to the mainland I heard a flock of birds fly over. They sounded like a dress rustling, a dress being unfastened and dropping to the floor. Fog came unpinned like hair. On the beach cliffs, great colonies of datura — jimson weed — with their white trumpet flowers, looked like brass bands.

  • Up the hill from the beach, green slopes turned to hair: wild mustard — whose seed was originally scattered by Spaniards as they rode north — rose up on stalks like stilts, growing two inches a day until the flowering tops reached far above my head, and Irish green gave way to yellow. Hundreds of acres of avocados blossomed and the oak trees in the hills behind my home tassled out. In the fall the acorn harvest would be good. On the ground was buckeye, poppy, owl clover, paintbrush, but after thirty inches of rain the grass came in so thick the wildflowers wouldn't find enough space to grow. Along the road, yuccas sent up their long-stalked flowers — creamy white candles, and on my walks at night, if there was no moon they brightened my trail. But when the full moon came around again it shone a tapering path on seawater that led from El Capitan to Point Conception: a candle lit in the land of the dead.

  • June marked the end of spring on California's central coast and the beginning of five months of dormancy that often erupted in fire. Mustard's yellow robes had long since turned red, then brown. Fog and sun mixed to create haze. The land had rusted. The mountains, once blue-hued with young oaks and blooming ceanosis, were tan and gray. I walked across the fallen blossoms of five yucca plants: only the bare poles of their stems remained to mark where their lights had shone the way.

  • Between highway sounds I heard waves and thought how the curve of the coastline here had sheltered and nurtured live-born sharks, humans, and migrating whales. Here, at the edge of the continent, time and distance stopped; in the lull between sets of waves I could get a fresh start.

  • A black-crowned night heron stood on an apron of wet sand, looking across the channel. The feather plume at the back of his head lifted in a faint breeze. Out there the channel churned its cyclonic eddies counterclockwise. Schools of anchovies, halibut, and sea bass came and went: silver flashes, small storms that well up from the inside of the sea but are short-lived, like lightning.

Gretel Ehrlich, U.S. writer, poet