Edges and Order

Nearly every image of nature I have ever come across misses the sense of intricate confusion underfoot in the woods, the thickets of goldenrod collapsing into each other along the roadsides, the rotting tusks of fallen beeches broken against the western hillside. It almost never makes sense to talk about the purpose of nature. But now — until the snow comes at last — I could easily believe that the purpose of nature is to create edges, if only because every edge, no matter how small, is a new habitation. As purposes go, that could hardly be more different from my own, which is to reduce the number of edges here, so that the big pasture is bounded by four clean lines only, free of interruptions from sumac or knotweed or shattered maple limbs. Left to itself, nature is all interruption.

These are the thoughts that crowd around during the shortest days of the year, when the sky is the color of flint and the sun, when it appears, seems to have lost its candlepower. Even the feeling of dormancy — a harvest of rest — is incomplete without snow. But disorder is as much in the mind as order. I drive across the county, brooding on confusion, and come upon a towering single oak, stripped of leaves but still symmetrical, mocking the sawmill that lies across the road. The sight of that one tree is enough to banish sorrow.

NYT Op/Ed page, 1 January 2007