Extinction and Bison in the Dirt

Ignoring bacteria, the current assessment of the world's biodiversity is 8.7 million species. The majority remain unidentified and will remain so, given the estimated human-caused extinction of half of all plant and animal species by 2100. We'll lose almost all the mammals sometime before the next ice age, including the descendents of the bison I watched in North Dakota that comically rolled in a depression of clay that was ash-spewn by the Rockies 50 million years ago.

In the remote arm of an obscure galaxy teaming with an estimated 500 million inhabitable planets, we humans are substantially sacks of incubated bacteria and have no reason to be overly proud of our tenure. Entropy dictates that we go from bad to worse and someday an extra-terrestrial storm will erase our computer records and set us back a thousand years. Some paper books have survived over a millennium, so hopefully the books we're putting into dark storage in abandoned salt mines will survive the interregnum. Perhaps not my literary efforts, Shakespeare certainly, but by then we'll be sounding his words like Etruscan, the meaning all but gone.

When I saw the bison I didn't think of the sadness. Of a passing more final than the cherry blossom's fall. A.E. Houseman's poem says of his years to regard that loveliest of trees, only "fifty more." I'd say in my case less than thirty, which is unquestionably a sorrowful thought.

An Author’s Lot: Guilt and Jealousy

I should be writing, but lately I've been researching my family genealogy. I'm 7/8ths Irish by heritage and sorrowful that my Anglo-Australian-US tongue has no portion of lilting Irish, remindful of the bee-loud glade and the linnet's wings. I should be writing, and my catholic guilt reviles me too, for purchasing vital records with scarce dollars when my novel's underwater, the expense of my sending review copies and prize submissions swamping the meager commercial value of the book.

Guilt, purportedly a useless emotion, we readily impose on others, "buck up," "get a move on," and the like, and my publisher has no problem telling me to get out and market. I'd like to say, "I wrote a fine book, what more do you want?" but a whiny author is an embarrassment to more than his children.

In the five languages of love, I'm a touchy person (sensual despite my craggy English restraint), but you don’t make a cake with only one ingredient and words of affirmation are evidently my spice. I know because I get het up about caring that it shouldn't matter what others think. Writers are notoriously insecure about evaluating their own work, but their opinions of others come easily. I read The Finkler Question when it won the Man Booker Prize and admired Jacobson's ability to keep interesting not much of anything, but I got tired and stopped reading 2/3rds of the way through. That was fun. I got to (not unkindly) denigrate a well respected author, but it's a bit Monty Pythonish, a wannabe Israelite prophet deriding the tablets, "What’s this?" he asks, "'Six days thou shalt labor'? If that's all you'll work you'll never be a writer!"

Deluged by a commercial system determined to make the rich richer and the popular more popular, we poor novelists, trafficking in lies, are disposed to insincerity. My work of genius unread. Unfair! When so much is random, we can only hope that all books, like men, are created equal (given the same opportunity to rise) even if the result is disparagement. But then philosophizing is such thin gruel. I envy my distant neighbor his lake house, although thinking about it too often isn't healthy.

It's uncomplicated truths that we aspire to shine forth in our work, but the business of a novelist is passionate plotting, which ill accords with childlike innocence. Both genealogy and my guilty envy suggest to me a Wordsworth poem. In, We Are Seven, a young girl says that she is one of seven, and the poet, finding that two of her counted siblings are dead, says:
"You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five."
And she replies: "Their graves are green, they may be seen ... Twelve steps or more from my mother's door."
A novelist is to be envied, who with the certainty of that ragged child, regards no Roth or Hollinghurst or Barnes or any authority of mature genius, and maintaining his independent view, can quick reply, "O Master! We are seven."