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stopping to think…

Consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present…. Self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present.  It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest.  So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree.  But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities – looking over my own shoulder, as it were – the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown.  And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations like floating leaves at every moment, ceases.  It dams, stills, stagnates.

Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies.  It is the glimpse of oneself in the storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people – the novelist’s world, not the poet’s.  I’ve lived there.  I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained.  I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, “next year… I’ll start living; next year… I’ll start my life.”

– Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Excerpt from the book I am currently reading.  I’ve loved Dillard’s writing ever since reading “Living Like Weasels,” so it’s really a travesty that I didn’t pick up Pilgrim at Tinker Creek sooner.

And I have to admit to a bittersweet nostalgia for the granite mountains and soft autumn colors of New England that this book amplifies.  I miss the woodlot that I grew up with, filled with its vernal pools, leaf-clogged streams, and constant neighborhood chatter from crows, blue jays, robins, nuthatches, and chickadees.  The hidden messages tapped out by downy woodpeckers by day, and the soul-filling chorus of spring peepers by night.

The solitude that filled me while immersed in those woods is what I miss most, so different from the loneliness I feel trying to navigate the unpredictable, buzzing activity of the city.  The final sentence in this passage struck a deep, deep chord.

The restlessness persists.

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