Was the Earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?
—Gerrard Winstanley, The New Law of Righteousness, 1649
Chicago. Wells Street Station: Six o’clock in late spring, 1887. Drizzling. Sputtering white arc-light in the station and in the streets, dazzling and ugly. I had never seen electric lights before.
Crowds. Impersonal. Intent on seeing nothing. …
Went into an eating place near Randolph Street and parted with seventy cents, ten per cent of my entire capital.
—Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, 1943
“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see—
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.
—Emily Dickinson, c. 1860
We must learn to love the mutilated world. We’re trying to swim in gasoline. It’s impossible, but we swim on.
—Barry Lopez, “We’re living in emergency times,” The Guardian, May 7, 2019
What we need is Progress with an escape hatch.
—John Updike, “Beer Can,” 1964
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me …
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
—W. S. Merwin, “For the Anniversary of My Death,” 1993
I don’t see why it should be unreasonable for all human beings to have strands of DNA coiled up in chromosomes, coding out instincts for usefulness and helpfulness. Usefulness may turn out to be the hardest test of fitness for survival, more important than aggression, more effective, in the long run, than grabbiness.
—Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail, 1974
The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look: my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.
—Ross Gay, “Sorrow Is Not My Name,” Bringing the Shovel Down, 2011
“I want to go home and into bed.”
“We are of two different kinds,” the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. “It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café.”
“Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.”
“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant café. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”
—Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” 1933
[Selma, 1965] The troopers and possemen swept forward as one, like a human wave, a blur of blue shirts and billy clubs and bullwhips. We had no chance to turn and retreat. There were six hundred people behind us, bridge railings to either side and the river below.
I remember how vivid the sounds were as the troopers rushed toward us—the clunk of the troopers’ heavy boots, the whoops of rebel yells from the white onlookers, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves hitting the hard asphalt of the highway, the voice of a woman shouting, “Get ’em! Get the niggers!”
And then they were upon us.
—John Lewis with Michael D’Orso, Walking with The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, 1998
All this and more, facts and speculations, crammed into the first twenty-one pages of notebook B. The pages are mostly undated, so we can’t know how many days or weeks passed in the opening burst of effort. Anyway, he didn’t yet have his theory. Big ideas were coming at him like diving owls. He needed some order as much as he needed the jumble of tantalizing clues. Maybe he needed a metaphor. Then, on the bottom of page 21, Darwin wrote: “organized beings represent a tree.”
—David Quammen, The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life, 2018
I went inside with the owner of the house on the steps of which I sat. He was cool and cheerful and hospitable. “Yesterday morning,” he said, “I was worth six hundred thousand dollars. … This rug upon which we stand is a present. It cost fifteen hundred dollars. Try that piano. Listen to its tone. There are few like it. There are no horses. The flames will be here in fifteen minutes.”
Outside, the old Mark Hopkins residence, a palace, was just catching fire. The troops were falling back and driving the refugees before them.
—Jack London, San Francisco, April 17, 1906
In his day, he said, students were grounded in spelling and had learned poetry and the Bible by heart. An odd phrase, “by heart,” he would add, as though poems were stored in the bloodstream.
—A. S. Byatt, Possession, 1990
There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule. Its burnished aluminum feels cool against your lips, and if you hold it level to the light you can see God’s most perfect right angle in each of its corners. When you tip it sideways, it gracefully transfigures into an extravagant rapier that is also retractable with great stealth. Even a very little girl can wield a slide rule, the cursor serving as a haft.
—Hope Jahren, Lab Girl, 2016
crows all day from mist
outside the walls.
There’s milk on the air,
ice on the oily
lemonskins. How clean
the mind is,
—Jorie Graham, “San Sepolcro,” The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974–1994, 1995
We think, therefore we sort.
—Judith Flanders, A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order, 2020
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