Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A clear path (Books - The Snow Geese by William Fiennes)

William Fiennes The Snow Geese reads like a contemplative travel book. His writing is precisely observant of the people he meets along his journey and I find these mini-portraits one of the simple joys of this book:
A dark blue sedan pulled up behind us, pausing on the bridge just long enough for an old man to step gingerly on to the kerb, assisted by a male nurse dressed in a shite, dog-collared hospital tunic. The old man wore a dressing-gown over a green hospital smock, and the thin shins visible below the hems of these robes were sleeved in the white compression stockings that prevent deep vein thrombosis in the bed-bound. He wore bright purple slippers with pineapples surprisingly embroidered on their topsides, and his face was gaunt, pared of all substance, with cheekbones showing like stanchions under pink, brittle-looking skin, and a tuft of shite hair like a wisp of smoke off his scalp. He moved shakily with anxious inch-long steps to the edge of the bridge and took his place at the balustrade to my left.
or this:
I boarded a new bus in Dallas, its driver a tall, lean, narrow man, like a cigarette dressed in the grey Greyhound uniform, with sleeves rolled neatly to the elbows and silver hair cut short at the back and siedes, swept back on top and glossed with brilliantine. He wore a brown leather belt embossed with an eagle, laterally extended, and a dated-looking digital watch with a calculator keypad underneath its scratched display. He sucked on a toothpick smoothed his hair back with both palms simultaneously, and addressed his passengers as 'folks.'
His writing picks up like a sudden storm and conveys a more joyous atmosphere at his sightings of the birds he has chosen to pursue on their migratory path:
Small groups of Canada geese kept to the gold fringe of cattail and phrags. The ice was covered with snow geese: a thick-sown crop of white necks, right across the lake. Goose calls resounded in the ice, as if the hollow, metallic din were trapped inside it. Sorties of geese took flight from the assembly; squads returned from nearby fields, coasting down on bowed wings and settling in the midst of the gaggle. Suddenly, the flock took wing, an audience breaking into applause. It was as if the ice itself had exploded - almost a surprise to see the hard, blue-blotched plane intact beneath the birds. The flock seethed, rolling back and forth on itself, its shadow roiling like a turbulence on the ice below. The applause deepened to the sound of trains thundering through tunnels. Scarves of glitter furled through the flock when drifts of birds turned their backs and white wings to the sun, and sometimes the entire sky was lit with shimmer, as if a silver, sequinned dress were rippling beneath a mirrorball, the sounds of goose calls and beating wings pounding the ice below...
This paragraph describes Fiennes's witnessing of more than 250,000 geese on their and his parallel journeys north from Texas to Canada. It is seeming to me as I progress through the book that the lengthy illness uprooted Fiennes. He lost his sense of direction while at University, precisely at the time one is supposed to know what one is going to do, and that his greatest attraction to the snow geese is how certain their path is. Without any knowledge of how they know, these geese are on a clear trajectory from one place to another.

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