Friday, May 23, 2008

Terence O'Donnell's gift: eons in a paragraph

Powell’s Books had Terence O’Donnell’s brief history of Oregon, “That Balance so Rare” on sale for $7.98. I couldn’t pass it up even though I have a copy. This one will be a gift.

Indeed the little book is a gift to the entire state.

The first paragraph alone is gift enough. The rest of “That Balance so Rare” flows from it.

I urge you to read the following aloud to hear the poetry in the prose.

“The great cataclysmic events were over: exploding mountains, lava floods, draining seas, the massive, dragging glaciers — all this cosmic tumult, breaking up the land and reforming it eon after eon, had finally spent itself. Rivers, rain, wind, and pounding surf continued to age the earth’s face, but in general, what we now call Oregon is what finally came to rest ten thousand years ago. “

How can you stop? You don't....

“Then, as now, the Pacific drove in to crash against the high-cliffed coast while ocean clouds drifted east to drench with rain the seaward slopes of what we have come to call the Coast Range. Beyond the mountains, the long valley lay with its meander of river — though here there is a difference then and now: it is believed before humans came, the valley floor was forest rather than the present open plain….From the estuaries and rain forest of the coast to the valley — lush and almost tropical — to the interior with its distances and skies and tingling, sage-scented air, it was a landscape of ravishing variety, as it is today.”

I had the privilege of knowing Terence in the last years of his life. I would invite him, a rumpled figure with a cane, to my classes where he charmed, cajoled and inspired, just as his writing did — and does.

What a blessing to have these lyrical words.

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