That would be Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of two books I love, An American Childhood and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
Ms. Dillard is not only a philosopher and amateur naturalist (in the least amateurish sense of the term), but she is also a wordsmith of breathtaking clarity and beauty. I like the way she looks at the world, how she thinks about it, and most of all how she describes it.
It should tell you a lot about her that she wrote her master's thesis on the significance of Walden Pond in Henry David Thoreau's writing. She eventually married a biographer she met after writing him a fan letter about his book on Thoreau.
But today, I simply want to share with you some of her words from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek because they make me look at trees in a whole new way. And I love trees, maybe even more than I love Annie Dillard's writing.
There's a real power here. It is amazing that trees can turn gravel and bitter salts into these soft-lipped lobes, as if I were to bite down on a granite slab and start to swell, bud, and flower. Trees seem to do their feats so effortlessly. Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts. Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in full summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day. A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn't make one. A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes; it splits, sucks, and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out ever more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air.
Images: Tulip tree leaves and Tinker Creek.