Marilynne Robinson: The Human Face

. . . now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. [My friend] Boughton and I have talked about that, too. It has something to do with incarnation. You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it, but this is truest in the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any. Boughton agrees.

–Marilynne Robinson, from Gilead

Marilynne Robinson: What Are All These Fragments For?

For why do our thoughts turn to some gesture of a hand, the fall of a sleeve, some corner of a room on a particular anonymous afternoon, even when we are asleep, even when we are so old that our thoughts have abandoned other business? What are all these fragments for, if not to be knit up finally?

–Marilynne Robinson, from Housekeeping

Snakes Alive! A Tale of Terror from the Carpenter’s Chronicles

Two years ago on a warm spring day I went with my boss to start a new job. We had been contracted to build a spacious house from the ground up, and the first order of business was to shoot grade and locate the lot markers. Since the proposed house was in the floodplain of the Ogeechee River just on the outside of a sweeping bend, the lot was predictably low and wet—except for a few large white oak and sweet gum trees and a stand of pines at the western boundary, the entire jobsite was covered in knee-high marsh grasses. We’ve built a lot of houses in cramped subdivisions where the developers level every living thing in order to squeeze out a few more lots so it’s always a delight to work in the open, listening to the tap of woodpeckers and persistent song of the wrens.

After determining our benchmark near the road and locating the front left boundary pin I set out across the lot to find the back left marker, pacing out the 220 feet or so in the general direction I thought to find it, happy to be out in the fine weather.

“Do you think there are snakes?” Jim asked.

“They’ve got to be all over the place in here.” I remembered that Jim was terrified of snakes, and I am not one to pass up a chance for a little fun. I’ve always thought it humorous that Jim, an Eagle Scout, is so ill at ease in the outdoors. He cannot identify flora and fauna; I even had to show him what a mockingbird looks like. I suppose he earned his Eagle by helping the elderly and learning to tie knots.

Since the lot was perfect habitat for snakes of all varieties, I was justified in alerting Jim to the danger. Most snakes will take the coward’s way out if they have the chance, so as I walked through the grass I made enough foot noise to give any hiding creature fair warning. We pulled our measurement to the marker, shot the grade, and I held my place while Jim started toward me.

“I don’t want to sound like a baby, but I don’t like this at all,” Jim said as he tucked the tripod under one arm and grabbed the transit with the other.

“Just make a little noise—they don’t want to be around you any more than you want to be around them,” I replied.

Stepping gingerly, Jim made his way across the lot whistling the theme song from Sanford and Son. It took me a few seconds, but I soon realized that the whistling was Jim’s way of alerting any devilish attacker of his presence.

“Make some noise with your feet! Let ‘em know you mean business!” I hollered between repressed snickers. Jim stopped for a second as if to steel himself and continued toward me, this time raking his feet through the grass. He was doing fine, like a regular Swamp Fox. And then the panic set in. He picked up speed, and with his increased momentum he also increased altitude, his soles nearly reaching shoulder height, arms akimbo.

Now, Jim is a big man—horizontally, not vertically. He’s about 5’5”, 260 pounds, with the shortest inseam I’ve ever seen on a grown man, maybe 28” tops. So you can imagine the effort he exerted as he high-stepped it across the lot. And being the generous soul I am I gave him plenty of encouragement in his flight from danger.

“You got ‘em where you want ‘em now, Jim! Keep “em on the run!” I couldn’t sustain enough breath between the laughing and vocal assistance, so I looked around for a place dry enough to roll around on. Damn marsh—I was forced to stagger about holding my belly, tears rolling down my beard.

He still swears he heard a snake after him in the grass. I tell him if there were any snakes, they were too busy belly-laughing to make much of an assault.