one held breath

Okapi ~ image found on Pintrest

She is inhumanly alone. And then, all at once, she isn’t. A beautiful animal stands on the other side of the water. They look up from their lives, woman and animal, amazed to find themselves in the the same place. He freezes, inspecting her with his black-tipped ears. His back is purplish-brown in the dim light, sloping downward from the gentle hump of his shoulders. The forest’s shadows fall into lines across his white-striped flanks. His stiff forelegs splay out to the sides like stilts, for he’s been caught in the act of reaching down for water. Without taking his eyes from her, he twitches a little at the knee, then the shoulder, where a fly devils him. Finally he surrenders his surprise, looks away, and drinks. She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water’s skin, as if he were lapping from her hand. His head bobs gently, nodding small, velvet horns lit white from behind like new leaves.It lasted just a moment, whatever that is. One held breath? An ant’s afternoon? It was brief, I can promise that much, for although it’s been many years now since my children ruled my life, a mother recalls the measure of the silences. I never had more than five minutes’ peace unbroken. I was that woman on the stream bank, of course, Orleanna Price, Southern Baptist by marriage, mother of children living and dead. That one time and no other the okapi came to the stream, and I was the only one to see it.
~ Barbara Kingsolver
(The Poisonwood Bible)

When I stumbled across this picture of an okapi on Pintrest it brought to memory this passage In Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book, The Poisonwood Bible. It stuck with me because I had a similar experience with a stag when I was little, a moment of transcendence, when time seemed to stand still for this six-year-old.

I was introduced to Barbara Kingsolver’s writing by a physical therapist who was coming to the house regularly to work with my dad. One morning the three of us were sitting around the table, waiting for Papa to finish eating his late breakfast. Her name was Betty-Jean, which reminded us of my mother, who was called Betty-Jo by her parents. We fell into a conversation about my mother’s love of nature and Native American culture.

Papa mentioned a visit he and my mother had made to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe on Cape Cod, and that he had inadvertently offended a young man when he “stepped into his circle.” I wasn’t sure what he meant and he had trouble trying to explain it to me. Betty-Jean thought perhaps it had something to do with a vision quest. “What’s a vision quest?” I inquired, full of curiosity.

The conversation meandered around for a bit after that, but before Betty-Jean began her session with my father, she asked me if I was familiar with Barbara Kingsolver. I had never heard of her until then, so she said she thought I would like her book, Animal Dreams. I ordered it as soon as I got home that night and have been devouring her books ever since. They way she weaves spiritual journeys with nature resonates with me deeply.

20 thoughts on “one held breath”

  1. Oh, Barbara, I am SUCH a huge fan of Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorite novels! Reminds me. I need to reread it. Thanks for helping me with that! Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    1. Nice to know you’re a Kingsolver fan, too, Kathy! πŸ™‚ I was going through a spiritual crisis when I read “The Poisonwood Bible,” and I remember wincing at some of the things that happened in the story. A lot of the details, except for the above passage, have slipped from my memory – perhaps I will reread it, too. *hugs*

  2. You pulled me in hook, line, and sinker with this:

    “…I had a similar experience with a stag when I was little, a moment of transcendence, when time seemed to stand still for this six-year-old.”

    1. One of these days I will have to get around to writing a post about my deer encounters – it still amazes me how long the memories of transcendent moments can stay with me…

  3. Barbara Kingsolver’s writing is excellent; she lovingly describes the little details of the natural world that most of us rush past without noticing. Her books give our modern society a much-needed reminder to slow down and be thankful for the wonders all around us.

    Your blog also has a restful feeling to itβ€”a place to quietly appreciate what is. I’m glad I took the time to stop by! This year I’ve resolved to visit and comment on a new positive blog every day, keeping a list on my own site to help my readers find uplifting sites. Yours is today’s entry, and I’m feeling much refreshed. πŸ™‚

    1. What you say about Barbara Kingsolver’s writing is so true, Meg. I always look at things a little differently after reading one of her books. Thank you for your kind words about my blog, and I’m glad you took the time to stop by and visit, too! I’m looking forward to exploring your blog and making some new connections. πŸ™‚

  4. Barbara, this another synchronicity! I am devouring a Barbara Kingsolver book right now. It’s called “Prodigal Summer” and am enjoying it so much. Going to pass it on to a friend as soon as it’s finished and know she will enjoy it as well. Have you read this one?

    P.S. About your comment on my blog–I have heard about those ice caves near the Apostle Island a lot this winter. Too bad they’re too far away for easy travel. It would be fun to go visit. I think they are about 175 miles to the west of us. Bet the program you watched was beautiful. We heard there have been thousands upon thousands of folks trekking across the ice to see them.

    P.S.S. We’re back from our overnight already–we went Tuesday night. It was great fun.

    1. Why, yes! I have read “Prodigal Summer” and LOVED it! In the reading of it I gained a deeper appreciation of the sacredness of predators. In fact, “Prodigal Summer” and “Flight Behavior” are my two favorite novels she wrote, even though I love all the others, too.

      I forget how big those Great Lakes are – sounds like a long trip to make in the cold, and who knows how far the walk would be over the ice once you got there. There are so many wonders on our little blue planet – there is no way we could ever see them all! But we’re fortunate to live in an age with cameras that bring us dazzling images of places we may never see with our own eyes.

      So glad you had a good time on your overnight! πŸ™‚

      1. I just finished it a couple of hours ago. So loved that book! Glad to hear you’ve read it, too. Don’t know if I’ve read Flight Behavior. By the way, I am planning to answer your email when there’s time to be truly present with it. Love, Kathy

        1. So happy to hear you loved “Prodigal Summer.” Kathy! I suspect you would love “Flight Behavior,” too. Now it’s my turn to answer your thoughtful email – I hope to give yours my full attention, too, as soon as possible. Much love to you, my friend.

  5. Isn’t that the most amazing creature ? Looks like it was created from bits and pieces of other creatures. The story quote had me mezmerized.

    Not acquainted with the author, guess I better rectify that.

    Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome, Sybil. Kingsolver lived in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo in her early childhood, where the story is set. According to Wikipedia, the okapi is native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast corner of the country. Its striped markings are reminiscent of zebras, but it is most closely related to the giraffe.

    1. I’m trying to picture how big this creature is, apparently at the shoulder it can be 5 to 6 1/2 feet tall. It must be quite something to come across one in the rain forest, but I understand that they’re shy and not often seen.

  6. I was introduced to BK when she was a favorite of ex-pats in Central America in the 90s (The Bean Trees). I don’t know the author, but she seemed like someone I would know. When I moved to The South, Prodigal Summer was one of the books that helped me understand my new home. Her non-fiction is worth a read, too. I agree that her books make great companions. She is also admirable because in addition to writing about life, she walks the walk (Duke LEAF Award), Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome! I loved “The Bean Trees” too. It’s interesting that “Prodigal Summer” helped you to understand your new home down south there. πŸ™‚ Maybe I should encourage Larisa to read it. I picked up “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” but have to admit I haven’t read it yet. Will have to do something about that. Are there other non-fiction works you would recommend?

      I never heard of the Duke LEAF Award before. For any one interested: “The Duke LEAF is awarded annually to an artist whose work has lifted the human spirit by conveying our profound spiritual and material connection to the Earth and thereby inspiring others to help forge a more sustainable future for all.”

      I hope to be seeing you very soon, Susan. Stay tuned! *hugs*

      1. I read one of her books of essays. I remember one essay about a sunrise and a Hawaiian volcano. Later, my mother described the same scene, which she’d experienced on a trip there. Another book, along different lines, that is excellent, is Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson. It’s about the civil rights movement, is autobiographical and takes place in North Carolina.

        And, I am certainly staying tuned!

        1. I have a feeling I will like her essays as much as her novels. πŸ™‚ I just added the Timothy Tyson book to my Kindle – it sounds interesting – thanks for the suggestion. I will be sending you an email shortly…

    1. It will be interesting to see what you think of “The Poisonwood Bible.” And, Jane, I’m wondering when your book will be released?!? (Hope I didn’t miss an announcement in your blog…)

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