The Scene of Reading
For all the times I’ve read Moby Dick, I remember next to nothing about what happens in the book. Not the plot. Not any of that great info about whales. Nor any of the finer points concerning the American whaling industry back in the day. A big book like that has too many details for me to hold on to. When it comes to reading, I just don’t have that kind of recall. Maybe you do, but my memory is full of holes. All sorts of extraneous clutter gets lodged in there.
I do recall the circumstances of the first time I dove into this novel. It was August of 1974. Suburban North Jersey. I was sixteen years old. While all my friends were cooling off at the town pool, I spent a week in our backyard, sitting in a lawn chair and reading Moby Dick under an immense white oak. What I remember most about that high point in my reading life is the dappled play of shade and light across the pages of Melville’s words. When it got warm enough later in the morning, a cicada high up in the tree would begin to sing. To this day, whenever I think of Moby Dick, that old oak always comes to mind first. I haven’t seen it in years. I wonder if it’s still standing. Please hold on while I go check it out on Google Street View.
Okay, I’m back. It’s still there. But now I miss it more than ever. We have no white oaks here in the Catskill Mountains, not at this elevation. Quercus alba is elsewhere. But we do have eagles. They weren’t around when I was growing up. DDT had pretty much wiped them out. But after that pesticide was banned in the early seventies, the eagles decided to give our skies a second chance. Now they’re back. Thus my favorite passage in Moby Dick no longer reads like an elegy: “And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces.”
And speaking of elegies, here we are, near the end of another of my little remembrances situated along the edge of rue. Thank you for reading it. And don’t worry, before long you’ll remember nothing of it. That’s okay, I won’t either. Yet before closing, I’ll just note that there’s another Catskill eagle on the scene. It’s soaring overhead right now. I can see it. So might you.