Abject Reptile


Verlyn Klinkenborg's "novel" of nature — Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile — is told by a tortoise held captive in an 18th-century British garden. It plods, like poetry in slow motion. At times frustrating. But deliberate, in both senses of the word. Intentional, planned. And slow, careful. Like the narrator's voice in Forrest Gump. Often the conceit works brilliantly. Philosophy and language sparkle as Timothy explains how he escapes his prison:

The true secret? Walk through the holes in their attention. Easier at my speed than at any faster rate. At evening, larkers stalk the wheat fields, nets spread. Bits of mirror flash behind them. Larks fly into the glittering — and the nets. Larkers cage them. Off they go to wealthy tables, waiting mouths, in Tunbridge and Brighthelmstone.

So it is with humans. Quickness draws their eye. Entangles their attention. What they notice they call reality. But reality is a fence with many holes, a net with many tears. I walk through them slowly. My slowness is deceptively fast.

Soon he is recaptured. Back to crawling the garden. Likewise, his story crawls. Timothy is a novelization of Gilbert White's journals and his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. Commentaries on the flora and fauna around a small English village. Notes on weather and country life by a rural curate. Early amateur naturalist. Fascinating, to a point. Worth reading. When there's time, ample time, to offer it.

Near the end of his fictionalized life Timothy yearns for escape from the planned. Spurns the artificial. Dreams away the regimentation of man. Klinkenborg, as he so often does, illuminates the magic of life, the great universe beyond all fences:

I wish to live again in a place that is not a map of the gardener's mind. Book of nature, as humans love to think of it. But where I wish to live is not a book at all. Not an argument for the being and attributes of an unnecessary god. Not a theorem, hypothesis, or demonstration. Merely itself.

Like the joys of the wilderness. Trail and forest. Stream and sky. No buying or selling. The simplest things. Simply for themselves.

^z - 2008-07-29

(correlates: Forrest Gump --- The Movie, Financial Planning, RunsInTheFamily, ...)