Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm I

In 1975, Annie Dillard spent some time on the islands of Puget Sound. In the course of a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in November, a plane crashed on the island. From the events of that week, she wrote a book, Holy the Firm. I am reading it now because I need to. Here are some excerpts.

I came here to study hard things–rock mountain and salt sea–and to temper my spirit on their edges. “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend. . . .

Into this world falls a plane.

The earth is a mineral speckle planted in trees. The plane snagged its wing on a tree, fluttered in a tiny arc, and struggled down.

I heard it go. The cat looked up. There was no reason: the plane’s engine simply stilled after takeoff, and the light plane failed to clear the firs. It fell easily; one wing snagged on a fir top; the metal fell down the air and smashed in the thin woods where cattle browse; the fuel exploded; and Julie Norwich seven years old burnt off her face.

Little Julie mute in some room at St. Joe’s now, drugs dissolving into the sheets. Little Julie with her eyes naked and spherical, baffled. Can you scream without lips? Yes. But do children in long pain scream?

It is November 19 and no wind, and no hope of heaven, and no wish for heaven, since the meanest of people show more mercy than hounding and terrorist gods. . . .

The volunteer firemen have mustered; the fire trucks have come–stampeding Shuller’s sheep–and gone, bearing burnt Julie and Jesse her father to the emergency room in town, leaving the rest of us to gossip, fight grass fires on the airstrip, and pray, or wander from window to window, fierce.

So she is burnt on her face and neck, Julie Norwich. The one whose teeth are short in a row, Jesse and Ann’s oldest, red-kneed, green-socked, carrying cats.

–Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm (Harper & Row, 1977)