Ray Bradbury, who was alive
6 June 2012
Ray Bradbury is dead. I love his work so much that I can’t imagine how the mind, heart, soul that created it could no longer be alive with stories that still take me home.
I am republishing today a post I wrote in 2008. And my question for you, and for me, today, every day, is Do you know?
August 3, 2008
Dandelion Wine is a summer book, every word rich with summer-ness like ice cream and hot sun, and soft heavy evenings full of tree frogs and parents laughing quietly in the other room and screen doors slamming in the distance.
I first read it in high school, and it didn’t really speak to me. It wasn’t weird enough, and the boy in the book was too young for me to care about, and it was set in 1928 — you may imagine the roll of teenage eyes, god, that was like a thousand years ago…
I was in my 30’s before I understood the deep richness of this book, the joy and the sadness and the absolute brilliance with which Bradbury captures a summer that I never had and yet remember so well. Summer as a state of mind. Summer as a collection of moments out of usual time in which we may, if we choose, live slow and do mundane things and find at bedtime that it has been one of the richest days…
We’ve had very unsatisfactory weather in Seattle these last couple weeks, restless laughing autumn weather that I love, but am not yet ready for. But we are promised summer again this week, and although outside my window it’s hazy and 50 degrees, I see sun and hints of blue sky behind the gray smoke. And today, when the sun comes out (and I know it will, I know), I will stretch out in it with iced tea and Dandelion Wine and remember what it’s like when everything in one’s world is exciting and new and so full of possibility. I’ll remember that from my little deck, a place familiar and known and not so much about possibility as it is about perspective and the considered choice to throw myself into things or not, to be new or not, to sit in the sun or go inside. Because I’m no longer twelve, and I need my twelve-year-old summer days more than ever.
In the first eight pages of the book, Douglas Spaulding, age 12, is out in the woods with his father and younger brother Tom. Doug and Tom are wrestling. And Douglas discovers something amazing:
And at last, slowly, afraid he would find nothing, Douglas opened one eye.
And everything, absolutely everything, was there.
The world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye, which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him.
And he knew what it was that had leaped upon him to stay and would not run away now.
I’m alive, he thought.
The grass whispered under his body. He put his arm down, feeling the sheath of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his toes creaking in his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere. Flowers were sun and fiery spots of sky strewn through the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing in his wrists, the real heart pounding in his chest. The million pores on his body opened.
I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!
He yelled it loud but silent, a dozen times! Think of it, think of it! Twelve years old and only now! Now discovering this rare timepiece, this clock gold-bright and guaranteed to run threescore and ten, left under a tree and found while wrestling.
“Doug, you okay?”
Douglas yelled, grabbed Tom, and rolled.
“Doug, you’re crazy!”
They spilled downhill, the sun in their mouths, in their eyes like shattered lemon glass, gasping like trout thrown out on a bank, laughing till they cried.
“Doug, you’re not mad?”
“No, no, no, no, no!”
Douglas, eyes shut, saw spotted leopards pad in the dark.
“Tom!” Then, quieter. “Tom… does everyone in the world… know he’s alive?”
“Sure. Heck, yes!”
The leopards trotted soundlessly off through darker lands where eyeballs could not turn to follow.
“I hope they do,” whispered Douglas. “Oh, I sure hope they know.”
— from Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury