Kristen Lodge: High Tide in Tucson – Let Me Be a Good Animal Today
September 16, 2011
I am surrounded by books. I have a stack of books in my living room and next to my bed.
I am reading books about hiking in Glacier National Park and traveling to Chile. I am reading poetry from Pablo Neruda, The Art of Racing in the Rain and Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. I want to do everything, learn everything, and see everything; and reading is a prerequisite.
During this journey I am always pleasantly surprised when a book appears in my life when I need it; to teach me, again, what I need to remember.
Recently an old favorite reappeared: High Tide in Tucson, a collection of essays by Barbara Kingsolver. I have the book, or had it at one time. I hope whatever friend has it is enjoying the multicolored highlights, underlined words and dog eared pages of important passages.
You’ll like this collection of stories if you’re anything like me: bookish, adventurous, you don’t live near your family (and sometimes wish you did), and are constantly romanticizing what you’re life could have been like if different choices were made.
This collection of essays was published in 1995 after Kingsolver wrote several popular novels including The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, and Pigs in Heaven; all of which I read prior to discovering High Tide in Tucson. In 2007, she wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about a year her family fed themselves solely on products grown close to their home in rural Virginia.
The first essay, High Tide in Tucson, is about a hermit crab that finds its way into Kingsolver’s luggage from a trip to the Bahamas. “It had fallen asleep to the sound of the Caribbean tide and awakened on a coffee table in Tucson, Arizona, where the nearest standing water source of any real account was the municipal sewage-treatment plant.” She instantly gives the crab a name, Buster, and makes a home for it.
Kingsolver is a keen observer of life and animal behavior; she takes the smallest event such as a stowaway hermit crab from a beach vacation, and turns it into a universal truth. She does this through each essay and in the case of High Tide in Tucson, she talks about her own displacement, living in a desert thousands of miles from her family, and wonders – much like Buster – what the heck is going to happen next.
Kingsolver brings readers to her chosen home. She takes readers into the desert where she studies the rocks and watches hawks fly above her as a bighorn emerges from brush. She writes honestly about her life as she tries to understand the manic-depressive hermit crab in her home. She writes about a man who puts a knife in her stomach. She details the robbers who take over her home where she lives with her young daughter. She tries to make sense of the chaos.
In her despair I see my own more clearly; the personal becomes the universal. You survive, you don’t think about how to respond, you just do: “What does it mean to be an animal in human clothing?” The answers: You follow internal rhythms, you walk upright, you protect your loved ones.
“Let me be a good animal today. Let me dance in the waves of my private tide, the habits of survival and love.”
Kingsolver is joyous in her essays and that is what I want to remember: “What a stroke of luck. What a singular brute feat of outrageous fortune: to be born to a citizenship in the Animal Kingdom. We love, we lose, go back to the start and do it right over again. High Tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.”
What a stroke of luck that I am surrounded by books.