Ursula Le Guin and Eagles

I begin to think the eagles in the tree outside my window are channeling Ursula Le Guin. When I read her essays in Words Are My Matter, the eagles trumpet from their perches in the high cottonwood trees. Trumpet is rather wrong, it is much more like emphatic flute players.

I don’t mean to suggest that Ursula had the thin squeaky voice that, incongruous as it seems, eagles possess. But rather, when I start reading these by turns serious, by turns funny, essays, I have the distinct impression of a voice from above, slightly disappointed and frankly exasperated, pointing out where I have gone astray. A voice from a being who could easily rip my heart out with knife-like talons but who will, for now, try to put me back on the path gently but persistently. 

It is so easy to begin to doubt. When our culture spends all of its time telling us that the almighty dollar is the highest good, what then are poets supposed to do? We know each time we set pen to page that monetary gain gathers her silken white robes and heads for the door. So why on earth do we continue? Even those lucky enough to find their words on the printed page know that the audience is small, fickle, and prone to promoting their friends’ work rather than reading broadly. 

So often, writers (especially those poets) will reply that they write because they must. As if writers are some evolutionary subset of humanity, driven to create.

But is this true? We want it be, because lord knows in our current culture we would prefer to be counted on the side of the creators rather than the rising flood of destroyers. Yet I wonder how many of us are simply trying to imagine ourselves into a more congenial world.

“Home isn’t Mom and Dad and Sis and Bud. Home isn’t where they have to let you in. It’s not a place at all. Home is imaginary.

Home, imagined, comes to be. It is real, realer than any other place, but you can’t get to it unless your people show you how to imagine it — whoever your people are. They many not be your relatives. They may never have spoken your language. They may have been dead for a thousand years. They may be nothing but words printed on paper, ghosts of voices, shadows of mind. But they can guide you home. They are your human community.

All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. Without them, our lives get made up for us by other people.”

-Ursula Le Guin, “The Operating Instructions”

How many of us who are scribblers began as deep readers? The kind of kid falling into the open pages of a book and finding a world that felt much more like a home than the place where we hung our clothes.

And for now, we are writing our way into another world that contains us fully realized in all our diversity. Not for monetary gain, but to once again say this is the path that creates my world, this the spell that manifests it into being, the scratch of the pencil on the page or rattle of the keyboard. We send those words out into the world in the hopes that for at least one other person they might provide a signpost toward home.

When one of the pair of eagles returns with a seemingly impossibly large stick to bolster the nest, the other calls out for many minutes afterwards for reasons I can only imagine. Together they are building their home. With these words, I am building mine. 

4 Replies to “Ursula Le Guin and Eagles”

  1. I found you by way of Kate Carroll deGutes. I guess I don’t read broadly, but my friends are often a good signpost in the vast internets. I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your words here, and LeGuin’s. Yes, I write because I’m trying to imagine myself into a more congenial world, because I am still (will probably always be) searching for home. I’m grateful for this morning’s signpost.

  2. Hi Erin, I enjoyed reading this entry, as I consider what my “home” might be, and as I miss Le Guin, one of my favorite writers. I’m so glad she lives on in her words. I’m also really appreciating your book of poems, Every Atom.

  3. Thank you, Rebecca! I really miss Ursula as well. I’m hoping to catch the PBS documentary about her that is airing this month.

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