"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

17 January 2008

Where the Roots Reach for Water

from Jeffrey Smith's Where the Roots Reach for Water:

It was back, and it was nearly the longest day of the year; at our northern latitude the light would blanch the sky until past ten that evening. The idea of abiding that light for ten more hours exhausted me. Maybe, I thought, [. . .] maybe I can stand up and walk away from it. [. . .]

I leaned back against a cottonwood tree on the riverbank. Shining clear light fell in sheets down the sky. In the breeze the lime-colored cottonwood trees were all atremble; they shimmered the light in every direction, like some radiant version of glory revealed. I noticed, but I did not see; in my eyes all that sparkle and sinew had gone to blunt and shear, a blare of light.

There was no mistaking it now. I knew well enough: it is arrived. [. . .] No external event of weather or circumstance could account for its coming. All I knew was that it came that day rising, as it always did, not falling as if from elsewhere but rising as if it came from within, as inexorable as it was unbidden. I slogged on home and in my dark and damp basement room I crawled into bed.

I read only the first chapter of Smith's book last night and I could hardly force myself to put it down to finish the class prep I needed to do before going to bed. He had, at the time described above, suffered from depressive episodes for a couple of years. No medications had worked until one, which gave him the illusion for several months that he'd found a cure -- until depression came back and caused him to make serious plans for suicide.

The book is about what he learned from his decision to stop using medication, not because he thinks one never should, but because it obviously wasn't going to help him -- and in fact placed him in physical danger as doctors kept giving him higher dosages and placing him on more than one at a time. (He gives a frightening description of the paralysis he suffered which finally led to this decision.) Instead of attempting suicide, however, he decided to taper off the medications and stop taking them. He ends the first chapter with the question he finally posed himself: "Without anti-depressants to vanquish it, could a person have a life with depression?"

The book is highly recommended by Joshua Wolf Shenk (Lincoln's Melancholy), who says, "Smith is driven to map the landscape of melancholy. He finds it stretched deep through history, literature, medicine, and myth. [The book] doesn't discount the value of modern medicine, but it does soundly challenge its inviolability." He calls it "engrossing and persuasive."

Yes, some of my books have come, and this is the one that said to me, Read me now! (before my own next episode, perhaps?)


Cindy said...


Now why did I make that Amazon order for my mother just two hours ago instead of waiting long enough to try to sneak this in with it?! Argh!

Sounds like a necessity-read.

alaiyo said...

I think you would like it. I've read further and find it fascinating.

If the order hasn't shipped yet, I think you can add to it . . . :)

Cindy said...


alaiyo said...

It's my new role. :)