The Sunday Post for July 21, 2019

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights just a few pieces of longform writing that we loved reading. Settle in with a cup of coffee, or tea, if that's your pleasure — we saved you a seat! Read an essay or an article online that you loved? Let us know at Need more browse? You can also look through the archives.

Cosmic fruit

Intricate and startling, this short essay by Anca Szilágyi is a delight. It’s about strawberries, or violence, or strangeness, or the sweetness and sorrow and difficulty of love — all of these, tied up in a tangle of history, agriculture, and the fantastic.

The “Olga and Beyond” brochure produced by the Olga Strawberry Council of Orcas Island relates the story of Higgie the Kodiak bear. As a fifty-pound cub, Higgie was given by a Mrs. Higginson to a Mrs. Rice in 1910. The bear grew rapidly to 1,100 pounds and often escaped its pen to gorge on nearby orchards and livestock; Higgie “met its fate while enjoying Sam Lightheart’s garden” in June of 1913. Poor Higgie, snout red with strawberry flesh.
My books

On retiring (and the corresponding relocation), Ian Patterson sold off an enormous library of books until the collection fit his new, geographically smaller life. Unlike the sweetly ephemeral strawberry, we expect books to stay. Their longevity is reassurance of our own, their loss, a loss of some version, or many versions, of our self.

... each time I pulled a book off the shelf, I remembered when and where I’d bought it. The day I’d finally handed over 25 shillings for Spinoza’s correspondence. The Bergson with Hubert Bland’s bookplate that I found in a jumble sale. The complete run of C.K. Ogden’s journal Psyche which he’d bound himself in quarter vellum with his butterfly insignia on the spine, and all the volumes of the Psyche Miniatures I’d picked up here and there over the years. Books by friends and books by people I disliked. Books full of my notes or jottings on the backs of envelopes. Books bought in Cambridge from the libraries of Raymond Williams, Dadie Rylands, Tony Tanner, Jack Lindsay and other luminaries. Even the most unassuming books prompted recollections. They composed a sort of biography, each one acting like a door in an advent calendar, opening on to some moment in the past.

Still, they had to go.

The weird magic of eiderdown

The lyricism of this piece is less in the language, more in the circumstance. Edward Posnett (in an excerpt from his forthcoming Harvest) follows the relationship between Iceland’s eider, the farmers who gently harvest the bird’s down, and the Artic fox, whose treatment at the farmers' hands is much less gentle.

Some things that are wonderful: the eider plucks its own breast to make the warmest nest for its young. The Arctic fox has tiny, furred paws that must help with running on snow. Eider feathers look like fractals on LSD.

Some things that are difficult: finding a balance between humans and the many kinds of wild that cannot be so easily upset.

Watching the whales’ spouts rise and dissolve in the distance, it was easy to believe this place a rural utopia, a place where eiders could nest in peace and children roamed alongside geese, rabbits, puffins and horses. Around us life exploded from the water, the skies and the crevices in the rocks. All one had to do was to observe it, wait patiently and gather eiderdown. But then we were met by Tása, the family dog, whose job it was to catch any mink that swim over from the mainland. “She’s a gentle family dog,” Alexíus said, “but when she meets the mink she goes apeshit. It’s quite messy when she gets it. She starts one end and breaks every bone.”