A few months ago authors Rebecca Solnit and Bill McKibben reached out to their friends in the literary community to put out a particular challenge to them – to write an inspiring piece of 350 words, or about the 350 effort to keep us all motivated on the hard road to 350ppm. With just a few weeks to go till October 24th, as the hours of work grow longer, and the days seem to somehow grow shorter, this kind of inspiration is very important. So we’re proud to share with you the 350 Writers initiative – we’ll be sharing a new poem or piece of writing every few days, so stay tuned. Here’s the first:
Barry Lopez is an elder of the American literary tribe. His explorations have won him the Pulitzer Prize, and enormous numbers of devoted fans. Here’s his 350-word (exactly) short story–the first in a series of 350-word poems and essays we’ll be publishing in the next couple of weeks. Many thanks to Barry, for this, and for all his work:
by Barry Lopez
On a winter afternoon, along a trail in the Sierra Madre in the state of Mensajero, beneath an immense rampart of rising cumulonimbus, a deeply imperfect man bent over to collect a small piece of black glass. He recognized its kind: obsidian, a thick sliver of it. When the molten interior of the Earth is thrown into the frigid sky and it cools quickly it becomes a stone like this. People say of its edges that no knife is sharper, and of its color that it is transparent but bottomless, like the sea’s, so it cannot be rendered on paper or canvas.
The man turned the spalled flake over in the palm of one hand with the fingers of the other. He tested the edge with his thumb and held it up to the sun. He knew of no volcanoes in these mountains, but the trail was many centuries old, and people had carried red coral, abalone shells, and turquoise up and down it for generations. Someone dropped this, he thought, in the time when his grandfather was alive, or in the year of his own birth, or a pilgrim might have dropped it, only days ago.
It glittered in his palm, like sunlight in ice, and he wondered, as the heaving clouds encroached on the sun and the shard of glass darkened, what his obligations were. Should he give it back to the trail or pocket it for the single daughter he was traveling to see? In another age he would not have hesitated to take it to the girl. Now he felt he must put it back, even if later someone else might take it. He believed he had come upon a time in his life when everything, even the things of God, needed protection. When he met his daughter, he would tell her he had found a black tear in the dust of the narrow path and understood he must leave it be. And she would ask whose tear it was, and he would have to use his imagination in the way his people had once done.