Monday, June 9, 2008

Picture this

Laments the narrator of Robert Harris’s The Ghost (Select Editions volume 297) when he arrives on the island of Martha’s Vineyard for the first time: “Until that moment I was unfamiliar with scrub oak. Maybe it looks good in full leaf. But in winter I doubt if nature has a more depressing vista to offer than mile after mile of those twisted, dwarfish, ash-colored trees.”

Coincidentally, I had been scheduled for a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard just before I started work on the book—so I decided to provide a snapshot from the island itself to help our readers further crystallize the image of these gnarly but sturdy trees. The photo was taken in early November, and the book takes place in January, so the colors aren’t the same. Still, the shape, the rugged athleticism of the trees—when I close my eyes I can still see them in my mind.

Wouldn’t you know that during the time I was there the island was hit by a violent nor’easter, a remnant of Hurricane Noel. The scrub oaks in the yard of our rented house swayed dramatically in the wind, but very few branches broke. The low-to-the-ground silhouette and the octopus-like branches withstood some of the worst nature has to offer. Look at us, Robert Harris! they seemed to say. We may be ugly, but we’re strong!


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