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Amy Leach offers fresh, poetic perspective of the world without us in ‘Things That Are’

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Jacket art for 'Things That Are'; illustration by Nate Christopherson

Jacket art for ‘Things That Are’; illustration by Nate Christopherson.

This collection of essays by Amy Leach was such an incredible read, I couldn’t move onto anything else without mentioning why it should be on everyone’s reading list.

In case you aren’t familiar with the award-winning author (I wasn’t before I read this book, which happens to be her first), Amy Leach graduated from Iowa University with an MFA in creative non-fiction. Many of the essays included in Things That Are were published in literary journals such as A Public Space and the Wilson Quarterly.

Things That Are is separated into two sections: “Things of Earth” and “Things of Heaven”. In these, Leach’s words become a magnifying glass, examining all the eccentricities of the natural world, which includes but isn’t limited to: the clumsy flight of the warblers, the lives of peas (who grow with time and ‘start to teeter, because they possess more self than they can support’), the arduously dedicated beavers and even a brief musing on the meaning of the word God.

Leach takes the world we live in and, with her words, transforms all plants, animals, constellations and elements into characters. In her essays, the Earth and its neighboring galaxies are the stars of the show, as magical and ephemeral as ever (no wizards, supernatural beings, cliffhangers and/or hi-tech gadgets necessary).

Award-winning author Amy Leach.

Award-winning author Amy Leach.

Flashes of lightness and humor permeate Leach’s view of the world and the creatures that inhabit it, as shown in this excerpt from her essay “Please Do Not Yell At The Sea Cucumber”:

“The floor of the sea is also the setting for the potentially dramatic life of the sea cucumber. The cucumbers do not flip or flash or whistle or ever translate into frillier forms of themselves […] Every year, for three weeks, it melts down its respiratory and circulatory systems and then rebuilds itself. The danger is that if it gets warm or stressed during this restoration period the poor frail cucumber will burst, expelling all its softened heart-soup. Please do not yell at the sea cucumbers.”

There’s so much to talk about in relation to this book. The only way to truly grasp the imaginative effort put into this work is to read it. I do want to mention one other essay, which is a personal favorite of mine. In “You Are Going to Fly”, the author discusses the life cycle of the butterfly and the ‘anxious urges’ people have for caterpillars to “Become!” butterflies. However, Leach concludes the caterpillar can never be infected by these thoughts:

“A small apple-green caterpillar who climbs a toadflax plant, who somehow loses a foothold while walking across a stem to get to a leaf, slips and is hanging on by only two crochet-hookfeet, the wind swinging it back and forth over the creek, is not thinking, “Alack! I shall fall into the icy water! I shall be swallowed by a fish! I will never, now, wrap myself in silk and wake up with powdery, iridescent, blue-and-green wings, fly away with them to fields of cornflower, and mate, and feed on the tears of wild buffalo! My life, my eating,my climbing – it has all been meaningless!”

Rather, it thinks, “I’m swinging, I’m swinging, I’m swinging.”

To read Things That Are is to experience nature. Even if you find yourself doing so while sitting high above the ground, looking over a concrete jungle, all you’ll see is green and beauty, and the world as it was when it began: untouched, vulnerable, warm, and full of life.

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