Hitched to Everything Else

My point was to say, at the beginning of something I thought I was going to write about this morning that, when I sit down to write about the importance of x, I find I can’t go on until I explore its relationship to a-through-zed.

It’s nigh impossible to tease any single fact or observation apart from its context in time and space, its place along the continuum in the history of human knowledge. There are no lone truths.

Any given bit of data, then, as I try to focus, becomes the object of another track of discovery. And that,  of yet another and another.

I find a good bit of satisfaction in the quest to follow the rabbit to the end of the warren, but have concluded there is not an end.

As a matter of fact, I wanted to get the intended opening Muir quote about “tugging at one thing” correct, and find that even that leads me veering off in an unexpected direction. This Sierra Club page  tells us the only time Muir ever used the word “tug” was describing a boat that guided a sailing ship into harbor.

Here’s the misquote and the correct quote:


“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

The correct quote is:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

And yet…

He revised his writing often–since any writer’s work is never really DONE. And I like Muir’s wordier version below even better in describing the tangle of tantalizing threads that every “simple” tug leads me to, with such satisfying frustration.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.”

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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