“This Infuriatingly Intricate Web”

A well-known local author mentioned at the most recent of his readings I attended that he’s writing a book about koans – a book I can’t wait to read, because isn’t life just a series of unfolding koans? Have I ever actually solved one? Some days, it seems to me, not likely.

My daughter spied a V of geese winging south yesterday, the first we’ve seen of this season, but one among countless Vs we’ve watched since she was a tiny girl, her arm crooked around my neck. Fall is familiar, graciously beautiful, infinitely sad, followed by the brilliant beauty of sparse winter: the same Vermont story, year after year, and yet I’m always surprised by the September mornings’ cool mist, the cucumber vines shriveling, all done with this life.

Cooking dinner yesterday, I read an article in the New Yorker about that terrible disease, cancer. Innocuously enough, the article begins with mollusks in Lake Michigan, journeys through seed and soil, and ends with a koan:

… as ambitious cancer researchers study soil as well as seed, one sees the beginnings of a new approach. It would return us to the true meaning of “holistic”: to take the body, the organism, its anatomy, its physiology—this infuriatingly intricate web—as a whole. Such an approach would help us understand the phenomenon in all its vexing diversity; it would help us understand when you have cancer and when cancer has you. It would encourage doctors to ask not just what you have but what you are.

– Siddhartha Mukherjee



By Brett Ann Stanciu

Brett Ann Stanciu lives with her two daughters in Hardwick, Vermont. Her creative nonfiction book, Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal, will be published by Steerforth Press in September 2021. Her novel about rural life in Vermont, Hidden View, was published in 2015.

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