Loose Creatures (a brief appreciation for Ursula K. LeGuin)


My watercolor of an oak branch – see my art blog for more oak drawings

My nearly-ten-year-old daughter and I have been reading a lot of Ursula K. LeGuin out loud at night before going to sleep. I’ve been meaning to post something here praising her Earthsea books, her Annals of the Western Shore series, her Ekumen sci-fi books, and also The Beginning Place – which we finished reading a couple days ago.

Last night, though, we enjoyed reading LeGuin’s short story “Direction of the Road” from the collection The Unreal and the Real: the Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. LeGuin. I first heard praise of this story on the Crafting with Ursula podcast episode featuring Isaac Yuen. It’s a wildly inventive short story told from the point of view of a hundreds-of-years-old oak tree, who tells stories of interacting with those “loose creatures,” their “makings,” and the general local “Order of Things.”

Below is a short excerpt:

I remember the first motorcar I saw. Like most of us, I took it for a mortal, some kind of loose creature new to me. I was a bit startled, for after a hundred and thirty-two years I thought I knew all the local fauna. But a new thing is always interesting, in its trivial fashion, so I observed this one with attention. I approached it a fair speed, about the rate of a canter, but in a new gait, suitable to the ungainly looks of the thing: an uncomfortable, bouncing, rolling, choking, jerking gait. Within two minutes, before I’d grown a foot tall, I knew it was not mortal creature, bound or loose or free. It was a making, like the carts the horses got hitched to. I thought it was so ill-made that I didn’t expect it to return, once it gasped over the West Hill, and I heartily hoped it never would, for I disliked that jerking bounce.

I had enjoyed reading a couple of LeGuin novels in college (she even spoke at my college graduation), but I confess I hadn’t read her widely until the past couple years. She’s a great writer. Someone who blazed trails – inspiring, influencing, and making space for other writers that have come after her. I highly recommend getting your hands on pretty much anything she wrote.

I also have a fondness for oak trees – which I enjoy spending time with by sketching them.


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