Study Guide

Animal Dreams Earth

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The dead mountain range of tailings on the lip of the mine had sat for decades, washed by rain, and still was barren as the Sahara. From a distance you might guess these piles of dirt to be fragile, like a sandcastle, but up close you'd see the pinkish soil corrugated with vertical ridges and eroded to a sheen, like rock. It would take a pickaxe to dent it. (8.1)

Codi's image of the tailing piles is one of nightmarish barrenness. She basically sees land that is so damaged it can never recover. Buried in the ugliness, though, is a hint of resilience—a surface that you'd need a pickaxe to dent.

At the upstream end of the canyon we could also see the beginnings of the dam that would divert the river out to Tortoise Canyon. [...] They pretended the dam was some kind of community-improvement project, but from where Viola and I stood it looked like exactly what it was—a huge grave. Marigold-orange earth movers hunched guiltily on one corner of the scarred plot of ground. (14.130)

This one is basically self-explanatory: dam=grave, end of river=end of life. You know, math.

"The greatest honor you can give a house is to let it fall back down into the ground," he said. "That's where everything comes from in the first place." (19.79)

For Loyd, the earth is the ultimate home. That's what he means when he says that he'd die for the land. He's not referring to a nation or country or anything like that.

"If Grace gets poisoned, if all these trees die and this land goes to hell, you'll just go somewhere else, right? Like the great pioneers, Lewis and Clark. Well, guess what, kiddos, the wilderness is used up." I walked around my little square of floor like a trapped cat. "People can forget, and forget, and forget, but the land has a memory. The lake and the rivers are still hanging on to the DDT and every other insult we ever gave them." (21.21)

So, wait, you can't actually just ignore and forget trauma and push it down and repress it and make it go away by ignoring it? Who knew? Somebody should tell Sigmund Freud...

I felt a little embarrassed for my blunt interrogation. And the more I thought about it, even more embarrassed for my utilitarian culture.

"The way they tell it to us Anglos, God put the earth here for us to use, westward-ho. Like a special little playground."

"Loyd said, "Well, that explains a lot."

It explained a hell of a lot. I said quietly [...] "But where do you go when you've pissed in every corner of your playground?"


I remembered Loyd one time saying he'd die for the land. And I'd thought he meant patriotism. I'd had no idea. I wondered what he saw when he looked at Black Mountain mine: the pile of dead tailings, a mountain cannibalizing its own guts and soon to destroy the living trees and home lives of Grace. It was such an American story, it was hardly even interesting. (19.135-7)

This one's less about Codi's attempt to find a home in Grace than it is about her attempt to care about something enough to defend it. She's getting there, folks. Just give her a little more time.

"My students and I looked at the river water under microscopes, and the usual things that live in a river aren't there. Then we tested the pH of the river and found out it's very acidic. The EPA has tested it too, and they agree. But your trees knew all this way before we did. Watering them from the river is just like acid rain falling on them. [...] Usually there's a whole world of microscopic things living in a river, and in the dirt, and the air. If you were in an airplane and flew over a city and saw nothing was moving, you'd know something was up." (16.24-31)

Oh, Codi, we love it when you talk all sciencey. Codi is trying to prove that she's a worthwhile human being here. But these ladies already know.

The body would stay there. She had requested of somebody, at some point, that she be buried in Nicaragua if that ever had to happen. She said Nicaragua could use the fertilizer. (24.4)

For Hallie, as for Loyd, part of loving a place means going back into it when you die. Hallie found her home in Nicaragua, so that's where she wants to be laid to rest.

When he catches up, a little breathless, she is standing with her boots on the ground like rooted stalks. Standing beside the old plot where Hallie used to grow a garden. A few old artichoke bushes have gone thistly and wild around its perimeter. Codi drops the knotted bundle and goes to the tool shed to retrieve a shovel. She comes back and digs hard into the ground. It hasn't been disturbed for many years.

"Are you sure this is a good place?" he asks. (27.4-5)

This is Doc's perennial question about Grace: is it a good place? In this scene, with its image of Codi rooted in the ground, we can see that she's finally decided it is.

The tops of the flat tailing mounds were dimpled with rain-catching basins and I'd noticed that springs of rabbitbrush were starting to grow up there. (28.12)

One of the last images we get to see is of the ground beginning to recover now that the mine has stopped abusing it. Symbol alert: Codi's own internal progress matches the recovery of the land. Maybe things will be okay here, in time.

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