Going Against Nature with T.C. Boyle

There are two things we need to succeed in life. We need to understand that nature is a key player in life and that it has greater power over us than we do it. We cannot control nature, nor can we impact what it has in store for us. If nature, such as the weather, decides there’s going to be a storm this weekend, well the best we can do is prepare for it. If nature creates us in one mode, who are we to go against it and try to change our species? If nature decides it’s going to slam a commit into the earth, we are helpless in the matter. Going against nature, or even questioning its methods, has its consequences and the characters of the short stories written by T. C. Boyle seem to know this all too well. Nature is a greater power that demands great respect. It is not a choice in the matter, but rather a forced way of life that we have no means to alter, which Boyle convincingly conveys through his stories. In the story “The Swift Passage of Animals”, T. C. Boyle takes us on a “big adventure”  in which a new relationship is intended to flourish by a romantic weekend getaway.
The nature of the male, Zach, is to impress the young recently divorced woman, Ontario. Though they are already dating, he is still courting her in hopes to further impress her by taking her to “hike the trails and cross-country ski… and then sit at the bar at the lodge till it was time to go to bed”, by sharing the experiences with the greatest thing they have in common, their love for nature. Of course, there is more in it for Zach than just enjoying the beauty nature has, he intends on fulfilling the “unspoken promise percolating beneath the simple monosyllable of her assent—going to bed”. Zach is using her love of nature to his fullest advantage. Nature is not something to be taken advantage of, as it is not something to be questioned or controlled. Zach, being the dominant “risk-taker” that he believes himself to be is about to get a whole new taste of what nature has to offer when taking advantage of for personal gain. Though Zach claims that the main reason for their trip is to explore and enjoy their common interest of nature at the Big Timber Lodge it is just a cover for what he really has in mind, which is going to bed with Ontario. T. C.
Boyle’s diction throughout the beginning of the story foreshadows this “unspoken” intention of Zach by placing details such as “the soft sexy scratch of [her voice] shot from his eardrums right to his crotch”, and the reference of her sweater with the “reindeer prancing across her breasts”, he foreshadows the consequences of these provoking thoughts by directly following them with the dangers of the “sleet” “dark” road they were on. In showing his dominance and risk-taking skills, Zach chooses not to prepare in case they get caught in a storm on the way to the Lodge. He also presses nature even further by choosing to take the back road even though “there was a winter storm watch out of the Southern Sierras…and he knew that [it] would be closed as soon as the first snow hit”. All he could think about was getting there as fast as he could. “He was always in a hurry. Especially tonight. Especially with her”. Zach experiences his “first prick of worry” when he spots a sign that said, “Cars required with Chains”. Perversely” nature enhances his worries by letting the snow paint the road with such intensity it was “as if some cosmic hand had swept on ahead with a two-lane paintbrush”. Despite the skidding of the tires and the snow “coming down as if it wasn’t going to stop till May”, Ontario maintains full confidence in Zach. “She wasn’t staring out the windshield into the white fury of the headlights but watching him as if they were cruising down the Coast Highway under a ripe delicate sun”.

But even with the confidence of his potential mate, his risk-taking skills, and attitude nature still manages to turn things around on him when the car skids into a boulder and lands itself in “a glistening white ditch that undulated gracefully away from the hidden surface of the road”. Zach is now completely alone in nature with Ontario, “which was where he really and truly wanted to be”. However, it is now that all of his unpreparedness becomes apparent. “He didn’t have a shovel in the truck—no shovel, and no chains”. No “knife” or “hatchet”, or “anything to cut with”. Nothing of any use to assist them in getting the tires up and out of the ditch. All of their feeble attempts merely gave “the rear wheels a moment’s purchase” which just resulted in “[shoving] the front end in deeper”. Nature successfully pulls this egotistical, risk-taking, prideful, dominant male down “to feel less a risk taker and more a fool, callow, rash, without the foresight of calculation, the sort of blighted individual whose genetic infirmities get swallowed up in the food chain before he can reproduce and pass them on to vitiate the species”. As nature pulls Zach further and further down, deepening his misery by torrential snow and all the worries that come with leaving your car out in the middle of the wilderness (such as if “the yahoos come out and strip it” in an attempt to hike to the Big Timber Lodge which was still a long “thirteen miles” away, Ontario is “inordinately cheerful”.
But “given how miserable [Zach] was” because of the crash, he was able to pull the optimistic outlook of Ontario down to his pessimistic level. By the end of their hike, Zach finds himself grouped into “the unlucky and unprepared” people which nature tackles with full force. His trip was ruined, as well as his time with Ontario. When they finally reach the lodge, after being rescued from the cold by “the man in the goggles” on a “snowmobile”, Ontario corrects Zach’s request of a room to “two rooms”. In “Doxology” T. C. Boyle introduces us to Cynthia, or “C. f. , Captial C, lowercase f” as she prefers to be called. She is a young woman who has finished grad school and attempting to “challenge” the misconceptions people have about dogs. The world views dogs as “beneath them… common, pedestrian, no more exotic than the housefly or the Norway rat”. C. f. was obsessed with changing the world’s view of dogs despite the fact that “the graduate committee rejected her thesis”. Humans have domesticated dogs. This results in two types of dogs: the wild and the domesticated. Cynthia challenges the methods of nature, by trying to change herself into a member of the pack. She committed herself to do things as the pack would, “made a point of wearing the same things continuously for weeks on end… in the expectation that her scent would invest them, and the scent of the pack too”. She “[hoped] to gain their confidence” by smelling like them, running with them “reminding herself to always keep her head down and go quadrupedal whenever possible” this was how she was going to “hear, smell and see as the dogs did”.

Boyle, T. C. Tooth and Claw. New York: Viking, 2006.

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