Walnuts or Some Observations

This last week, I’ve been thinking about walnuts or, actually, the trees on which they grow. It isn’t the first time. My interest has to do with a certain street in Long Island and the following passage from Gravity’s Rainbow:

It’s the street before your childhood home: stony, rutted and cracked, water shining in puddles. You set out to the left. (Usually in these dreams of home you prefer the landscape to the right—broad night-lawns, towered over by ancient walnut trees, a hill, a wooden fence, hollow-eyed horses in a field, a cemetery. . . . Your task, in these dreams, is often to pens. Often you go into the fallow field just below the graveyard, full of autumn brambles and rabbits, where the gypsies live. Sometimes you fly. But you can never rise above a certain height. You may feel yourself being slowed, coming inexorably to a halt: not the keen terror of falling, only an interdiction, from which there is no appeal . . . and as the landscape begins to dim out . . . you know . . . that . . .). (GR, 137)

The home here seems to be, at least partially, reminiscent of the home where Pynchon lived for the majority of his childhood on 83 Walnut Avenue, a street name that I assume has something to do with walnut trees. Broad lawns might not be there now nor is there any room for horses, although to the right of Walnut Ave there is a street called Farm Hill Lane, the houses on which, with the exception of the one built in 1938, were constructed beginning in 1979. Could the land surrounding this street have been a farm, one with horses? Today, there is a fairly new horse farm, Hunter’s Moon Farm, a few miles down Northern Blvd., the street that crosses Jericho Oyster Bay Road very near to the entrance to Walnut Ave. Is there a history of keeping horses in the area? In any case, to the right of Pynchon’s childhood home, across Jericho Oyster Bay Road, which was widened to an eight lane highway in the early 1960s, trees were cut down, according to Bette S. Weidman and Linda B. Martin’s Nassau County, Long Island in Early Photographs, 1869-1940 (p. 34), in preparation for the road project in 1928, when it apparently lost funding. That fact suggests lawns were present across the street from the entrance to Walnut Avenue when Pynchon was growing up. One also finds a cemetery, the Wesley United Methodist Church Cemetery, that rests on higher ground than what is now road, and trees tower over the landscape between the cemetery and The Hollows, an exclusive street developed years after Pynchon had moved away.

The possible correspondence between the layout of the dreamscape and the landscape of Pynchon’s childhood suggests Pynchon had his own memories, his own dreams, in mind while writing the passage. The connection doesn’t lend itself to further exploration or not in any way that I’ve been able to figure out. The dreamer is Edward Pointsman, the British Pavlovian, so the scene, the childhood home, would be in England, something that doesn’t exactly make sense. Walnut trees are not native to the British Isles, and those growing there would not, presumably, be ancient. The dream would provide more interpretive meat in the context of the ways we know Pynchon uses his life in Gravity’s Rainbow—that is, tying his family to Slothrop’s—if Slothrop, another character associated with Mingeborough, MA, or even Prentice were the dreamer. Or does Pynchon splice Slothrop’s dream into Pointsman’s mid-paragraph and then return to Pointsman’s perspective at the beginning of the next paragraph. Or is Pynchon again just “[d]isplacing [his] personal experience off into other environments” (SL 21).


Albert Rolls is an independent writer, scholar, and researcher. He is also Editor-in-Chief at AMS Press.

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