When I first began writing seriously a few years back, I enrolled in a local creative writing intensive program. During one of the workshop sessions, we were asked to read something we loved in order to figure out how great writing sounds. Naturally I settled on your writing and found a passage in my battered Ace trade paperback edition of The Left Hand of Darkness. Chapter 18 begins:
“Sometimes, as I’m falling asleep in a dark and quiet room, I have for a moment a great and treasurable illusion of the past. The wall of the tent leans up against my face, not visible but audible, a slanting plane of faint sound. The susurrus of blown snow, nothing can be seen. The light emission of the Chabe stove is cut off, and it exists only as a sphere of heat, a heart of warmth. The faint dampness and confining cling of my sleeping bag, the sound of the snow. Barely audible, Estraven’s breathing as he sleeps. Darkness. Nothing else. We are inside, the two of us, the shelter, at rest, at the center of all things. Outside, as always, lies the great darkness, the cold, death’s solitude.
In such fortunate moments as I fall asleep, I know beyond doubt what the real center of my own life is, that time, which is past and lost and yet is permanent, the enduring moment, the heart of warmth.”
It was embarrassing at first. I was stuttering through the first lines, tripping up on the pronunciation of “susurrus”. But then I eased into things and gained sure through your words that formed the sentences that forged a world. A sphere of heat, the heart of warmth, and then I was there, with you on Gethen, inside the mind of Genly Ai, amidst the darkness and the silence, and moved to try as hard as I could to craft something as haunting and profound as the chain of words I had just read aloud.
I am still trying to this day.
Rest in peace, Ursula. I hope you are walking in your forests right now, deep within the Immanent Grove where tree roots are the roots of being, learning at last what no act or act or power in life could ever teach you, what you had never learned.