In praise of books. My favorite Sunday afternoon company.

To spend the afternoon with Abbey, Thoreau, Dillard, and Oliver! How can anything compare to this rhapsody of praise for the woods and for the power of language?


And what talk it is! Abbey rants and raves about the destruction of the west while Dillard attempts to sooth him with her descriptions of starlings and her sycamore log across Tinker Creek. She never raises her voice, calming his dynamite laden hands as he contemplates blowing up a dam or giving it all up, damn them! He is threatening, again, to melt into the desert; this time, he won’t return. Someone will find his weathered bones on some rock as far from a cursed suburban Phoenix as possible. Good luck.

He won’t listen; he finds her domesticated valley to be everything wrong with what so called civilized man has done to the wild. The wild! Not some ancient Appalachian mountain valley polluted with the manure of cattle and scarred with roads to the orchards and wood-lots. That isn’t nature! Don’t even attempt to tell him that nature can be found here as well. Damn compromise! Give him the soul cleansing furnace heat of the desert where he can wander off and play a game of desert solitaire.

Annie D. tries again, attempting to show him that it is the little things that matter; he must shorten his gait. The strides one takes in the Eastern woods need to be shortened a bit. The expansive West can take in a longer stride- the landscapes are wider and the sky more expansive. Edward shakes his grizzled head irascibly while Thoreau nods in agreement. You would think that Abbey would listen. Who else is more of an expert in sauntering the woods? Dillard tries again to share with him the beauty of ducks landing on mountain creeks, the drama of the flowers arising in the early spring. I think it is a futile effort. What are the landing of ducks to the searing mirages of the desert? What are flowers to the purple mountains majesty of the American West? But I stay quiet; I take a few notes, scribble a few things in the margin.

Mary Oliver just nods sagaciously, not being much of a conversationalist; I am surprised she has come. But I promised that we would get down on all fours to look at what animals we might find in a cranberry bog, at least metaphorically, and she has reluctantly come. She will need to go home soon to walk the dog. One must have her priorities.  I wonder if she is hoping that Abbey will settle down, go clean his gun or something. If Thoreau would just stop staring at the window-he always seems ready to wander off! I know that Oliver would appreciate his help in defending the necessity to find nature’s beauty everywhere, not just in the so-called wilderness.

The last time Henry David was here, he could not stop talking about why it is so important to go into the wood; how it does not matter whether it be a cabin by a pond with a railroad nearby or somewhere deep in red rock country. It is about driving life into a corner, to work to find out what, exactly, life is. One doesn’t have to rail against development! Heck, he wrote a book about wandering the New England countryside in the 19th century, finding plenty to explore and enough room to lose human company for at least a little while. Edward, you have the entire desert!

How could I pass up on such a conversation from across the centuries and from all over this country?  How can I not revel in the words of those who are the among the best in describing how connected we are to nature? What other conversation can come close? How could I not accept this gift?

I hope a book is providing you worthy conversation. I hope even more that you two have company. Be sure to listen. Silence is golden.


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