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Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday Miscellany

Enjoying Aldo Leopold’s SAND COUNTY ALMANAC over breakfast, after a long cross-country ramble with Sarah, I smiled at how his observations fit with the terrain my dog and I cover on a daily basis. When he writes “that dead trees are transmuted into living animals, and vice versa,” I see in mind’s eye the rotting tree trunk in the early morning deep shade, turned soft and porous as damp sponge, holding its tree shape for the time being only because nothing has yet fallen on it or torn chunks from it. On another page is this avowal: “I love all trees but I am in love with pines.” Did he, I wonder, love box elder? I cannot love box elder. Pines, of course. Birches. Apple trees. Beeches. I am in love with beech trees…. But here are words to warm my heart: “We classify ourselves into vocations, each of which either wields some particular tool, or sells it, or repairs it, or sharpens it, or dispenses advice on how to do so; by such division of labors we avoid responsibility for the misuse of any tool save our own. But there is one vocation—philosophy—which knows that all men, by what they think about and wish for, in effect wield all tools. It knows that men thus determine, by their manner of thinking and wishing, whether it is worth while to wield any.”

Later in the day Pearl Buck’s THE GOOD EARTH came up in conversation with two different bookstore customers, and I tried to recall which American novel it was that gave me something of the same feeling of historical scope and tragedy. Perhaps Conrad Richter’s THE AWAKENING LAND trilogy. Then Stephanie told me she had just finished GONE WITH THE WIND for the first time (has not yet seen the movie) and loved everything but the ending (“They should have been together!”) and I remembered that that’s how I kept feeling about the husband and wife in THE GOOD EARTH, that surely he would have to fall in love with the beauty of her soul, with her devotion to him, all her hard labor on behalf of their family. I call the story a tragedy because he never did. And because, in the end, his sons had no feeling whatsoever for the land he had sacrificed so much to accumulate.

Marilyn and I had a good catch-up session in the middle of the afternoon, beginning with my telling her about Eckhart Tolle’s A NEW EARTH, a book I picked up with a certain degree of skepticism. Reading did away with doubt. I’m ready for the change: “If you can neither enjoy nor bring acceptance to what you do—stop. Otherwise, you are not taking responsibility for the only thing you can really take responsibility for, which also happens to be the one thing that really matters: your state of consciousness. And if you are not taking responsibility for your state of consciousness, you are not taking responsibility for life.” My Sarah: happy, eager, relaxed, alert, comfortable—bien dans sa eau. My dog cannot exactly be my guru, but she can serve as my exemplar.

After dinner (a delicious, cool, rainy evening making our warm porch lights all the more satisfying), I forged ahead with the second (PRAY: India) section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller, EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I had laughed myself through the EAT section (Italy) last winter and then somehow got sidetracked by an avalanche of other books.

It’s been a light-hearted literary day, a grazing at the smorgasbord table as time permitted, time also permitting a long dog walk, hanging out laundry, sweeping of floors, conversation with friends, appreciation for the downpour that slowed my drive home, and dinner on the porch with David. That laundry on the line is dripping wet now, but it will dry in tomorrow sunshine, and all the softer and sweeter for its soaking.


Susan Och said...

A Sand County Almanac was required reading for one of my daughter Liz's classes last quarter. It was a polysci class for her environmental studies major. It was nice to hand her my old copy with the nice pencil drawings.

Right now I'm reading In the Dust of Kilinajaro, African conservationist David Western's autobiography, more reading from the same class.

P. J. Grath said...

So, Susan, have your read UNBOWED, by Nobel peace prize winner Wangari Maathai? It's both tragedy and inspiration. The obvious subject is trees, but of course it's so much more than that.

When my sister and I were young (third sister not yet born), we had a baby-sitter who was an art student, and she used to draw in her textbooks. Years later I found these in the attic and loved her drawings.