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Friday, January 31, 2014

In Which I Metaphorically Tread Water

A county hillside last week
"Treading water" can only be a metaphorical expression at this time of year. Treading snow would be more like it but doesn't make much sense. What I mean by "treading water" could also be expressed by the musical expression "vamping," in that I have a couple or three serious, substantive blog posts in process, but since, for different reasons, I'm not able to publish even one of those today, I'm improvising a shorter, lighter post. A place-holder, as it were....

Our household has been seriously challenged this year by weather and transportation issues, and we have spent many housebound days, some planned, some unplanned. In my last post, I mentioned darning socks. Catching up on laundry, cleaning out dresser drawers, writing letters, baking, and making soup are other good projects for such days, but reading always comes near the top of every day's list, so here's what I've been reading at home the last couple of days:

My "intrepid Ulysses group" is reading James Baldwin's Another Country this month, so I'm devouring that novel every morning, and it is just as I remembered --  beautifully written and with characters so true and so fully dimensional that if a reader didn't know the author, I maintain it would be impossible to ascertain if the writer had been male or female, black or white, gay or straight. As it happens, Another Country's author was male, black, and gay and wasn't hiding any aspects of his own identity. My point is not to deny who he was but to commend the imagination and genius that was able to get inside so many different characters different from himself in terms of gender, color, and sexual orientation. 

At bedtime, before falling asleep, I slow down with Sycamore Shores, by Clark B. Firestone, an American travel book from the 1930s (originally published in 1936) in which the author recounts various trips up and down the Ohio River and its tributaries at a time when steamships -- not as many as formerly but more than you might imagine -- were still taking passengers on Midwestern waters. Crew, roustabouts, fellow passengers, towns along the way, history (pioneer and Civil War) and natural history, and agriculture are all described in detail. Occasionally the author went further on foot or by road vehicle to reach upriver stretches not (or no longer) navigable. Hidden-away hamlets, bygone days -- very restful reading before falling asleep. Also, from the two years I lived in Cincinnati, childhood visits to Ohio relatives, and trips David and I took to and through Kentucky, much of the territory Firestone covers is somewhat familiar to me. What I love, however, is the time travel aspect of this book! Firestone explored rivers of the "Old West" before our beloved Harlan and Anna Hubbard built their shantyboat and floated down the Ohio and Mississippi, but much of the riverside life is similar to what the Hubbards experienced a decade or so later. 

Other places! What a siren song they sing to us in the middle of a brutally cold Up North winter! Cleaning out an old chest of drawers recently (re snowbound project list above), I unearthed a couple of little books of my own travel notes, trips made to the U.P. and up into Canada in 2005 and 2006. It was fun to re-read my sketchy pages and share them with David, almost (he said) like taking the trips together again. If winter lasts too long this year, maybe I'll share a few of these old notes. 

Who doesn't dream of carefree travel days when snowbound for days on end?


Karen Casebeer said...

Lovely image of the hillside, Pamela! The faint green tint of the evergreens is gorgeous. As for your blog post, you perfectly captured what we non-snowbirds are experiencing here in the north country. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, it's frustrating to pass so many beautiful winter scenes and be unable to stop with my camera because there's no room on the shoulder and it's too dangerous to stop in the road!

Kathy said...

It does feel like one is treading water in mid-winter in Michigan. Especially this year with all the cold and snow. Your days sound rich with books into which to dive. They enrich so much, don't they?

Karen Casebeer said...

Pamela...I've experienced that frustration too. Yesterday afternoon I also found that the snow piles were so high in places that I couldn't see the frozen bay, especially at Omena, let alone find a place to park. Karen