September 15, 2022
Sometimes a book does everything but jump into your hands. That was the case with two books I read recently.
I must have read a review of The Green Hour, A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend (2021), for I added it to my TBR list, but when I saw it in Arcadia Books on our recent trip to Spring Green, WI, I knew I could not wait for it to come out in paperback or for the library to add it to their shelves.
First of all, look at that cover. So beautiful, and it is the kind of book that simply feels good to hold. But more than that is the topic, the themes. The author grew up in Pennsylvania and as a young adult lived in Oregon and California, but later in adulthood moved to the Madison, Wisconsin area. She writes beautifully, richly about each landscape–the kind of multi-layered, descriptive writing I love–but having lived in Madison, those are the sections I loved the most.
Her essay, “Strange Angels: Encounters with Sandhill Cranes,” is perhaps the best nature essay I’ve ever read.
Like a group of pilgrims or spiritual seekers collecting before their journey begins and uttering preliminary prayers, the cranes seem to be readying themselves, preparing for the long flight they must make, some of them for the first time.p. 159
Like the author I love the sound of the cranes and always feel blessed hearing them. “Perhaps that is why their call is so evocative, why it seems to float across the millennia as it does, immutable and enduring.” p. 160. Cranes are not part of my life here in St Paul, and I miss them.
I also loved the essay “An Alphabet of Here, A Prairie Sampler” as well. C is for Canada Geese. G is for Great-Horned Owl. Q id for Queen Anne’s Lace and Queen of the Prairie.
Z is for zigzags, zaps, and zings of summer lightning, the zed-shaped folds of the aurora opening its luminescent green curtains on a winter’s night when it’s twenty degrees below zero, and the z-z-z-z-z-ing as we sleep–cat on the bed, collies on the floor beside us–the zodiac swirling around us like the well of life that is here, now, the only one we are given.p. 187
Some books beg to be read aloud, and I am grateful my husband was willing to listen as I read select essays to him while driving through the countryside on our way to Cleveland recently. This books was our perfect companion.
I discovered The White Stone, The Art of Letting Go by Esther de Waal (2021) when we toured the gardens at St John’s University, Collegeville, MN this summer. Because I can never resist a bookstore, we browsed the Liturgical Press bookstore on campus, and I found this little treasure. Years ago I read her book Seeking God, her book on Benedictine spirituality, but it is no longer in my library–I may need to get another copy. This book was written during the pandemic and at a time when she is moving from one home to another, and she employs what has sustained her through the years–the Rule of St. Benedict, the gifts of Celtic spirituality, the teachings of Thomas Merton, and the Psalms–to guide her through a time of transition.
I hold on to stability but I must not be static. Here is the paradox…I must be prepared for the continual transformation in which God is bringing the new out of the old…It is just a matter of somehow keeping on keeping on, a continual bending one’s life back to God whatever happens.p. 64
I was especially moved by the chapter titled “Diminishment,” in which she reflects on how time seems different as we age, but also that “Life now brings a greater opportunity to pay attention to look consciously at the ordinary minutiae of daily life in the things around…”
She also underscores the key question of Benedictine life: “Am I becoming a more loving person?” When we were driving through Indiana, I noticed a small sign on the edge of a cornfield, “Fear God,” it said, and I thought to myself, “How does fearing God make me a more loving person?” Instead, I suspect adhering to that idea would make me a more fearful person. I want to be a more loving person. Thanks for the reminder, Esther de Waal.
Ok, that’s it. I am so happy these two books will live on our bookshelves.
Have any books found their way into your hands, your heart recently? I would love to know.