Friday, September 23, 2016

Random Thoughts on "The Yearling."

 We interrupt (ir)regular blogging to bring you some thoughts on a recent read. Probably everyone of my generation who likes to read has read The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Everyone except me. It had been on my to-read list for forever but kept getting bumped in favor of newer books. Maybe I had the idea in the back of my head that, since it was originally published in 1938, it wouldn't have much relevance today. Well, hat in hand, I was wrong. I often am.

So what prompted me to finally pick it up? I had sent it as a present to this young person a while back and on our recent trip to see him and his family I found it on a shelf among some of their other books. Sad to report, I don't think grandson B has read it yet though he is an avid reader and always has his nose in a book.

School had already started when we visited so there was ample time for me to bury my nose in a book. I picked up The Yearling just to read a few sample pages and could not put it down.

Why do we read? I read because I love stories and because I am constantly awed by the myriad and magical ways good writers put words together. I also love to write and, by reading the works of talented writers, there's an outside chance some of their magic will find its way into my writing. The talent of the writer is what carries the story along and I became lost in Rawlings' world of life in earlier times in Florida.

Her characters did not come to Florida for the sunshine, for Spring Break or the beaches, or to live out their declining years in air conditioned comfort. They were born here or blown here by circumstance. Life was hard and rations scarce.  The native animals struggled to survive from one season to the next just as the people did. If a hungry bear killed your heifer, life got even harder. If you were bitten by a rattlesnake you'd better hope the doc was home, and sober, and that you could get to him fast. And if a hurricane happened by it was touch and go if you'd survive to pick up the pieces. It was a lonesome existance out in the swamp for young Jody, his dad, Penny, and Ma Baxter. But he was loved, and he loved nature and all its wonders as much as his dad did. Penny had grown up working hard from early childhood and wanted to make life a little less harsh for his only son, so when Jody found an orphaned fawn, Penny persuaded Ma Baxter to let him keep it though she, of the sharp tongue, thought it was enough of a struggle to feed themselves and their animals without taking on the care and feeding of a wild creature. Penny however knew that the belly is not the only part of us that needs feeding. He knew that caring for that orphan fawn would feed his son's soul.

I had to leave the last few chapters unread when our visit came to an end, and the book was not immediately available at the library here. I have now read to the end (and wept, as I remember my middle son doing when he watched the movie as a little boy). It made us weep, but her writing is never maudlin. The heartbreak in the story was just part of life. I wouldn't hesitate to call this one of my all-time favorite books. Read it B! You'll be glad you did.

 A few days after I finished "The Yearling" I happened to read in the newspaper about another, totally different writer, Sebastian Junger, a journalist who has been a war correspondent in conflicts around the world. He directed the documentary "Restrepo" and has written a new book, "Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging," which explores social alienation and lessons from tribal cultures. In explaining why soldiers and Peace Corp volunteers often find themselves depressed when they come home he says "... humans are social primates....wired to live and operate and feel secure in close groups. Wealthier societies are more individualized and we are not really wired for that.......As societies get wealthier the suicide rate goes up. Depression goes up........people come home and find themselves depressed..........stemming from the transition from a close, communal living situation to (an) alienated, individual one back home."

Are you with me still? I know I seem to have wandered from the point. I do have one, though it is bit woolly.Maybe because I had so recently finished The Yearling, Junger's thoughts seemed connected to what I had gleaned from that book.We are wealthier and better educated than any of the characters in the book but the fact that the story resonated with me so much tells me, as if I hadn't known this already, that many of us would forego our modern toys and conveniences for a simpler life, closer to the earth, and with deeper connections to each other.

In explaining some of the harsher aspects of living (his mother's sharp tongue, for example)to his son Penny has this this to say ---

"You kin tame a 'coon. You kin tame a bear. You kin tame a wild-cat and you kin tame a panther." He pondered. His mind went back to his father's sermons. "You kin tame anything, son, excusin' the human tongue."

 We have not changed from the times Rawlings wrote of. We all yearn to belong. Ease and comfort don't make us as happy as we think they should. We miss our tribe. Even though Jody, Penny and Ma Baxter teetered on the brink of poverty most of the time, they were not depressed. They were too busy staying alive, too tired at the end of each day and too happy to have made their way successfully through it to be depressed. They also had wealth beyond the material. They had the love and support of each other, mutual respect and co-operation with their neighbors, and an appreciation of, and respect for, the boundless beauty and natural resources of the world we live in. In today's fractured society how many of us are that well off?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Smoky Mountains' Majesty

Scenic view from the highway - Smoky Mountains

The usual pace around here is sedate. The OC is retired. The most urgent things on his agenda are taming the encroaching jungle, mowing the lawn, and regularly beating the covers off little white balls on the golf course.

 All this tends to make a guy sweaty and hungry so stinky laundry must needs be done and nutritious meals prepared. And what's a guy to do then but repair to the couch, crossword in hand, feet up, to watch football/golf/soccer/hockey/olympics, you name it. If there's a ball involved he'll watch it and, most likely, fall asleep, at which time the sport of the hour turns into a lullaby. But, woe betide anyone foolish enough to change the channel or, perish the thought, turn the blasted thing off. You may hear gentle snoring, but one ear is always alert for such dangers.

Fortunately I am not without options. My favorite hideout is the sewing room wherein also lies my computer and a satisfying array of books should I opt to hole up in there for an extended period. Meanwhile, phone calls to and from the far flung children, a vast selection of half-finished sewing projects, writing the occasional blog post and attempting to organize decades of photographs all conspire to fill whatever waking moments remain. And there is always yoga to stretch the bones and quiet the mind.

A fairly typical description of life in retirement? As mentioned above, you might call the pace of such a life sedate. Dull even, though, having marginally survived the raising of five children, whom, I hasten to add, I dearly love, dull is a very good thing.

That's how it usually goes down around here.

Old Mill Reflection
August, however, was not a usual month.

August we turned into gadabouts.....

Friends visited from far away and we crisscrossed the state showing them our favorite places and exploring some new ones, and when they left we made our annual road trip to visit oldest daughter, son-in-law, and alarmingly tall grandsons. All of which makes for good blog fodder. But first it has to sit in the pot and age a while.

 The Little Blister and I made a commitment recently to blog at least once a week. She is excused temporarily due to an exciting, life changing event which I will leave to her to divulge. A little pencil chewing was called for. What to write this week?. Hmmm.  Before I choked on the chewed up pencil, the cavalry arrived in the form of my cousin, who, having seen one photo from the Smoky Mountains, wanted to see more. So, Aislinn, these are for you. And for anyone else who cares to spend a few more minutes here.

Our annual trek north takes us through the Smoky Mountains. Since that's about the halfway mark, we usually stop for a day or two. This year it was rainy so most of these pictures are from last year. But it is equally beautiful any year! You could spend a month or more, hiking around, taking a billion photos, but I got what photos I could in the time available, many snapped on the fly, through the car window. Asking the pilot to land on the side of the road every five minutes is not conducive to peace within the vehicle.

Cade's Cove is a beautiful part of the park. We had started out early in a blanket of mist....

Breakfast in the morning mist

 and gradually, as the mist burned off, every curve in the road brought a picture perfect scene into view.

Someday, maybe, I'll spend more time there --- me, my camera, a raincoat and a pair of stout boots, but no complaints. It was great to be there at all. Having seen it, briefly, a couple of years in a row, I know it's a place I want to go back to for a longer spell.

We spent a week visiting with daughter, son-in-law, grandsons and the fearsome hound who protects them from marauding bunnies and cheeky squirrels.

We are back now to the usual routine, though the past week has been anything but dull due to the ugly weather. Lots of debris around the garden had to be picked up before the lawnmower-meister could do his thing, but we had no flooding, and no damage, though not all FL residents were so lucky. And now the sun is finally out, the sky is once again blue and the pace has returned to "sedate."