In this spare, elegant, and compassionate little book, Susan Hand Shetterly takes us with her into the wild world at the unsettled edge of a small vilIn this spare, elegant, and compassionate little book, Susan Hand Shetterly takes us with her into the wild world at the unsettled edge of a small village in Maine. She and her husband went there in the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s, "idealistic, dangerously unprepared, and, frankly, arrogant." But when others moved on, they stayed, having brought with them the willingness to do hard physical work, the desire to practice patience, and—perhaps most importantly—"the ability to pay close attention."
It is the paying attention that accounts for so much of the quiet grace of this book, for Shetterly passionately wants us to see and smell and touch and taste what she is paying attention to: the daily small affairs of birds, periwinkles, green crabs, and clams; a porcupine stripping tender young branches from her willow tree in an April night; a rescued raven; a baby snowshoe hare threatened by a bobcat—the wild things that populate her life on the edge of what's left of wildness in this rapidly urbanizing world.
But it is not just the wild things that Shetterly brings to us from the margins: it is the people who live in the village and share the "hard, dangerous gift" of this place. Danny, who doesn't believe in throwing things away. Clarence, who died upside down in the water, weighed down by a trap he'd thrown overboard. Jack Dudley, counting loons, living a sense of place. Settled in the wild, Shetterly is also settled in community, a small community made up of a few utterly unique human individuals, dwelling in a "neighborhood of millions of lives, depending on how and whom you count."
In some important ways, the community itself, long ago settled on the shore of the wild bay, remains an unsettled place. When Shetterly helps to create an association to protect the surrounding wetlands, many of the villagers are threatened and antagonistic. Living in a world of private property, where land is worthwhile only when it can be "developed," they find it hard to believe, as does Shetterly and her conservation colleagues, in the "self-renewing community between wild land and human beings," in the "wild commons."
But at its heart, that's what this book is about: the need that we all have to be a part of the wild commons, to recognize and share the bonds that exist between species, ours and all the others who live in our neighborhoods, inhabit the wild hours of the night, roost in the trees, and hide in the grass and plants in our gardens. It is also about our need to watch and listen and observe for a long time, for a very long time, until, as Shetterly says, we become, "instead of watchers, witnesses, heavy with the gravity of what is revealed to us and what we have chosen to carry of it."
I love this book because it teaches what I take to be the most important thing a human being can do to be at home in the world: to simply watch, and look, and listen—to become witnesses...more
Loved this long, intimate look into an evolving relationship between two remarkable women. From passion to deep friendship at a fascinating time in AmLoved this long, intimate look into an evolving relationship between two remarkable women. From passion to deep friendship at a fascinating time in American history. But watch out for fictionalizations in the chapter intros and explanatory notes: Streitmatter adds gratuitous and incorrect detail and misleading characterizations that aren't supported by sources. Just one example (of several I've documented): the dates in the note on p. 59 are completely wrong, according to the White House Usher's Log for that week--which leads him to draw the wrong conclusions. I've knocked my original 4-star rating to a 3-star rating because of these issues....more
Nature writing is changing. The surest mark of that change is the fact that Gretchen Legler's book, On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdNature writing is changing. The surest mark of that change is the fact that Gretchen Legler's book, On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, was chosen as the best book of environmental creative writing published in 2005-2006 by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.
On the Ice is the story of what it means to find home, and heart, in the frozen place at the bottom of the world. With other artists, Gretchen Legler was offered the opportunity to spend a season in Antarctica under the auspices of the National Science Foundation Artists and Writers Program, to tell the story of the land, to try her hand "at making some human sense of its vastness and its terrible beauty." It was a quest, she says, not only to explore and discover new lands, but also inner worlds, "places that I hoped being so far from my ordinary self would help me find."
Antarctica as a place is extraordinarily far from the places our ordinary selves inhabit, and Legler wants us not just to know but to feel the distance, and to feel it as the explorers of a century ago must have felt it. She sleeps in a room that is only a stone's throw from the hut where Robert Scott set off in 1911 for his tragic bid to reach the Pole: "Good God, this is an awful place," he wrote. She spends time with other explorers who are looking even farther back, into the unthinkably remote geologic past of the Polar region, into samples of sea floor at Cape Roberts, goes naked into the coldest water on the globe, and ventures into ice caves in the Erebus glacier, blue caves, blue, blue "like an endlessly deep hole in your heart . . . a color that is like some kind of yearning, some unfulfilled desire, or some constant, extreme joy." And then there is the sea ice, glowing "peach and pink, nearly neon, buttery yellow, lavender, jade, and indigo," colors painted by Edmund Wilson, Scott's chief scientist, whose watercolors, she says are filled with, focused on light and color, color and light. And finally, there is the Pole, a "sacred destination," she says, not only for explorers but scientists and, yes, artists and writers, who find it the perfect place to look down into the mysteries at the earth's heart and up, into the mysteries of the universe, "the very farthest edge of darkness."
On the Ice is a luminous study of a remarkable place, a place that is so sublime as to almost defy human description. But as humans, we must place ourselves: we long to live in place and to make even the remotest place a home. And so the book is also about the men and women who live there, about the scientists, support staff, builders, workers, engineers, electricians, cooks, communications technicians--all the people it takes to make a home in an inhospitable place. These are people, by and large, who are willing, perhaps even anxious, to shed their ordinary selves and live in an extraordinary way, coping with the isolation and the cold and the loneliness, building a community of fellow-travelers, each with his or her own sometimes desperate reasons for coming to a place so unimaginably distant and different from the places where the rest of us live. These are funny people, weird people, misfits, heroes, people who live on hope and thrive on hard truths, people who have come away from the "real" world to invent themselves in a different reality.
But On the Ice isn't just about the place or the people. It's about Legler's own journey to the frozen wastes within herself, into her own frozen heart, which is thawed, incredibly, by the power of love. "How do you come to know place?" she asks. "How do you come to know self? . . . How do you let go of wounds and resentments and fierce anger, not begrudgingly, but as an act of grace?" She finds the answer to this age-old question in her relationship with Ruth, an electrician who helps her to shed "all that junk . . .all those layers of old self" and discover a new and loving self, a warm and passionate heart, in this frozen world. Some readers, particularly those who believe that books of natural history ought to exclude the historian's experience, may think that this part of the journey should have been omitted, as not quite worthy of the heroic spectacle that is the Antarctic. But that's the way it's always been, Legler reminds us: the personal has always been defined, she says, as "somehow gossipy or small, beyond or below the reach of proper recording." But why? Why do we deny the human perspective of place, since this is the only perspective we have? And why exclude the innermost experience, merely to focus on the outer? "Why obscure the intimate?" Legler asks. "Why shorten the story of the glorious complexity and depth of the human in order to make a neater, grander tale?"
Legler's journey--and her record of it--is all the more remarkable because it is an intimate journey, not only to the farthest place on earth but into the deepest desires and dreams of the human spirit. It's a singularly brave journey, as heroic in its way as the journeys of Scott and Shackleton and Amundsen, one more exploration of the truest human question: what it means to be at home on this earth. There are a great many books that will give you the cold, hard facts about the Antarctic. But as a book about place, a chronicle of life at the bottom of the world, and an intensely honest record of a spiritual journey, On the Ice is the most richly illuminating of a...more
If you liked Goldberg's other books, you'll love this one--it's more of the same. Strong on writing topics (Look out your bedroom window. Write for 10If you liked Goldberg's other books, you'll love this one--it's more of the same. Strong on writing topics (Look out your bedroom window. Write for 10), less strong on structure. Use this as a source for writing prompts; for memoir, supplement with other how-to books....more
The "ER story," from the point of view of Eleanor's friend, Marion Dickerman. ER, Dickerman, and Dickerman's life partner, Nancy (Nan) Cook, became clThe "ER story," from the point of view of Eleanor's friend, Marion Dickerman. ER, Dickerman, and Dickerman's life partner, Nancy (Nan) Cook, became close friends in 1922, when ER was beginning to be active in New York Democratic politics. The book documents their friendship through the building of Val-Kill Cottage, the establishment of the furniture factory, and ER's teaching at Todhunter (where Dickerman was the principal and all three had a financial interest). Cook and ER became estranged in 1937, when the furniture factory was closed, and she and Dickerman eventually left Val-Kill. An excellent reference re: the friendship and partnership as Dickerman saw it, although (perhaps not surprisingly) the description of the breakup is less than candid. Photographs....more
Intriguing woman who danced to her own drum. Her story makes more sense to me after watching Ken Burns' film on the Roosevelts--I could see her in theIntriguing woman who danced to her own drum. Her story makes more sense to me after watching Ken Burns' film on the Roosevelts--I could see her in the context of the two Roosevelt tribes (Oyster Bay and Hyde Park). ...more