Book Table Spring

Despite the return of late winter winds and raw temperature, I can see the promised, coming green through a few raised shoots, calls of a few small birds, and the pages of the books I’ve found myself tacking in the search for Spring.  After a week away, today’s return to the marsh afforded the chance to both take in Earth’s beauty and ache for her impurities. This walk seemed to bring to full light books of the week, and connect me once more to the woods and fields. I realized we can also ache for the beauty we see, and, perhaps if we look twice, we can catch our breath before donning hope and prayer once more.

This book detour to Spring began last weekend as I found myself skimming through journal selections of Henry David Thoreau[1] as I waited up for late arriving teens. While in style some might disdain, his sketches set me free to see the environs of Concord. “It is a great art to saunter,” he wrote on April 26, 1841.

This thought came to mind as I began The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating[2] a new book sent by a friend.  It arrived just in time to be thrown in the tote and taken to my first MRI. Just a few pages in one is quickly amazed at the fortitude of the author, facing an immobilizing illness, and the joy she finds in her bedside friend, “the snail.”

And then we backtrack three nights, when I reached for The Wild Birds[3] by one of my favorites, Wendell Berry. His essay, “The Boundary,” finds Mat Feltner tracking an old fence line deep into the woods. Mat thinks, and Berry writes,

And it comes to Mat that once more, by stillness, he has passed across into the wild inward presence of the place.

“Wonders,” he thinks. “Little wonders of a great wonder.” He feels the sweetness of time. If a man eighty years old has not seen enough, then nobody will ever see enough. Such a little piece of the world as he has before him now would be worth a man’s long life, watching and listening. …”I could stay here a long time, “he thinks. “I could stay here a long time.”

“Little wonders of a great wonder.” The words freeze my eyes and at once I am also young again, with my brother, backtracking  an old fence line on my grandparents’ farm deep into the woods where, just like Mat, we cooled ourselves at a shady brook and wondered if we could find our way out. But we did: the dirt road wasn’t far, tobacco barns came quickly back in view, and the sight of cows grazing or licking their salt meant home was just a shout away. Be it in Kentucky or New England, wherever we roam, little wonders do point to something great. I’m so grateful to those who can set them down in words on pages so we can go wherever they are, together.


[1] Bode, Carl. The Selected Journals of Henry David Thoreau. The New American Library, 1980.

[2] By Elisabeth Tova Bailey, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010.

[3] By Wendell Berry, North Point Press, 1986.

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