Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tours of Pleasure

I’m commencing my pilgrimage to Yosemite tomorrow (4:30 am), but I’m taking along a book about another literary shrine, Walden: A History. Thoreau scholar Barksdale Maynard, I trust, will give me needed perspective, through a place I’ve visited over the years, into how a revered landscape can be threatened by its devotees. Plus, reading about the comings-and-goings of 19th century Concord for me is like reading People magazine gossip for normal people.

Someday, I hope to make a pilgrimage to Jane Austen-land, and I’m thinking of her books today too, specifically for a Pride and Prejudice moment of pre-trip euphoria. I hope that each of you has a vacation this summer that you can anticipate as joyfully as Elizabeth Bennet does a proposed “tour of pleasure” with her aunt and uncle.

We have not determined how far it shall carry us,” said Mrs. Gardiner, “but, perhaps, to the Lakes.”
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “Oh, my dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! What felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to the disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travelers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone—we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of generality of travelers.”

I wonder what books Lizzie took along on her outing? Whatever you choose, happy reading!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Beautiful Writer

“Got a pot full right off, did you, Grant?”
“Right smart of crabs, right smart of crabs.”
“Crabs are moving. That time of year. They’re out here on the bar, all right.”

This interchange between Chesapeake Bay watermen seems heartbreakingly antique in a year when the governors of Virginia and Maryland are seeking federal disaster assistance for fishermen hit by harvest limits as blue crab numbers continue to plummet. It gains added poignancy when you learn, as I did today, that the passage’s author, William Warner, died this spring. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay won the 1977 Pulitzer for nonfiction and introduced me to the region where I seem to be spending most of my adult life.

I’m not sure whether I love it most for eloquent descriptions of Callinectes sapidus, the colorful crustaceans scuttling across every page, or for folksy humor as reflected in such chapter titles as “Lester Lee and the Chicken Neckers.” It’s a naturalist’s book certainly, brimming with biological and ecological insights into a place Warner awards a “summa cum laude in estuarine production.” It’s also a reader’s book as Larry McMurtry asserts (quoted in a Washington Post obituary), saying Swimmers “has grace, wit and clarity, on top of a real strength of feeling; were one not inclined to read the book to find out about crabs and watermen, one would still read it merely for its sentences."

A New York Times obituary offers further details into Warner’s mulitifarious background as a dinosaur hunter, ski lodge proprietor, Smithsonian magazine founder, and early Peace Corps volunteer. But my favorite tribute to this favorite author came from a another writer devoted to the “benign and beautiful waters” of the Bay, Kent Mountford. Kent finds comfort in the timing of Warner’s demise, concluding, “The hidden blessing may be that he could not witness the failure of succeeding politicians and citizens to act decisively for the Bay nor the present decline of his beloved commercial crabbing way of life.”

Monday, June 2, 2008

Festival of the Trees #24

Happy 2nd anniversary to the Festival of Trees, the blogging world’s monthly celebration of pines and pine-wannabes (i.e., other trees). This month’s issue, hosted by the multi-faceted Wren of Wrenaissance Reflections, focuses on trees and human-tree relations. Enjoy!

I’m not reading this week, much less blogging, so I’m also grateful to Wren for her concept of Blogging Without Obligation--looking at your blog as an opportunity, not as a treadmill . Thanks for everything, Wren!