Green Room FB and Twitter Header

Farthest Horizons and Lost Books

 I KNOW I HAVE THAT BOOK SOMEWHERE

Books make up a large part of my house. I don’t have a library, but every room has at least one bookcase full of books. They help keep me grounded, literally, when the spring winds blow so strong out of the desert that my house creaks and rattles and wants to chase after the tumbleweeds like a puppy. I still have the first book I ever owned; a thick Audubon guide to birds of North America. I don’t know who gave me that book, but I am eternally grateful. I scratched my name “KENNY” on the front cover with a blunt pencil, still readable. After seventy years, I still refer to the book and its colorful plates.  Since then, I have added many more books to my collection. Many are history books. Many are nature or hiking or fishing books. Dozens range from Shakespeare to Thomas Wolfe and back again to Aldo Leopold and then to Mark Twain and Peter Matthiessen, and so on. Some are very old. A few are quite new.  I love books but they are a weighty problem when you move from one home to another. In 2012-13, I moved twice in one year and in the process, I lost a box of books. I didn’t know it immediately and I’m not sure which move was responsible. I just had a nagging feeling that I was missing something.

 A NEW HOME

So, ten-plus years ago I moved here on the northern-most edge of the Chihuahuan desert, over a mile high and mostly dry as a bone. My former home was in the green forests and pastures of the Midwest. I had always lived by large rivers – first the Mississippi and then the Missouri and near dozens of smaller rivers and streams. I saw the same river bends as Mark Twain and Lewis and Clark. I could sometimes hear the moaning horn of a towboat pushing a line of barges through the muck and muddy water of the Missouri River. Now I live on a high slope above the Rio Grande, which, as rivers go, is pretty small and indecisive. It can’t seem to decide if it is a river or a creek and occasionally it seems to stop altogether. But I brought all of my books with me so I’m happily at home among the coyotes and roadrunners.

HOW IT STARTED

Sometime in my formative years, most likely around age 17 or so, I sailed into a bookstore and came up on a reef in front of a book by Loren Eiseley. I suspect that it was The Immense Journey since that was his earliest book from the 1950s. I can’t be certain of that since I later read almost everything he had published at that time in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some more than once, but that one seems likely.  Our paths crossed in that bookstore, and I am much better for it. Eiseley was an amazing mix of naturalist, philosopher, historian, anthropologist, and poet. For a one-time hobo and farm hand, he had an amazing grasp of language. He was devout but not religious. His vision and experience and thoughtfulness and poetic-prose grabbed me like a hook and reeled me in.

I had already decided at ten or eleven that I was going to move away from the lawn-mowers and leaf-rakers and pavements and fences. Missouri would be fine if it wasn’t for all of the people. I had seen New Mexico at ten so I knew it was out there. The opening paragraph of The Immense Journey was all I needed.

Some lands are flat and grass covered, and smile so evenly up at the sun that
 they seem forever youthful, untouched by man or time. Some are torn, ravaged
 and convulsed, like the features of profane old age. Rocks are wrenched up
and exposed to view; black pits receive the sun but give back no light.”

It took me almost 65 years to finally find the spot that was a good fit – somewhere between me and that old passage from the 1950s. Not as rough and rugged but you can see the underlying muscle and bone. Not as green and smiling but more colorful and somber at the same time. Somewhere in the middle, on an ancient slope looking down on an ancient river.

As a budding writer and occasional poet, I looked at Eiseley’s style, sensitivity, and descriptive writing as a model. That was more unconscious than purposeful. It was part of me by that time. I wrote for decades for pay. I was a researcher and grant writer. You had to write in a sort of governmental dialect, not the way I wanted to write. But I was good at it and mastered it. I never had a grant proposal turned down. I did some travel writing on the side and tapped into my pseudo Eiseleyesque style and I liked it even if no one seemed to care. That was years ago. If you read an actual hand-written letter from a good friend from the 1960s or ‘70s you will see a certain thread of descriptive and creative prose. They would be descriptive of sunsets and scenery. That has mostly been lost thanks to e-mail and X (formerly known as Twitter) and now TikTok and Instagram.

 THE HUNT

And so, one day I went looking for my cherished collection of Eiseley thoughts, words, and deeds. I needed a refresher, I thought.  I looked everywhere. Every room, every shelf. He was gone. Not just one book but all of them were gone. I kept thinking that there must be a box of books somewhere – maybe out in the storage shed with the Christmas stuff. I realized that there were other books missing. Some were irreplaceable and Eiseley books were mostly out of print. One day I was looking for something else and found a mysterious box stuck far in the back of a lower kitchen corner cabinet. How it got there, I don’t know. My hopes soared. It contained books – some I had been looking for but not Eiseley. What happened? I would never have discarded those books.

Time passed – still no secret treasure trove of lost books. Finally, I wandered into a used bookstore. I surrendered my search to the helpful store clerk. She thought that maybe they had one or two. This was a huge store with thousands upon thousands of books – most shelved but many stacked in piles on the floor in interesting patterns. Some this way, some that way. Booklovers know these places. I could tell that the piles were not random. We stopped at one shelf, and she began looking. I stayed out of her way. Whatever system they used was unknown to me. She eventually found “The Firmament of Time”, a collection of Eiseley lectures from about 1960. I grabbed it and fondled it as she kept looking. She glanced up, gnomelike, and asked if there was another genre that he wrote in. Before I could answer, she took off in another direction. I lost her momentarily in the stacks but found her again just as she pulled out “The Immense Journey” from another shelf. That was my first – I think. And that was it – they had two books. I felt a surprising wave of joyful emotion – like coming across an old friend that you had given up ever seeing again. Of course I took them both.

One can read excerpts of Eiseley’s books on Google Books but it’s not quite the same as holding or possessing a book. Here are a couple:

Paw Marks and Buried Towns (The Night Country)

The Star Dragon (The Invisible Pyramid)

Eiseley received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1937 and taught at several universities. At the time of his death in 1977, he was Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and History of Science and was the most honored member of the University of Pennsylvania since Benjamin Franklin.

>—_/\_—<

56 Hits
2 Comments

Home From Abroad

 

Celebrating the birth on June 26th, 1914, of Laurie Lee, a few weeks before the outbreak of World War I. After that, there was no returning to anything resembling the life and assumptions of previous eras. He was an English traveller, poet, soldier, novelist and screenwriter, from the glorious Cotswold county of Gloucestershire who later lived in Kent, once dubbed 'the Garden of England' for its fruitfulness. An inspired wordsmith, the landscape of his upbringing was set to inform, often by contrast, his vivid perception of everywhere else, enlisting all the human senses and sensitivities. On a personal note, I think I have not read a more luminous writer, one who cuts with originality to the quick of situations. His work has clear resonance for humanity as whole.

 

Selection_343.png

 

 

Far-fetched with tales of other worlds and ways,
My skin well-oiled with wines of the Levant,
I set my face into a filial smile
To greet the pale, domestic kiss of Kent.

But shall I never learn? That gawky girl,
Recalled so primly in my foreign thoughts,
Becomes again the green-haired queen of love
Whose wanton form dilates as it delights.

Her rolling tidal landscape floods the eye
And drowns Chianti in a dusky stream;
The flower-flecked grasses swim with simple horses,
The hedges choke with roses fat as cream.

So do I breathe the hayblown airs of home,
And watch the sea-green elms drip birds and shadows,
And as the twilight nets the plunging sun
My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows.

 
 
 
155 Hits
0 Comments

On The Birthday Of W B Yeats, A Reflection...

Innisfree_AU.png



 

THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE



I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
 
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.


Of all Yeats' poems, this antidote to homesickness is the most quoted and seems to resonate with the widest audience. It is said he was striding along London's hectic Fleet Street when he heard the silvery tinkling of water. There, in a shop window, he caught sight of a little fountain with a crystal ball bobbing atop its jet. A yearning for the lakes of the Emerald Isle overwhelmed him. His imagination conjured the gentle lap of waves echoing the rhythms of the heart’s core.
 
The diverting complexities of urban life can be difficult to process.  We speak of the energy of the city, how it may inspire and drive. We do not speak of aridity and distraction, how it lures us away from resolution and the eternity within where we may commune with the earth and the cleansing vibrations of nature, our Creator’s gift.
 
This poem hums with resolution. Whether it is of the spirit, or actual, as was the case with Henry Thoreau, does not matter. The source of the water, the reviving balm, is tapped.


150 Hits
0 Comments

Revisiting Yeats

I am re-reading Richard Ellman's fine biography of W. B. Yeats. Unlike so many biographies, even by Ellmann (see Joyce and Wilde), this one is fairly short. But even so, I can conclude that Yeats was a very curious man (in the many senses of the word), and probably my favorite poet. My favorite poem of his likely changes each time I read him. But here is today's:

 

 
I
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
II
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
III
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
IV
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

 

 

200 Hits
6 Comments

LandSea Divide

I can be drawn as an inkblacked vein on a map

I can be a healed scar where land once bled

I can be a seawashedoasiswhere a universe of imagination dwells.

I can be a space of sorrow where the ocean’s solemn sighs prevail. 

I can hold countless grains of sand, an earthly echo of countless celestial stars

I can convey feelings of wonder, or despair

I can be a purepoint of pilgrimage where exuberance of youth can be found

I can speak to your inner soul

I can take your breath away

I can be the divide whereshadows of history play on by the water’s edge.

I can be a whispered promise in the lightof dawn

I can be a refuge for those fortunate to escape life’s relentless fray

I can be the fracture in time’s fragile spectrum

I can be the end of somethinga start of everything

I can receiveyour footprint in my softness for a spell,yet all must fade away

I can be a haven of peace, harmony, heaven

I can be hell, an inferno of war, discord 

I can be a sanctuary from life’s bitter sword

I can be a pulsing border where dreams and nightmares collide 

Salt waters, the feet of many, ideas have crossed over me

I can be barren, and forbidding

I can be bursting with vibrant liferhythm, and welcoming

I can be a windswept landmark to the continuance of being

I can vanish in an instant beneath the fury of apocalyptic storms

I can be rebornfrom seagouged rocks,almighty forces punishing my imperfections

I can be an endless smoothness of strand stretching back to childhood

I can be a citadel with a lighthouse and those entrusted to watch over us nearby

I can recall thunderous war cries of Romans, Vikings, Saxons and Normans striding through

I can be a resting place for shipwrecks, poor sods drowned and even buried treasure

like to weave an aura of hope around all those seeking solace 

I can be open to elemental dramas,a theatre of waves and living things

I can be witness tochippedaway secrets of the past

I have remained a sacred narrow strip fusingfluid motion of the ocean withhardfixed energy of earthly land

What am I?

I am the coast.

 


A poem by Nicholas Mackey

London, U.K.

1.42pm, Tuesday 26th September 2023

181 Hits
3 Comments

Latest Blogs

  Celebrating the birth on June 26th, 1914, of Laurie Lee, a few weeks before the outbreak of World War I. After that, there was no returnin...
  THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;Nine bean-rows...
I am re-reading Richard Ellman's fine biography of W. B. Yeats. Unlike so many biographies, even by Ellmann (see Joyce and Wilde), this one is fa...

Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Farthest Horizons and Lost Books
19 July 2024
I might add my name with "If found, please return to..." My daughter is a museum curator/archivist ...
Rosy Cole Farthest Horizons and Lost Books
19 July 2024
Hunting lost books is one of those lesser rites of passage among those of a very certain age. Your i...
Rosy Cole Montmartre 2023
19 July 2024
Quite apart from the extra crowds, sports events seem to bring out the worst in folk. Nationalism te...
Ken Hartke Montmartre 2023
18 July 2024
I had a mixed experience in Paris and need a better approach and expectation. After some thought, I ...
Rosy Cole LandSea Divide
27 June 2024
I've been at it for half a century, Nicholas, and I'm still learning! :-) Truly. It was always my ho...