Saturday, December 13, 2008


I'm coming up at the end of a brief read: Letters from Side Lake by Peter Leschak. It kept me awake last night, his stories of rescuing swallows from drowning, of peeling timber, of beehives and bears, of the sort of hike that strips your feet bare. The prose itself isn't hugely adorned, and I'm realizing certain things about my own reading habits: I prefer style to subject, being the most prominent (the example I like to use is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down--I read this for a literacy and cultural diversity course as an undergraduate, and though the subject matter is compelling, a Hmong child whose family's hopes in curing her seizures is at odds with Western medicine, it wasn't what endeared me to the book; instead, it was Ann Fadiman's striking writing style that leads me to wholeheartedly recommend this book to nearly any reader). But sometimes, capable prose and storytelling wins out in the end, and I am drawn to the vignettes that originally appeared in local magazines. But I also know subject has born up much of my appreciation for the book: here is a man who is attempting to "live off the land," in some senses, but doing so incredibly humbly and without an indication of true insanity, as some who desire to live off the land tend to do (case in point--another beautiful, small book I love). The idea of living so closely to the natural world, where it is everyday rather than a distant appreciation, a rotation of camping trips, and an effort to grow food in a little corner of the yard--that's something to be admired. I think about "next" in our little family--how I once urged Ryan to move to the Twin Cities, to make that our home, and now, three years after living in this small town, I'd like, more than anything else, to retreat much further, have acreage, maybe some chickens and woods and woods and woods. For now, I can simply live vicariously, which is what we do when we read literature.

And as much of this book is about the cold, the thaw and refreeze, which is what we are experiencing here--not an ice storm, but instead the slickness that is melted snow refrozen--I thought I would leave you with this excerpt, an indication of being still in the wilderness, a testament to being here now:

"Again and again, the ice sheet groaned. The rumble echoed off the trees, punctuated now and then by a sharp crack. As my ears adjusted I heard other, distant groanings--the expanding ice of nearby lakes. In deep winter the snow muffles the eerie music of the ice, but on this night all the lakes were cold and bare. I was listening to a symphony of freezing lakes, massive sheets of ice releasing the stress of their growth in heaving cracks that wailed slowly in birth. It transfixed me with its simple, awesome power. Nothing that any man could ever do would change the tune of the ice" (31-32).

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