Friday, June 13, 2014
signs of summer
Hello, remember me? Summer is almost upon us here in Maine and the days are exquisite - cool and rainy, hot and sunny, thick fog and bright sun. Often all in the same day - fire in the woodstove in the early morning and evening, and windows wide open between. The garden has irises in bloom which smell like warm honey, and the bees are keeping busy between them and the waist-high daisies and nearby sea of chive blossoms. I can't stay inside, and in fact I am about to depart for my annual island painting trip, so this blog will be silent for a while. I promise to check in again when I return. Until then, one of my favorite signs of summer:
The little book sale downtown last weekend was fantastic - books were fifty cents and a dollar, for softcovers and hardbacks, and we bought four cartons of books for $61. I came away with good inventory for my antiques mall book booth, and a stack of reading material that I've already made inroads into. Including:
multiple awards - but if anyone reading here hasn't read it yet, please go get a copy. It's like nothing I've ever read before and I absolutely loved it: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2010). I read it over the course of two evenings this week, and not only did it make me weep a little, I also found it astounding. And funny, and beautiful. I remember two friends telling me to read it when it was first published, and now I'm sorry I waited so long. But certain books, as do so many other things in life, seem to arrive at just the right time in the alert reader's life. This was no exception. It was exactly what I needed to read now, this week. Thus the perfect book.
It's a short memoir of the author's life with chronic illness and her close scrutiny of a wild woodland snail kept temporarily in a potted violet, then a terrarium. The author combines her observations with quotations from many centuries of science, history, literature, and poetry (John Donne! William Cowper! Oliver Goldsmith! Elizabeth Bishop!). Throughout, she gives us the exquisite gift of close attention and careful description. The world in a grain of sand - or one snail, and herself, homebound by necessity. Anyone who has a family member or friend living with chronic pain or illness (this covers me and almost everyone else I know...) would benefit greatly from reading this book and hearing so clearly the author's experience of her mystery virus and its consequences. But don't just read it for that, compelling as that part of the story is. Read it to discover some of the gorgeous mysteries of another sentient species. A few years ago I read The Geese of Beaver Bog by Bernd Heinrich (Ecco 2004), about the lives of several pairs of Canada geese near the author's home, including one particularly special one, and I did love it. And I also loved parts (but perhaps not all...) of Elizabeth Gilbert's recent novel The Signature of All Things (Viking 2013), about a nineteenth-century female botanist obsessed with mosses and lichens and their ways. But Elisabeth Tova Bailey weaves her own world into that of the snail's so beautifully that if I had to choose between them (thank goodness I don't), hers would take the cake. Or the strawberry rhubarb pie, since it's almost that time of year around here.
Her writing has a pervasive sense of quiet. She doesn't draw a lot of conclusions, and she doesn't need to. They are implicit. And I empathize in so many ways. For one, when I'm painting by the ocean, I spend a lot of time looking closely at what's happening where water and land meet. In fact, that very thing is the topic of my current painting show (sorry, but I have to mention it again, since the opening last week was so wonderful, and many of the paintings have already sold). The tide line is a fascinating place, and if you sit there and watch, for a long time, you will see amazing things. Not least of which are periwinkles and whelks going about their business. Reawakening as the incoming tide washes over them, traveling around their ledges and tidepools with purpose. Living their obviously worthy lives. How much more closely I'm going to see them, after reading this wonderful book.
But enough books for the moment. Get out there and look and wonder - it's nearly summer, and that's what I'll be doing too.