Took a nosedive with my health yesterday and ended up sleeping for sixteen hours overnight. Feel relatively better now. Didn’t get any writing done yesterday, but woke up long enough, around midnight, to read a short story by Carson McCullers: “A Tree – A Rock – A Cloud,” from The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories (1951).
McCullers was an astounding writer from the American South, who tragically suffered depression, alcoholism and numerous strokes over her lifetime before dying in late 1967 after a brain hemorrhage. She was 50. I would highly recommend her story “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”
Earlier this week, I was cleaning up the barn and found some books to sell. They were first edition hardbacks that at one time cost around $25.00 each. All that most bookshops in Denver would pay for them was about 50 cents each. The shop owners will in turn sell them for much more. Barnes & Noble is the only non-independent bookstore now, and it’s predicted to fold by the end of this year, just like Borders last year. (As an aside, long-time American giants Sears and Kodak will be taking the dive this year, also.) There will always be print copies of books available, but mostly through online ordering, the few independents who are still around and used bookstores. Fahrenheit 451 (1953), by Ray Bradbury should be read by all who still love to keep a home library of personally-loved books. The film version, directed by the great French director Francois Truffaut in 1966 is very good, as well.
Some can live without books, and photographs as well. A famous example was John Muir (1838-1914), the famous American wilderness traveler and conservationist who still inspires many who live for the outdoors. In a 1954 collection of his writings, edited by Edwin Way Teale, The Wilderness World of John Muir, there is a quote by Muir that makes me wince:
“I have a low opinion of books; they are but piles of stones set up to show coming travelers where other minds have been, or at best signal smokes to call attention. Cadmus and all the other inventors of letters receive a thousand-fold more credit that they deserve. No amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to know these mountains. As well seek to warm the naked and frost-bitten by lectures on caloric and pictures of flame. One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books. See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographer’s plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul. All that is required is exposure, and purity of material. ‘The pure in heart shall see God!'”
I could not disagree more, except for his last line of the quote. I live in the Colorado mountains southwest of Denver, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love nature and the outdoors. I live in the montane ecosystem, where aspens and wildflowers thrive, just below the alpine and tundra ecosystems. Books have their place alongside nature. Without books, the vast wealth of history would be gone. It would be like cutting an umbilical cord to our past. We live in the present, always the now–the “wave” of existence where those being born enter the wave and the dying leave the wave behind–but the ocean and it’s substance of souls remain, in a metaphorical sense. Muir himself wrote in journals and publications. Where would we be without his descriptions of natural landscapes that no longer exist due to the commercialization of land that has occurred since his time? Where would all of us bloggers be if we didn’t share our experiences with words?
A great read on this same topic is outdoorsman (and curiously, a practicing psychic) Stewart Edward White’s The Mountains (1904). The book is historical fiction based on his own journeys by horseback from the coast of California (where I was born) eastward into the high Sierras. Try riding horseback today by his path described in the book. How many California interstate highways and Walmart parking lots would he have to cross? The only way to take that path today is to read his book. John Muir has much to offer on the great outdoors, but I think he was a bit too harsh through his “utopian,” and seemingly anti-umbilical-cord, comments that are expressed above.
As well, a third book on the subject is by a conservationist who was greatly influenced by Muir, became executive director of the Sierra Club in 1952 (which was founded by Muir) and founded many conservationist groups such as Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters. He also served for America in World War II. His autobiography, in the form of a collection of writings, is For Earth’s Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower (1990).
Without oceans and mountains, redwoods and aspens AND books that link me to the connections I have with ancestors and inner-archetypes, I would be a very lonely, disconnected and dumbed-down soul, indeed. I would have virtually no ability to access the mistakes of the past in order not to repeat those same mistakes, such as the push towards socialism that many, who must not read history, support so blindly today. There are those in politics today, without mentioning names, who seek to cut off public access to our past, our history and our archetypes in order to deconstruct and rewrite the “proper” way to view our past. This is another great reason to read Fahrenheit 451–the spectre of government censorship. Beware! In the meantime, stay healthy and read, read, read.