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celebrating a good book, a good writer

This is as close to perfection as any experience can be: on the deck on a perfect summer afternoon – a lone cicada, a cabbage butterfly and a bee nuzzling the lavender, a cardinal fledgling alighting briefly in the lilac, and here, a wonderful book that I’ve just finished. It was a joy from beginning to end. Here are a few bits of Margaret Renkl’s writing:

(She’s writing about how despite cruelty, human beings are an empathetic species.)

In 1988, during one stop on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited the San Diego Museum of Man. On display at the time was an exhibit of ancient clay figures. The human figures were all visibly different in some way: people with dwarfism, people missing a limb, people with severely curved spines or extra fingers. An informational placard explained that these figures had been fashioned by members of a tribe who revered physical difference. What we call a disability they had considered a blessing: God had entrusted to the care of their community a rare treasure, and even in their art they strove to be worthy of that trust.

That is at least partially what Loose Woman is about. 

Another, from a chapter called “While I Slept”:

I stood at the window in the dim kitchen and watched the snow pour from the sky. I don’t know how long I stood there before something just outside the window began to take shape in the dawn light, something alive with movement and still somehow immobile. Finally a bird feeder untangled itself from the limb of a hackaberry tree, and all around it cardinals were jostling for space. The snow was falling, and they were falling too, and rising again — a blur of movement within movement against the still backdrop of fallen snow and black branches, a scarlet tumult reeling from feeder to spilled seeds and back, again and again and again. I stood in the window and watched. I watched until I knew I could keep them with me, until I believed I would dream that night of wings.

And one more, writing about her sorrow as her sons grow up and leave home:

And yet I sometimes let myself imagine what a gift it would be to start all over again with this man, with these children, to go back to the beginning and feel less restless this time, less eager to hurry my babies along. Why did I spend so much time watching for the next milestone when the next milestone never meant the freedom I expected? There will be years and years to sleep, I now know, but only the briefest weeks to smell a baby’s neck as he nestles against my shoulder in the deepest night. 

That one brought tears to my eyes. I have one word for her: grandbabies. 

I feel newly inspired. Her writing is, as one editor said dismissively about Loose Woman, “beautiful but tender.” Very beautiful, very tender, in the simplest prose, clear, vivid, haunting. Something to aim for.

More treats: yesterday, a day in the Beach with Annie. We rode our bikes to her secret place in Ashbridge’s Bay for a swim but it was too cold. And then we did something I haven’t done since last March – we went out for lunch! We sat on a patio on Queen St. East and someone brought us food and beer! It was miraculous. And then I rode my bike home. Was ready for a swim by the time I got there. 

Today, for those of you following my travails, I saw the doctor at St. Mike’s and am not much further ahead. He is ordering another CT scan and then we’ll discuss. This may take up to 6 weeks. 

Yesterday my friend Jannette who helps in the garden said, “I hope when you sell this place, you find someone who’s also a gardener.” It jolted me. Someone else? Really? Yes, perhaps, one day. But not yet. Not now. Not today.



2 Responses to “celebrating a good book, a good writer”

  1. theresa says:

    Beth, this is such a beautiful post. I'm going to look for Late Migrations. It's true: why did I spend time worrying about sleep when the truth was in the moments of love and tenderness, the moments that accumulated until there was a life. Theirs, mine.

  2. beth says:

    Theresa, her writing reminded me of yours. She has the same knowledge and awareness of the natural world while also reflecting on her own life and family. Profound and moving. As are you.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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