This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Foreward and New Cover

Or is it 'Foreword?' I always get those two mixed up. Anyway Haworth wanted me to write a foreward for Map of the Harbor Islands (which has a revised release date of October 16, due to the flooding in upstate New York where Haworth's smart international production headquarters are located-- the cover department was COMPLTELY wiped out). I really didn't want to as I thought the book said all I had to say on the matter, but anyway-- they wanted it. So I had to wait until I felt I could speak from the heart about the story of Danny and Petey, so anyway here it is:

On the bright morning of September 11, 2001, my mother called from Maine and instructed me to turn the television on, as a small plane had crashed onto the roof of one of the Twin Towers. I declined, as I bemoan the devolution of the news media into a carnival of mayhem and mishap. But my roommate overheard our conversation, and tuned in; when he called me to the other room to say the accident was much more horrific than anyone imagined—indeed, could imagine, in those days—the three of us (my roommate, my dog Biscuit, and I) sat involuntarily glued to the enveloping horror for the next five hours.
Finally Biscuit, displaying the animal sensitivity that science dismisses and pet owners routinely witness, started shaking— then he barked to get us out of the room. He had had enough of the emotional tsunami spilling into our home that day. As much as for his sake as my own, we decamped to ‘Happy Land,’ our name for the 3000-acre conversation area of hills, lakes, meadows, and cliffs 400 yards from where I live.
We were, of course, looking for escape. If I had known then the ramifications-- direct and indirect-- that would follow in the wake of that day, perhaps I wouldn’t have come back—or not until, at least, the various Bogeymen who have appeared in the wake of 911 had been dispatched. I know some great caves up there.
There was something above and beyond that day’s tragedy that was heartbreaking in its beauty. Every locale must have its halcyon days, and here in New England, our meteorological payback comes in a nebulous swath of time and space and light that begins roughly in late August and extends—if we’re lucky—into mid-October. How to describe the indescribable—there is softness to the air, a benign silence, a certain slant of light that contains cricket and cicada sound by night and flotillas of slow-moving cumulus clouds by day, punctuating a Cerulean sky. There are breezes that carry a certain poignancy in the air, as if summer hated to be called last summer so soon.
There are certain days that are meteorologically perfect—and yet we might plow through them without remark. But among these are some—two or three a year—that break one’s heart with their beauty. Beyond the day’s perfection, there is a je ne sais que, a spritz of harmony that makes one feel, as the Zen describe it, as if one will live forever, even when one knows one won’t. Everything conspires, and the soul soars. Maybe it’s Jungian. Maybe it’s me.
Anyway-- September 11, 2001 was such a day in New England, weather-wise if not otherwise; and Biscuit and I roamed the hills and fields of Happy Land—or Tír na Shona as we called it then (I was teaching him Irish so I would have someone to speak to in that lovely but listing language) until day smudged into night.
The greatest lesson the animals teach: everything is for the first time; everything is now. In Biscuit’s case, he could go from despair to nirvana with just the taking down of his leash from its home over the pencil sharpener. And so we proceeded, up hill and down dale, seeking our escape: and while it was true that horror had come calling that day—the bees had found some secret stash of goldenrod, and were making merry in it; the clouds stalled over mirror water, and the light shifted, delighted and drunk; frogs plopped off logs to swim; we sought out Hawk Hill to see if any red-tailed raptors were riding the thermals, as the breezes were from the happy Northwest; they were. We watched the skies, as Petey might say, with quiet eyes.
It occurred to me sometime that late afternoon that perhaps all this—the diphthong of the birds, the pine drench in the air, the dewdrops lingering in a Golden Gate of a spider web, spanning an upland meadow path—was reality, and what the world had witnessed that morning—and, alas, other mornings, and afternoons, and evenings: the hatred, the revenge, the rooms where people gather to plot murder, or invent terms like collateral damage—was the unreality, the nightmare we have dreamed up in our collective fear and greed and loneliness.
I had just begun this novel then. I put it away for a time, as it seemed I should be writing, or painting, about things other than the secret discovery two people make in their own version of Happy Land, the Boston Harbor Islands. But eventually I returned to it, of course, for it seemed Danny and Petey, the heroes of this work, would stomp on my stomach at night while I tried to sleep, demanding to be birthed.
In the same way it sometimes seems silly, in these times, to write about things like the dream-drift of clouds, or the numinous joy elicited by the secret discovery by two city boys of a tern’s nest, or the bliss to be found in the corners of a true a friend’s smile. But I am reminded of the story of a ‘high-powered’ somebody or other who went into the hospital for dangerous surgery. A voracious reader by necessity, she didn’t want the ‘important’ works of the day, or the weighty journals of her profession, despite the pressure to keep current; she wanted The Wind in the Willows. “They’re always making toast,” was the only explanation she could offer.
The point is, it is in the worst of times that we must remember what is still beautiful in the world, and of lasting value, however esoteric and individual those things might be to each of us. And so I offer you, gentle reader, the story of Danny and Petey, and what they found of lasting value, in the never-never land of my own reality.

ALSO-- Haworth sent the new proposed cover yesterday, which is a million times better than the first one, which looked like 'Lady Chatterlain's Summer of Love.' Here it is: As in, it's above (you can't position the photos on this blog-- they all come out at the top). Like all the pix on here, if you click on it it gets bigger.
I've been harvesting my first French Yellow Beans from mygarden this week-- they are SO GOOD, and still have that funny rough feel to therm that fresh beans too-- hard to describe. I've eben eating them raw and in stir-fry mostly, and giving some away (they all come at once) to whoever comes by. It still amazes me that you can put this dried up, dead-looking, shrivelly thing in the ground, and a few weeks later come back and find a plant bearing food. The Good Earth. What a miracle. I read a few years agop how dirt is stardust. I love that. Okay, have to walk Fionn before it gets any hotter, he goes on sit-down strike all along our wal;k route when it's hot.


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