68 Slices
Medium 9780253000958

Mountain Music

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

On a June morning high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, snowy peaks rose before me like the promise of a world without grief. A creek brimful of meltwater roiled along to my left, and to my right an aspen grove shimmered with freshly minted leaves. Bluebirds kept darting in and out of holes in the aspen trunks. Butterflies flickered beside every puddle, tasting the succulent mud. Sun glazed the new grass and licked a silver sheen along the boughs of pines.

With all of that to look at, I gazed instead at my son’s broad back, as he stalked away from me up the trail. Sweat had darkened his gray T-shirt in patches the color of bruises. His shoulders were stiff with anger that would weight his tongue and keep his face turned from me for hours. Anger also made him quicken his stride, gear after gear, until I could no longer keep up. I had forty-nine years on my legs and heart and lungs, while Jesse had only seventeen on his. My left foot ached from old bone breaks and my right knee creaked from recent surgery. Used to breathing among the low muggy hills of Indiana, I was gasping up here in the alpine air, a mile and a half above sea level. Jesse would not stop, would not even slow down unless I asked; and I was in no mood to ask. So I slumped against a boulder beside the trail and let him rush on ahead.

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Medium 9780253329561

Chapter Seventeen

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

During most of that first week after the landing at Whale’s Mouth Bay it rained. The meadow squished underfoot as the colonists went about erecting domes and laying pathways of glass. The needles of spruce and hemlock, glistening with rain, looked like fine green jets squirting from branches. Grass stems bent under the weight of water. Marie had to cover her garden with polyfilm to keep it from turning into a quagmire. Coyt grumbled because unbroken clouds reduced the power from his photoelectric cells. There was methane enough from the seaweed digester, however, and enough hydrogen from the vats of blue-green algae to fuel stoves and generators, so the colony enjoyed electricity and warm food.

Rain pipped the surface of the fishpools, which were stocked with fingerlings of bluegill and rainbow trout and bullhead catfish, all carefully smuggled from Oregon City. The smuggled crayfish had died in their barrels, so Josh and Jurgen went off hunting some wild ones. Rain pattered on the greenhouse, where Phoenix helped sow vegetables. Teeg was delighted to see him poking his fingers into the sterilized dirt.

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The Singular First Person

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

The first soapbox orator I ever saw was haranguing a crowd beside the Greyhound station in Providence, Rhode Island, about the evils of fluoridated water. What the man stood on was actually an up-turned milk crate, all the genuine soapboxes presumably having been snapped up by antique dealers. He wore an orange plaid sport coat and matching bow tie and held aloft a bottle filled with mossy green liquid. I don’t remember the details of his spiel, except his warning that fluoride was an invention of the Communists designed to weaken our bones and thereby make us pushovers for a Red invasion. What amazed me, as a tongue-tied kid of seventeen newly arrived in the city from the boondocks, was not his message but his courage in delivering it to a mob of strangers. I figured it would have been easier for me to jump straight over the Greyhound station than to stand there on that milk crate and utter my thoughts.

To this day, when I read or when I compose one of those curious monologues we call the personal essay, I often think of that soapbox orator. Nobody had asked him for his two cents’ worth, but there he was declaring it with all the eloquence he could muster. The essay, although enacted in private, is no less arrogant a performance. Unlike novelists and playwrights, who lurk behind the scenes while distracting our attention with the puppet show of imaginary characters; unlike scholars and journalists, who quote the opinions of others and shelter behind the hedges of neutrality, the essayist has nowhere to hide. While the poet can lean back on a several-thousand-year-old legacy of ecstatic speech, the essayist inherits a much briefer and skimpier tradition. The poet is allowed to quit after a few lines, but the essayist must hold our attention for pages and pages. It is a brash and foolhardy form, this one-man or one-woman circus, which relies on the tricks of anecdote, conjecture, memory, and wit to enthrall us.

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Honoring the Ordinary

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

For years, I could ignore the charges raised against the memoir, just as I could ignore the charges raised against burglary, because I had no intention of committing either offense. But then the circumstances of my life and the sad state of my country prompted me to write a book called A Private History of Awe, which I thought of as an extended essay about my lifelong spiritual search, but which my editor informed me was, indeed, a memoir. When the book was published in 2006, it bore that label on the jacket for all to see. And so, having joined the suspect company of memoirists, I began to take a personal interest in the accusations leveled against this literary form.

The most common accusations often appear in the guise of two blunt questions: How could you write a whole book about yourself? And how much of it did you make up? The questioners assume that a memoir must be an exercise in narcissism, and that it is likely to be dishonest to boot. One can easily find published examples that would justify either suspicion. There has never been a shortage of egotists or frauds, so it’s no wonder that some of them compose and peddle books. Although these two human failings often go together, for the sake of clarity I’m going to separate them, speaking first about the dangers of deceit and then about the dangers of narcissism.

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Medium 9780253353139

A Few Earthy Words

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

It might be said that all much-used,
debased words are looking for restoration,
for revivifying contexts.

—STEPHEN DUNN

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