68 Slices
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Staying Put

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two friends arrived at our house for supper one May evening along with the first rumblings of thunder. As my wife, Ruth, and I sat talking with them on our front porch, we had to keep raising our voices a notch to make ourselves heard above the gathering storm. The birds, more discreet, had already hushed. The huge elm beside our door began to sway, limbs creaking, leaves hissing. Black sponges of clouds blotted up the light, fooling the street lamps into coming on early. Above the trees and rooftops, the murky southern sky crackled with lightning. Now and again we heard the pop of a transformer as a bolt struck the power lines in our neighborhood. The pulses of thunder came faster and faster, until they merged into a continuous roar.

We gave up on talking. The four of us, all midwesterners teethed on thunderstorms, sat down there on the porch to our meal of lentil soup, cheddar cheese, bread warm from the oven, sliced apples and strawberries. We were lifting the first spoonfuls to our mouths when a stroke of lightning burst so nearby that it seemed to suck away the air, and the lights flickered out, plunging the whole street into darkness.

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Chapter Twenty-Four

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

There was an old proverb about never looking a gift horse in the … what? Ear? Nose? Mouth? Phoenix could not recall how it went. Nor did he have any clear notion what a gift horse was. But he knew the proverb had to do with accepting presents humbly, not inquiring too closely into their origins, and that was why it kept springing into his mind. He was content to have Teeg back from her mother’s antique house without demanding to know why she had come. The simple gift of her was enough.

“She has her world, I have mine,” Teeg had explained simply. During the late afternoon on the river that was all the explanation she offered. In the sleepsack that night she was fidgety but silent, and he did not question her. He stroked her timidly, grateful to have her within reach. She kept her own hands fisted tightly against her belly, as if to squeeze the pain into one spot and hold it there.

From the look of her eyes next morning, she had not slept much. As he mouthed the algae-brew that passed for breakfast, he thought of suggesting they vary their diet with some roots and frogs. Fried lichens, maybe. Any bit of nonsense to lift her gloom. He would have tried walking on his hands across the river to please her. There was something pure about her silence, however, as he imagined a field of new-fallen snow would be pure, and he did not trample on it.

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Letter to a Reader

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Since you ask for an account of my writing, I will give you one. But I do so warily, because when writers speak about their work they often puff up like blowfish. Writing is work, and it can leave you gray with exhaustion, can devour your days, can break your heart. But the same is true of all the real work that humans do, the planting of crops and nursing of babies, the building of houses and baking of bread. Writing is neither holy nor mysterious, except insofar as everything we do with our gathered powers is holy and mysterious. Without trumpets, therefore, let me tell you how I began and how I have pursued this art. Along the way I must also tell you something of my life, for writing is to living as grass is to soil.

I did not set out to become a writer. I set out to become a scientist, for I wished to understand the universe, this vast and exquisite order that runs from the depths of our bodies to the depths of space. In studying biology, chemistry, and above all physics, I drew unwittingly on the passions of my parents. Although neither of them had graduated from college, my father was a wizard with tools, my mother with plants. My father could gaze at any structure—a barn or a music box—and see how it fit together. He could make from scratch a house or a hat, could mend a stalled watch or a silent radio. He possessed the tinkerer’s genius that has flourished in the stables and cellars and shops of our nation for three hundred years. My mother’s passion was for nature, the whole dazzling creation, from stones to birds, from cockleburs to constellations. Under her care, vegetables bore abundantly and flowers bloomed. The Great Depression forced her to give up the dream of becoming a doctor, but not before she had acquired a lifelong yen for science. When I think of them, I see my father in his workshop sawing a piece of wood, my mother in her garden planting seeds. Their intelligence spoke through their hands. I learned from them to think of writing as manual labor, akin to carpentry and farming.

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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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Voyageurs

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

In morning mist on a northern river, a slab of stone tumbled from a boulder into the water, where it came to life and floated, turning into a sleek black head that swam in circles dragging a V of ripples behind it. A beaver, I thought, as I watched from shore. But no sooner had I named it than the creature bobbed up and then dove, exposing a long neck and humped back and pointed tail. Not a beaver, I realized, but an otter. I was pleased to find a label for this animate scrap, as though by pinning the right word on the shape-shifter I could hold it still.

Presently a second otter, then a third and fourth broke free of the boulder and slithered down into the mercury sheen of the river. They dove without a splash, their tails flipping up to gleam like wands in the early sunlight, and they surfaced so buoyantly that their forepaws and narrow shoulders lifted well out of the water. Then one after another they clambered back onto the rock and dove again, over and over, like tireless children taking turns on a playground slide.

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