216 Chapters
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Medium 9780253000958

The Force of Spirit

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

My wife’s father is dying, and I can think of little else, because I love him and I love my wife. Once or twice a week, Ruth and I drive the forty miles of winding roads to visit him in the nursing home. Along the way we pass fields bursting with new corn, stands of trees heavy with fresh leaves, pastures deep in grass. In that long grass the lambs and calves and colts hunt for tender shoots to nibble and for the wet nipples of their mothers to suck. The meadows are thick with flowers, and butterflies waft over the blossoms like petals torn loose by wind. The spring this year was lavish, free of late frosts, well soaked with rain, and now in early June the Indiana countryside is all juiced up.

On our trip to the nursing home this morning, I drive while Ruth sits beside me knitting. Strand by strand, a sweater grows under her hands. We don’t talk much, because she must keep count of her stitches. To shape the silence, we play a tape of Mozart’s Requiem from a recent concert in which Ruth sang, and I try to detect her clear soprano in the weave of voices. The car fills with the music of sorrow. The sound rouses aches in me from earlier losses, the way cold rouses pain from old bone breaks.

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Mind in the Forest

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

I touch trees, as others might stroke the fenders of automobiles or finger silk I fabrics or fondle cats. Trees do not purr, do not flatter, do not inspire a craving for ownership or power. They stand their ground, immune to merely human urges. Saplings yield under the weight of a hand and then spring back when the hand lifts away, but mature trees accept one’s touch without so much as a shiver. While I am drawn to all ages and kinds, from maple sprouts barely tall enough to hold their leaves off the ground to towering sequoias with their crowns wreathed in fog, I am especially drawn to the ancient, battered ones, the survivors.

Recently I spent a week in the company of ancient trees. The season was October and the site was the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, a 15,800-acre research area defined by the drainage basin of Lookout Creek, within Willamette National Forest, on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. It’s a wet place. At higher elevations, annual precipitation averages 140 inches, and even the lower elevations receive 90 inches, twice the amount that falls on my well-watered home region of southern Indiana. Back in Indiana the trees are hardwoods—maples and beeches and oaks, hickories and sycamores—and few are allowed to grow for as long as a century without being felled by ax or saw. Here in Andrews Forest, the ruling trees are Douglas firs, western hemlocks, western red cedars, and Pacific yews, the oldest of them ranging in age from five hundred to eight hundred years, veterans of countless fires, windstorms, landslides, insect infestations, and floods.

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Medium 9780253019042

Part 5 The Present Past

Douglas A. Wissing Quarry Books ePub

Famous pose of Indiana outlaw John Dillinger holding a Thompson machine gun in one hand and a pistol in the other, circa 1930s.

Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company Collection, P 130.

BANK ROBBER JOHN DILLINGER CAME BACK TO CROWN HILL on Wednesday July 5, 1934, three days after he had died in a rain of bullets outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater. His killing ended a nearly yearlong escapade that had captured America’s imagination. During his rampage, he and his gang had stolen $300,000 in multiple bank robberies, including $21,000 from Indianapolis’s Massachusetts Avenue Bank on September 6, 1933. When casing banks and jails, Dillinger’s gang had been wily: posing as Indiana State Police, bank security alarm salesmen, and movie executives scouting for locations. Dillinger had escaped supposedly impregnable jails, once with a carved wooden gun. “See what I locked all of you monkeys up with,” he laughed at his disarmed jailers as he turned the key on them. For months Dillinger led hundreds of police officers and federal agents on a wild chase across four states. To some Great Depression-ravaged Americans who had lost farms and homes to voracious banks and felt abandoned by an uncaring government, Dillinger looked like a Hoosier Robin Hood. To the authorities who counted as many as twenty-three people killed by the gang, John Dillinger was Public Enemy Number 1.

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Medium 9781574416367

Chasing Bayla: Boston Globe / By Sarah Schweitzer

Gayle Reaves, Editor UNT Press PDF

Chasing Bayla

Boston Globe

Oct. 25, 2014

By Sarah Schweitzer

“Thirty meters,” Dr. Michael Moore called out.

Moore braced himself against the steel of the Zodiac’s platform tower as the boat closed in on the whale in the heaving Florida waters. Through the rangefinder, he could see the tangled mass of ropes cinched tightly around her. It was impossible to tell where the ropes began and where they ended.

This much he knew. The ropes were carving into her. Bayla was in pain.

He was tempted to look away. It was almost too much to see.

Her V-shaped spray erupted then disappeared into a mist as she slipped beneath the surface. A spot-plane circling overhead radioed. They could still see her silhouette. She hadn’t gone deep.

“Get in close if you can,” Moore said to the boat’s driver.

Bayla would come up again soon.

148

Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 3

Then he would have his chance.

For nearly three decades Moore had dedicated himself to North Atlantic right whales like Bayla. He knew every inch of their anatomy, every detail of the strange and glorious physiology that made them so astoundingly powerful and so utterly defenseless against the ropes.

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Medium 9781574416367

A Father’s Scars: For Creigh Deeds, Tragedy Leaves Unending Questions: The Washington Post / By Stephanie McCrummen

Gayle Reaves, Editor UNT Press PDF

A Father’s Scars: For Creigh Deeds,

Tragedy Leaves Unending Questions

The Washington Post

November 2, 2014

By Stephanie McCrummen

HE WAKES UP, and even before he opens his eyes, he can see his beautiful, delusional son.

Gus, Creigh Deeds thinks.

He lies in bed a few minutes more, trying to conjure specific images.

Gus dancing. Gus playing the banjo. Gus with the puppies. Any images of Gus other than the final ones he has of his 24-year-old, mentally ill son attacking him and then walking away to kill himself, images that intrude on his days and nights along with the questions that he will begin asking himself soon, but not yet. A few minutes more. Gus fishing. Gus looking at him. Gus smiling at him. Time to start the day.

He gets out of bed, where a piece of the shotgun he had taken apart in those last days of his son’s life is still hidden under the mattress. He goes outside to feed the animals, first the chickens in the yard and then the horses in the red-sided barn. He leads the blind thoroughbred outside

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8. Distance

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

Despite its reputation as a remote sanctuary, Thoreau’s cabin was only a mile and a half from Emerson’s door, less than a mile and three quarters from his own family’s house, and barely six hundred yards from the Fitchburg railroad’s tracks. To what extent does this proximity to the very civilization disowned by Walden invalidate the book? If Stanley Cavell is right that Thoreau’s “problem is not to learn what to say to his neighbors” but “his right to declare it,” is that right undermined by the surprising lack of distance between him and his neighbors?

For some Walden readers, captivated by the idea of a heroic retreat from society, the discovery that Thoreau walked into town almost daily, often dined at home, and regularly entertained visitors seems a betrayal. Thoreau, of course, anticipates that response, insisting that the distance that matters is the one separating us from our better selves and that bridging this gulf requires the real heroism. “Is not our own interior white on the chart?” he asks in his “Conclusion,” urging his reader to “be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought” (215). Wittgenstein would propose the same project in the same terms: “If you want to go down deep you do not need to travel far; indeed, you don’t have to leave your most immediate and familiar surroundings.”

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Medium 9780253019059

Hoosiers outside Indiana

Edited and with an Introduction by Owen Indiana University Press ePub

MILES CITY, Mont. . . .

We saw Mr. Denien, who came to South Dakota five years ago from La Porte, Ind., to share the farm with a widowed uncle.

Mr. Denien and his wife and children packed up everything in the old Cadillac and drove out to the land of opportunity. The Cadillac has moved not an inch since they arrived. It is still there in the shed. Some of these days, when Mr. Denien gets up his courage, and enough money to buy a license, it may carry them away again.

I have never seen anybody so bewildered and discouraged as Mr. Denien. Here five years. A good crop the first year, but no money for it. No crop at all the last four years. He has five little children. “We came west all right,” says Mrs. Denien. “But we didn’t come far enough. They say things are good in Idaho.”

Mr. Denien was a janitor in the La Porte Y.M.C.A. for many years. He said he remembered me from the time I lived there on my first newspaper job. I don’t see how he could, but he had no other way of knowing I’d ever been there.

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13. Full of Hope

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

In “Spring,” Walden’s penultimate chapter, Thoreau describes his sudden awareness that winter was finally over:

The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last. Suddenly an influx of light filled my house, though the evening was at hand, and the clouds of winter still overhung it, and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain. I looked out the window, and lo! where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as on a summer evening. (209)

We can imagine this moment as a film scene, with Thoreau at his window and a point-of-view shot revealing what he sees. The Walden passage provides the visual details: the abrupt “influx of light,” the overhanging clouds and still-dripping eaves, the pond liberated from its ice. But how does a writer show us that something is “full of hope”?

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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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33. Stripped

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped. (29)

Walden’s more didactic sections, especially its first two chapters, repeatedly erase the distinction between practical issues and philosophy. This move, of course, lies at the heart of Thoreau’s project, announced early in “Economy”: “To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school.… It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically” (13). With Thoreau, there is no necessary priority: either the practical or the philosophical issue can come first. Thus, the task of building a house with boards from James Collins’s shanty prompts an introductory disquisition on architecture, which, in turn, abruptly becomes a moral precept: “Our lives must be stripped.”

Emerson dismissively suggested that Thoreau found it easy to follow his own maxim: “He had no temptations to fight against, no appetites, no passions, no taste for elegant trifles,” Emerson wrote in his eulogy. “He was bred to no profession; he never married; he lived alone; he never went to church; he never voted; he refused to pay a tax to the state; he ate no flesh, he drank no wine, he never knew the use of tobacco.” Even to his most sympathetic readers, Thoreau’s life has always seemed remarkably “stripped.” Less apparent, however, is the extent to which Thoreau also “stripped” Walden. After promising “a simple and sincere account” of his own life at the pond, Thoreau offers a book whose lack of intimacy continues to unsettle us. Thoreau tells few stories, admits to no doubts. He never uses Emerson’s name or mentions his own family. Anecdotes about the Collinses’ family cat or a hunted fox trail off into dead ends, while others about an “artist of Kouroo” or “a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove” become opaque parables. Because we have grown so accustomed to Walden’s remoteness, we may realize what Thoreau has left out only when we happen upon a Journal entry registering his characteristic mood swings:

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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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Wildness

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Hope caught me by surprise a couple of weeks ago, when the last snow of winter hit town on the first day of spring. It was a heavy, slashing snow, stinging the skin, driven by a north wind. Because the temperature was near freezing, the flakes clung to everything. A white streak balanced on telephone wires, on clotheslines, on every branch and twig and bud. Many buds had already cracked open after a spell of warm days, so we fretted over the reckless early flowers and eager trees. By noon, snow piled a foot deep, and more kept falling. The few drivers who ventured out usually wound up spinning their wheels in drifts. Soon even the four-wheelers gave up and the city trucks quit plowing and the streets were abandoned to the storm.

I made the first blemish on our street by going out at dusk for a walk. The light was the color of peaches, as if the sky were saturated with juice. The clinging snow draped every bush with a lacy cloak. Even fire hydrants and cars looked rakish in their gleaming mantles. I peeled back my parka hood to uncover my ears, and heard only the muffled crunching of my boots. Now and again a siren wailed, a limb creaked, or wind sizzled through the needles of a pine, but otherwise the city was eerily silent, as though following an evacuation. In an hour I met only three other walkers, each one huddled and aloof. The weight of snow snapped branches and toppled trees onto power lines, leaving our neighborhood without electricity. As I shuffled past the dark houses, beneath unlit street lamps, through blocks where nothing moved except the wind, my mood swung from elation toward dismay. The snow began to seem a frozen burden, like a premonition of glaciers, bearing down from the heedless, peach-colored sky. The world had been radiantly simplified, but at the price of smothering our handiwork and maiming trees and driving warm-blooded creatures into hiding.

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11. Fashion

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

“Economy”’s review of life’s necessities—food, clothing, shelter—quickly becomes Thoreau’s occasion for dismissing fashion: “As for Clothing …, we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility” (18). Although this proto-Marxist critique of exchange-value initially appears as simply part of Thoreau’s recipe for improving our condition by reducing our needs, his later declaration that “our whole life is startlingly moral” (148) confirms Walden’s insistence on erasing the practical/moral distinction so eagerly maintained by Concord’s Sunday churchgoing businessmen. Hence the constant slippage between economic and spiritual terms, whose overlap appears in one of Thoreau’s favorite words: value. Hence, too, the immediate mobilization of fashion’s ethical dimension: “I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience” (18).

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19. Kittlybenders

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

It affords me no satisfaction to commence to spring an arch before I have got a solid foundation. Let us not play at kittlybenders. There is a solid bottom every where. (222)

In the third Norton critical edition of Walden, William Rossi’s footnote defines kittlybenders as “a game in which children attempt to run or skate on thin ice without breaking it” (222), but the word would probably be entirely forgotten if Thoreau had not mentioned it as something not to play. Since Thoreau enjoyed skating, covering, according to Richardson (334), as much as thirty miles at a stretch and reaching fourteen miles an hour, why does he reject kittlybenders? Thoreau’s characteristic strategy in Walden involves using architectural and spatial vocabulary to represent thinking and living. Thus, kittlybenders’ literal danger serves as a metaphor for the hazards of a life without foundations, an argument without grounds. “There is a solid bottom everywhere,” Thoreau reminds us, in a figure that recurs in Walden:

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Medium 9780253220042

5. In Line

Elsa Marston Indiana University Press ePub

A STORY FROM EGYPT

 

Halfway home from school, on a lovely clear day in December, I did something really daring. I decided to change my route. Not much, of course, because my mother knew exactly how long it took me to get home and she would be waiting. I just thought it would be nice to walk along the canal a bit and pretend it was the Nile. That’s how it happened I ran into Fayza.

I’d noticed her in class. You could hardly not notice her, even in a classroom as packed with people as ours. She always raised her hand to answer the teacher’s questions—she even asked good questions of her own! What’s more, she was a lot smarter than most of the boys and wasn’t afraid to let them know it. So I’d begun to think I’d like to get to know her. But how? Most people still acted as if I were from Mars, or someplace even farther away, and they couldn’t figure me out. I was afraid Fayza might feel that way, too.

Well, I would try, at least.

Fayza was standing at the edge of the canal, holding a big bunch of flowers—roses so bedraggled they looked as though the flower seller had given them to her for free. But what made me curious was the way she was staring down at the canal. I stopped near her to see what she was looking at. It was a donkey, dead, lying there in the water.

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