"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Monday, February 4, 2013

When books find you, or, a tortoise's tale

Sometimes books find you.
So it was Saturday, as I scrounged through Full Circle Bookstore www.fullcirclebooks.com/ looking at books and waiting to play chess, all the while sipping the free coffee.
I always go to the nature section, by the fireplace, to see books by John McPhee, to check on other non-fiction, by writers like Rick Bass, Barry Lopez. And I usually find something new to consider buying.
This time I found two, "The Great Aridness," about my beloved Southwest, and "The Missing Ink," about the decline of art of cursive handwriting. Turns out I'll save those for later.
Driving down, I was thinking I'd like to find a book by Verlyn Klinkenborg, the thoughtful columnist for the New York Times, who writes "The Rural Life" and "The Urban Life"--literary meditations of life in general, especially rural--the kind of writing I'd like to do.
I didn't even know if he'd written a book, but still was thinking about it. And then, there was this pale little volume  squeezed between bigger books. I pulled it out of the shelf, and there was Kinkenborg's book, "Timothy or, Notes of an Abject Reptile."
Call it serendipity, or chance, or angels, or whatever, but the book was seeking me. It's not a new book (copyright 2006) but it grabbed me immediately. Klinkeborg gives voice to a historic tortoise, whose shell is now in the Natural History Museum in London, written about in journals by an Eighteenth Century English naturalist, Gilbert White. Timothy lived in White's garden in a small village for  years.
Kinkenborg adopts the tortoise in a way, imaging what he thought of the humans who adopted and cared for him all those years. Essentially he gets inside the tortoise's head, with spare prose, giving timeless observations of human and natural affairs, in delightful, fanciful storytelling. 

"So it is with humans. Quickness draws their eye. Entangles their attention. What they notice they call reality. But reality is a fence with many holes, a net with many tears. I walk through them slowly. My slowness is deceptively fast."

I'm assuming he met Timothy by reading about him in White's journals from 1784, and he's posted some of those thoughts on a blog he ended in 2006. http://klinkenborg.blogs.nytimes.com/ Read a little of his work and you can see why I always search for his columns. they're treats of thoughts that brighten days.
Klinkenborg is on the editorial board of The Times, and his columns always attract my attention for the great writing, the images and metaphors about the ordinary things of life. He  grew up on an Iowa farm and lives in Ames, and earned a Ph.D. from Princeton.
At any rate, I'm glad he found Timothy, and that his book found me. Those are the best kind.


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