Lyrical essays on place from a longtime resident of the Massachusetts shore.
Finch, coeditor of the Norton Book of Nature Writing, has the nature-essay form down cold. He observes some quotidian fact of life, elaborates on it for a few pages, and closes with a sententious moral. So it is with the title essay, in which Finch describes the assassination of a yellow hornet by a spider that had hidden itself carefully away in a corner of its study; the spider, he writes, “was almost solicitous, as if ministering to the stricken hornet, as carefully and as kindly as possible ending its struggles and its agony.” The moral Finch draws is this: “There is only the stillness of an eternal present and the silent architecture of perfectly strung possibilities.” Finch repeats the formula in 43 other short pieces, all crafted at magazine-filler or radio-spot length: here he considers the behavior of migratory whales (the former mainstay of the Cape Cod economy), there he writes of ancient trees, wily fish, and passing birds. Unlike some practitioners of the nature-essay form, Finch even finds room in nature for humans (albeit in a wary, Robert Frost-ish way). For humans, he observes, are as responsible as the winds and tides for shaping places like Cape Cod, manifesting themselves in “a well-ploughed field, a well-tended garden, colorful flower-boxes, planted trees, drained bogs and swamps, and barn full of hay and a woodshed full of stove logs.” Finch is meditative and celebratory, and he almost always avoids the genre’s traps—chief among them sentimentality and self-indulgence.
Readers familiar with Cape Cod will deepen their view of the place by following Finch’s pages; those who do not know it will likely want to have a look for themselves.