A sudden, loss-tinged memoir of upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, from classicist and linguist Morrow (The Names of Things, 1997).
“Seeing something ordinary as…numinous,” a late friend once advised the author, would be special, like falling in love: “The intensity of that focus, that concentration of energy, would be the heating up in which some significant transformation could take place.” That convergence is what Morrow brings to these short essays, which depict not just the Finger Lakes, but also “the solace of the eternal presence of nature.” She glories in a pinkish gold slope of trees, perhaps wild apples, or the glory of a redbud, “blossomed purple in a ghostly film over long slender branches of silver.” She will often find herself going back: to the doings of the old native populations; to that special place between informed observation and instinct that a trapper had unveiled to her; to her brother; to the simplicity of a summer camp in Canada, with its “golden light of kerosene lamps, walls of thin blond wood, tarpaper tacked over the table . . . the rich outlying darkness.” Two subjects call to the author time and again. She’s compelled by the Finger Lakes’ “strangle dense history . . . so many powerful phenomena arising in what would otherwise have seemed a backwater,” the odd metaphysics of a region that brought us women’s rights, abolitionism, and the scientific advancement of agriculture, not to mention turkeys walking through the melting snow, woodcocks whirling from the ground like leaves stirred by the wind, and a landscape so venerably beautiful it makes your teeth ache. The other topic that fascinates Morrow is beekeeping. “One year,” she notes, “we found raspberry that was crystal in the comb, and once a dense wild plum that was so strong it was almost intoxicating.” Her hanging of impressionistic paintings offers evocative glimpses of place, supplemented by romantic portraits of people who guided her in the art of seeing those places.
Willowy and beguiling.