Kittredge (Hole in the Sky, 1992, etc.) continues his explorations, identifying the ingredients of a good and worthy life as he mines them from recollections of his early years.
Exposure to the world and analysis of experience are not just antidotes to despair—they are ways of living, of helping us to attain a private understanding of our own stories and so a ration of freedom and happiness. Kittredge takes readers on a select tour of his experiences, from the early days with his father to those he shares today with his companion, Annick Smith, during which he is ever attentive to the resonant metaphors of daily life. Sometimes his descriptions can sound painfully studied, as if each word were a Claymore mine ready to compromise his rough poet image: “. . . tricksters and jazz next to manicured gardens in Kyoto, walled cities against wilderness, and island empires that evolve into commodified carnivals.” But more often his writing is richly contextualized, a dizzily inclusive response to experience (be it garnered in the caves at Lascaux or the Alhambra or the hills and swales of his Montana home) that swarms and rushes and finds no problem stirring into a discussion of, say, the roots and downsides of agriculture such elements as the Greek alphabet, violence among hunter-gatherers, the humanity that can be wrung from a hard life, and the greasy buckskins of John Colter. We can ignore the excesses, however, and tap into Kittredge’s abiding decency, his love of intimacy and the pleasures and rewards of giving, in a life in which “the great projects have to do with freedom from want, ignorance, disease, and despotisms, with a peaceful homeland thick with the textures of what is most beloved, and with tearing down the barricades between ourselves and liberty, pleasure, enfranchisement, release, and play.”
A carefully constructed memory palace almost as comfortable for its visitors as it is for its inhabitant.