Bountiful the Love We Share

PROLOGUE

A small town in the North American prairie . . .

Bountiful lay in a curve of green mantle under the pink gold of dawn. Soft light moved slowly on the broadsides of its homes and stores and played among the trees that lined the streets. Inhabitants cuddled under quilts or shivered in feathered down on a high tree limb or snuggled under a copse of trees in mist-cloaked meadows at its boundaries.

Every dawn was a hushed moment—the briefest pause when earth holds her breath. Then, the day began again as it had since the prairieland had formed. Its people were latecomers, a noisy lot, the birds had long ago concluded. The cattle grazed and watched without comment—a very dignified way of being.

The people of Bountiful were practical folks who lived life by accepting its limitations as well as its potential, planning for all its contingencies, working hard, praying hard, and trying to not take any of it too seriously. Life had been generally good to the people and creatures of Bountiful which went a long way toward explaining why they were so happy, in the main. Yet, this general feeling of wellness might have a subtle formula: early settlers made structures close to one another in grids and circles that articulated meaningfully, keeping families, quite streets, green lawns and gardens safe. It was the custom to give thanks for a land of plenty understanding that certain ways brought order and predictable outcomes. It was a town that retained its youth by raising them to love it. Most returned to Bountiful after college or brief forays into other places. It was just a good place to live and love. In the more complex world around it, Bountiful remained predictable and renewable like the dark soil of its farms. Stretching in ordered rows that hugged the contours of the landform, Bountiful farms yielded good harvests of wheat and corn, and vegetables for local markets. Well-tended farm animals produced excellent grade meat, milk, and eggs. After two-hundred years of existence, Bountiful remained the same kind of place—undisturbed and self-generating.

TIME BEFORE

A sweeping vista of tall grasses higher than any man, the whole of it moved in slow undulations on the breeze, no shade crossing its shoulders. Bright golden green halo giving way to sky—blue dome, white cloud—floating. Above the tall grass stems swirls of yellow blossoms followed the sun on its path across the heavens. Crimson and cerulean wildflowers like shooting stars painted the tall grass prairie on God’s vast canvas. Bees and birds dined and swooped in and out of the movable feast. Into the dark soil the grasses plunged and held in mats and networks thirty feet to bedrock. In the cool, subterranean kingdom the microscopic inhabitants of the soil shared or stored minerals, energy, and water—a prairie dynamo.

In late summer, a strike of lightening ignites the sea of dry grass. Flames burst and rush across it consuming the air unbound. Inferno envelops and burns to the ground all that waved before. Later, seed coats burst open onto enriched soils, rains pour, and the prairie regenerates. Fire is the prairie flower of the gods who reigned over the land where Bountiful now lies.

AND THEN

The people who came to live and to know the prairie came by it in hardship and fear. Surrounded in flames and smoke, huddled in sod huts, shivering in cold or sweltering in heat, they held like the roots of the grasses, held fast in fortitude under the blue dome. They dug and clawed away the grasses that held the land not understanding it but prevailing above it with plow and horse. They laid their furrows in soil so black it swallowed the seed into its abyss. From the seed emerged green shooting stalks and leaves that pushed a flood of kernels into being, golden kernels that moved the dynamo from under the land into the crop of man. The cycle continues. So powerfully wrought, the ghost prairie gave its wealth for centuries even as it renewed itself.

Bountiful lay upon this powered land with only a faint memory from a pioneering past. Few understood what had been before the coming of the Europeans who created the town, mapping streets, dreaming a dream that belonged to a distant land.

It came to pass that a prairie girl would leave Bountiful to become a writer in the distant metropolis of New York City. Her return to her homeland would be prolonged by a successful career and a late marriage. Only upon the passing of her dear husband did she decide to return. It had not been a conscious decision, but the pull of an ebbing tide that swept her back to her origin.

Her family’s farm had been the center of her world as a child and youth. Now, it held an unexamined power over her. Compulsion, yes, that was how it felt to Charlotte, like she had no control over the surprising decisions her city friends could not fathom. An ad in the New York Times, the sale of her gorgeous townhouse on the upper East Side of Manhattan and leaving art and culture for the agrarian life of a senior community at Green Fields Farm. Was it self-destructive? A compulsion spawned by grief?

“Not at all,” Charlotte had said to her friends. “Somehow it feels natural to return to quiet and openness of Bountiful. It just feels right.”

Keep Up with Publication Dates on Bountiful’s FB Page:

 

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

With authors I value, like Barbara Kingsolver, the wait for a new work can often be lengthy. My wait was amply rewarded. In Unsheltered–2018 HarperCollins–she had created parallel narratives that articulate across two centuries in the American experience. Her device is a house and property shared by the characters in different centuries. The 21st Century Wilma and  19th Century Thatcher are adults navigating giant shifts in social paradigms. For Wilma and her family it is the economic collapse of the middle class and the dissolution of the ideals her generation pursued. Climate change knocks ominously at her door. For Thatcher it a pre-Darwin American culture in a panic to hold onto Christian perspectives by rejecting rational observation of how the world works (akin to today’s denial of science).

Wilma’s multigenerational family reflects at once a 1) disenfranchised, racist white America (grandfather); 2) boomer parents (Wilma and Iano); 3) grown kids who pursued differing paths–Harvard financial education (Zeke), and post-apocalyptic youth (Tig). Add Baby Dusty, Wilma’s grandson whom she is mothering after the death of Zeke’s wife,  and you have four generations, each navigating their own realities. The dialogue along the way explores the contemporary ocean of conflicting values and ideas of today’s American society with our economic, social, and environmental challenges.

Unsheltered is a nuanced conversation between Kingsolver, her characters, and the reader that is slow at times but never boring and long enough to examine previous and contemporary times for understanding the confabulations of collective memory–an existential wail of ‘Who are we?’

Twenty-something Tig exclaims to her mother, “The guys in charge of everything right now are so old. They really are, Mom. Older than you. They figured out the meaning of life in, I guess, the nineteen fifties and sixties. When it looked like there would always be plenty of everything. And they’re still applying that to now. It’s just so ridiculous.”

For individuals like me, awash in Trump-a-Con,  Unsheltered is a beacon. Kinsolver’s Afterward explains her own journey to understand “the times”, explaining to readers how she wrote a novel about real historical figures and set the novel in South Jersey in a small town, Vineland. Along the way, she traveled many miles, including London where walked in the footsteps of Charles Darwin.

This book is a needed contribution to understanding our time as one when the “world as we know it” appears to be ending. It is ultimately a great story that takes us into the author’s creative mind. I am so grateful to Kingsolver!

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a YA novel for our time.

It deals with injustice and racial profiling but in the most personal manner. Stone used newspaper articles, and stories from real teens who have faced similar injustices to develop her story. Stone writes a nuanced plot and characters as real as the people around you. Everyone is welcome in Justyce’s story because diverse perspectives are represented in the characters, their thoughts and responses to events in the story.

This is a national bestseller. Free copies were distributed by the Warren County, KY library in my home town of Bowling Green, KY. Nic Stone will be here in October and I cannot wait to meet her.

The novel is a short book (less than 200 pages) but it moves powerfully along to an ending that made me weep with joy, sorrow, and HOPE!

It is my wish for this coming year that Americans will read it because it shows a way forward in addressing injustice in our law enforcement as well as in society in general–what we must finally deal with to complete the Long Road to Freedom.

Some books are necessary. This is one of them. A brilliant achievement.

Why Reading is Essential to Writing

Half Price Books in Bowling Green, KY

Finding Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes (1996 Penguin Paperbacks) at Half-Price Books in Bowling Green reminded me again why reading great writers is an essential component of a writing practice.

Proulx’s research into the immigrant experience and  the historical setting  animates her use of language.

Hour after hour the noisy dragging mass shuffled up the gangplank onto the ship lugging bundles, portmanteaus, parcels and canvas telescope bags. ~The Accordion Maker, The land of alligators, Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx, Scribner’s Paperback Fiction.

Proulx’s novel is a textbook on originality in structure, use of language, and approach to the subject. Her writing reminds me of Vachel Lindsey and Carl Sandburg whose poetry about industrial America contains similar energy and rhythmic force I experience when reading Proulx’s work:

The din of commerce sounded in a hellish roar made up of the clatter of  hooves and the hollow rumble of wheel rims on plank, the scream of whistles and huffing of engines, hissing steam boilers and hammering and rumbling, shouting foremen and the musical call and response of workgangs and the sellers of gumbo and paper cones of crawfish and sticky clotted pralines, the creaking of the timber wagons and the low cries of the ship provisioners’ cartmen urging their animals forward, all blended into a loud narcotic drone.” ~ The Accordion Maker, Sugarcane, Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx, Scribner’s Paperback Fiction.

Future Home of the Living God: A Masterpiece

Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God is a masterpiece of contemporary  American literature. After 16 novels, books of poetry, and memoir, and nominations for the Pulitzer, and winner of the National Book Award, this novel is a culmination of her storytelling, use of language, and imagination.

I’ve read and studied Erdrich’s works for at least 15 years, eagerly awaiting each new novel. Some have exceeded my expectations, others have not but are still excellent reads. But this one, THIS is an achievement — not just for her as a writer and artist — but for our times.

The writing is beautiful and flows with such ease, concise yet vivid description, that reading is seamless. The plot moves with tremendous pace and at times I was so full of suspense that I had to put my hand over the next sentence to keep myself from jumping ahead. As a woman with a daughter and sisters, and nieces, I was drawn to the main character, Cedar, who writes a diary for her unborn child — a record of a time when all that people assumed would never change was upended overnight.

If you are a woman of child-bearing age or a woman concerned about protection of women’s rights, if you are a a man who values women, a person of faith, or a citizen who wishes to understand this age, this time on earth, then you need to read this book. The earth is changing, we are changing.

In the dystopian tale, so prescient for today, she manages to still uplift the reader. She is a weaver of legend, personal destinies, and her own cultural perspective. Louise Erdrich manages to show us there is still hope, still good to be cherished and brought forward in all of us. Yet, Erdrich bravely portrays a potential future that threatens all we hold as good and right in human behavior, and the fate of the earth.

Hildegard of Bingen, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, scripture from the Bible, and Ojibwe elders all find voice in this story.

Find it at Birchbark Books, Erdrich’s independent book store; Indie Bound, or other online book vendors. Read the New York Times book review.

A Good Book

A Good Book
A good book

There are few pleasures that reward better than a good book. I read both for pleasure and to learn how authors develop characters and move their plots along. One of my hobbies is reading the first and last lines of books. How does the author grab the reader’s attention, then hold it? How does he or she use language?

Yesterday I stumbled on a $6 copy of Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity. Many of you may know Follett from his long lasting historical thriller, Eye of the Needle. Follett bases his fictional tales on assiduous research. Edge of Eternity is a contemporary suite of stories happening on several continents. Follett weaves characters active in the Freedom Bus Rides and civil rights movement with characters in East Germany when Khrushchev decides to build the Berlin Wall. It begins in the year 1961 and moves through the ’80s encompassing the civil rights movement, assassination of John F. Kennedy, and our fears and efforts to prevent a nuclear war with Russia. I stayed up very late last night reading.

What are you reading?