Tuesday, April 19, 2011
The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer
Even the name Himmer reminds one of a sound one might hear in a bee-loud glen. Himmer the author leads us into a world we vaguely recognize (perhaps we are blind, too) as modern-day America: outside a large city sits a mansion on a hill. Just as in days of yore, when wealthy landowners changed the landscape to suit their tastes, a wealthy capitalist has modified his land holdings to create a lovely locale but bemoans the fact he has no time to enjoy it. So he hires a disaffected young man to live the life of a happy hermit in the environment he has created. Things go remarkably smoothly for a time.
**SPOILERS and Reading Group questions Ahead**
Our hermit describes his daily life in a way that parallels in important ways the life of an author. When one chooses to join the writing life, the author seems to say, one signs off to major portions of the ordinary days lived by the majority. One spends lots of time alone, observing, trying to achieve some level of proficiency in arts (not just writing, but other expressive arts) one has never practiced before. One must become wholly focused and may even waste a lot of time in trying to find a way through the lonely existence of learning to see. But eventually, when our hermit is offered an opportunity to leave his cave and live the life of a wealthy man, he turns it down. By this time he is used to scrabbling in the dirt for his food, and finds the wondrous taste of his own production payment enough.
The fact that our hermit actually became sightless as time wore on made me curious. Could this be the selfishness of authors who abandon other familial or residential duties to focus on their one interest, leaving the heavy-lifting (wage-earning, cooking, cleaning, child-raising) to loved ones? But since our hermit decides to stay where he is despite his blindness, I begin to think that perhaps he has found his inner life more rewarding, in the end, than living in the world. And perhaps in his sightlessness, he can actually see motive and remember beauty more clearly. Though he strains to see, the outlines his vision allows gives him what he needs to go on. Is Old Man River an editor? Is Mr. Crane (the name can't be irrelevant) a large publisher? Is Mrs. Crane the distractions of the flesh? Who, then, are the hikers? Fellow artists that gather to perfect their craft, stealing occasionally, the fruits of another?
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