Auld Lang Syne

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Early bird catches worms? Aaaargh!

I'll start right out by saying I do not advocate eating worms. I don't advocate getting up early either. Leave both of those things to the birds and my neighbor, Jan. But since summer started I am up early every day. It's that sun, light, chirping outside my window thing I guess. So what to do? BLOG

I admit I enjoy doing the blog early-ish in the day. My head is usually filled with dream-cloth fuzz and I feel a bit like sharing (if I'm up, you have to be up and reading my blog).

Today what is on my mind is Henry Beston and his Outermost House. I just found an actual Society formed for him and his work and for the little dunes cabin where he penned his most famous book. The cabin was "claimed by the sea" in the 1970s so no one can actually "go there" at this point, but the Society touts his adventure there in the late 20s as having begun the Cape Cod National Seashore. (good job, HB!)

I have a personal reason to love HB and his seminal book. I read it in January of 1967 for the first time. I was a college drop-out and living in a 2nd story walk-up flat near the bus station in Burlington Vermont at the time, working for the phone company. I had no social life to speak of and no money AT ALL to be spending on books. I lived very frugally out of need. I had a few bric-a-brac items in my apartment, a little green blown glass cat and a tiny amber jar. (I still have these, keep them to remind me of leaner days). I had a few books left over from college (I left over a dispute with the head of the English Department and her stubborn views of literary analysis).

I remember the day I found the Outermost House as if it were yesterday. I had walked downtown from my flat, window shopping and wanting to go to the stationary shop (McAuliffe's on Church Street) to buy some writing paper. They had the BEST onion skin paper. What was especially nice and very intriguing about McAuliffe's was their upstairs book area. I loved going up there and browsing. I felt at home, safe, perfect. On this particular day, it was very bright and cold outside, a nice soft snow having fallen the night before. I remember stamping my boots up the wooden stairs, stuffing my gloves into my coat pocket as I went up to the book area. I remember taking off my coat and laying it over the banister at the top. Sunlight was burrowing its way in between the rows of books from an upper window. I was alone and I was happy. Books. So many books. I made my way along the shelves, running my fingers over the spines. Now there is a saying "you can't judge a book by its cover." We all know this is true, but we all also know you can PICK a book by its cover. That is exactly what happened the day I "met" Henry Beston in McAuliffe's. I noticed a slim yellow spine sticking out just a bit from the neighboring spines. Just a tiny bit. I pulled  it out rather than smoothing it into place as I often did unevenly shelved books. I was immediately intrigued by the bright simplicity of the cover: a hand-drawn dunes shack window looking out on a beach. I was drawn to the title too. What in the name of all that is holy is an "outermost" house. WHERE is one? I sat right down on the floor of McAuliffe's and began reading. One hour later, NO KIDDING, I was downstairs with book in hand, digging in my coat for change. $1.45 was the cost of that first TOMH copy. I forgot entirely about buying the writing paper. I had to get home and finish the book. I still have my original copy, my $1.45 copy. Over the decades since then, that book has gone everywhere with me. I have moved 22 times since then. I never considered leaving that book behind. I have bought countless other copies of TOMH, given away to friends and colleagues or to students or family members. I try to find copies with the original cover, though I have purchased copies with a modern cover. (I don't much care for those copies; they seem fake to me). The most I have paid for a copy (modern cover) is $12.95 + tax.
The point here is that I want to share this wonderful, inspiring book with other writers and with readers. So I keep buying copies and giving them away.  I was heartened to notice a copy of the book on the bed in my spare bedroom this summer when my 18 yr old grandson was here for an extended visit, one of the copies I'd gotten recently with the good cover. I asked him if he was reading it. I asked if he'd like his own copy. He said yes. That copy went back to college with him. Success! Another generation of HB readers!

So what is it about the book that is so wonderful, that made me know I could do this writing thing? It's the language, the attention to detail, the magical connection between HB and the sea, sky, landscape. It's the way HB connects everything in such a natural way. I am a poet of place because he made place sacred.

Now you go get a copy for yourself and one to give away. (you will NOT want to give yours away)


  1. Great detail of the setting for your encounter with HB's TOMH and passion for it. I enjoyed reading this post and felt as if I was there able to observe you as you encountered TOMH.

  2. Yes, TOMH is an inspiring book. It enlivens me with purpose whenever I read it.