Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Here in Harmony, the air is freighted with wet. The sky, gray as a wing, hovers twenty feet over the green and sodden earth. The humidity is so intense that my skin has difficulty telling if the weather is chilly or torrid. In the woods an unknown bird chatters: chewka, chewka, chewka, pause; chewka, chewka, chewka, pause. In the house the refrigerator grumbles and sweats. This is the sort of weather that tempts tomato plants to grow a foot taller every night. Meanwhile, slugs consume rows of lettuce, and bullfrogs bubble and grunt in the vernal pools.

I have started reading a book I bought in Brooklyn: James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It is a very odd book; imagine a mishmash of Walter Scott, Jonathan Edwards, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Laurence Sterne. Here is Hogg's bio, which may give you a sense of his oddity.
James Hogg (1770-1835) was born in the Ettrick Valley in the Scottish Borders. When he was seven, his father, a sheep farmer, went bankrupt and Hogg left school hardly able to read; he could only shape letters "nearly an inch in length," he wrote later in his autobiography. For many years, he worked as a cowherd and later as a shepherd. His mother, however, steeped him in ballads and folklore, and his grandfather was apparently the last man to talk with the fairies. Only in his twenties, when Hogg was exposed to books once more, did he begin to write, his first creations being "songs and ballads made up for the lassies to sing in chorus." At forty, he set out for Edinburgh and, after starting the short-lived satirical magazine The Spy, he wrote poems and stories for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, first published in 1824, has long been considered his masterpiece.

He was also an ancestor of Alice Munro's, and she writes about him in The View from Castle Rock.

I wish my grandfather had been "the last man to talk with the fairies."

1 comment:

Dawn Potter said...

A comment from my friend David, who claims not to be a poet. You decide.

"You achieved Laotzu. Completely. Loved, loved your description of the grandmother on the bench. And this morning’s, including on Hogg. (Robertson Davies thought highly of Confessions.)

"Here another gates of morning, the sun gold for those few minutes on that lovely tree. Driving in, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, all that dark lushness; the high violin, dying with a dying fall; near the end the three deep notes repeated three times, at their heart the double bass. The night the Winnipeg Symphony played it, the violinist in a lincoln green gown, the dark stage, her solitary in the spotlight.

"And high up, two planes, different altitudes, going opposite directions in a pale blue sky. The cleanness of their divergent vectors. Surely part of why some people love math.

"Off to swell the usual scenes."