Do you believe in magic? I do.
I have just finished Fred's elegiac book "Slow Road Home". I don't recall being moved so much by a book - ever!
"All who wander are not lost" - J R Tolkien (p 204)
Why? Let me tell you. When I was a boy I read the Odyssey and saw it as an adventure. I read, Moby Dick and thought it was an adventure. But when I read them again in middle life, I saw them as my life. When I read Slow Road Home, I saw it as my life and then as a real adventure. An adventure that I knew well. Fred has become, as Dickens did, the hero in a mythic tale of his own life and so showed me, my own. The adventure and the mythic tale are all about seeking home and finding its magical and restorative power.
Home, is not your house. Home is the place that chooses you. Home is a place where you go to find your true self. Home is the place where you as a steward will leave your legacy to the next generation. Home is the place you choose to die in. Home is where you may choose to leave your ashes. Home is not a house.
He describes the "call" "When we are young, we live where we are born. For some of us, the place of our birth is a perfect fit and we never leave it. For others, like me, something is missing there and we look for home in places we have never been but long to find." There is something about the power of longing that I know too. "Something has drawn us here over the years, brought us back. A longing we cannot name has caused these hills to hold a nutrient we cannot live comfortably without".
For me it was the Atlantic property of my Grandparents. The smells of pine and seaweed, the morning mists, the gentle summers and the long winters. For Fred and Ann, it is the mountains of Virginia, the summer heat, the spiders webs, the brooks and the winter stove.
In our busy lives, most of us lost our sense of place and how it could work its magic upon us. Fred says "Whether we know it or deny it, place molds into each of us its latitude, its elevation, its geometry and chemistry. But it is possible to live so fast that we become oblivious to our relationship with the land that requires a daily attention to the particulars every season."
There is a sad scene in John Boorman's excellent film Excalibur, when Merlin, wistfully says that the age of magic is dying and so must he. But I wonder - is the age of magic returning? Can Fred help us find it?
Where does he work his magic? He works it in the "Daily particulars of every season". What do I mean by this? Have a look at some of his photos - here. Fred' s eye sees the details of these daily particulars and sheds new light on what we pass by every day without seeing.
This is how Fred sees the details we pass by.
Or this - an Ice Curtain
The book is called a Blue Ridge Book of Days. Like medieval Book of Hours, it is a series of contemplative vignettes about daily life. Fred looks with an eye that most of us have forgotten we own. He sees life in all the mundane actions of existence for him, for Ann and all other living and non living parts of his landscape. We meet spiders, deer, snakes, birds. We hear the insects, smell the bloom, hear the crunch of ice, the buzz of the chain saw. We share his coffee, smell the flannel. We sense the waters rushing below and the life beneath the soil. We meet his family and we meet his people. For me, above all, we also meet Buster.
For what is a man or a place without a dog? How can we know a place well without a dog to guide us? Buster and then Tsuga are deep undercurrents of energy throughout the book. The account of Buster's death had me cry out "Oh No!" as by his deft touch, Fred set up the scene and I knew what would unfold.
What a deft touch. Fred writes prose that reads like poetry. He also has the gift of on one page providing an aha, on another a ha ha and then another a tear. The book is a series of of scenes that layer upon each other to build a whole. It is like a series of snacks that become a meal - leaving the reader complete and sad that it is over. I want to hear Fred read it. I can hear his voice on every page.
This is not a self indulgent book. This is a mythic tale that can grip the heart of any person who seeks to find themselves and hence home itself: that place where the person melds into the world and readies us for that time when we all go back to that larger home.
In this busy world, we have forgotten how place can inform us and make us whole. We have forgotten how the mundane, gathering wood for the winter, working in a vegetable patch, walking the river bank serves the sacred. We have forgotten the meaning of being true to a place.
Fred ends with this sentiment. " A man can be fond of women, but he will settle down in a relationship and build a love affair of meaning with one woman. And so it is, ultimately - if we are fortunate - with finding our place....For the first time in my life, I feel a monogamous fidelity to one fixed and particular place that is as deep and permanent a commitment as the vows that I have taken to this one woman, my wife."
And so our hero, Odysseus, after a lifetime of adventure is called home to his woman, Penelope and to his home - as all men are so called.