May 24

This is mostly about books, and I’m good with that

It’s been since roughly early March, but I feel like I’m catching up on things around here. Which means this is the week I will catch up on things. Which mean something important and pressing will come along to distract me. Something will make me realize this is a false feeling, and that I am, in fact, behind on all of the chores and hobbies and other things I’m just behind on. I will find that note on my phone that has the list of things I want to do, and things I should do, and things I need to do, and then I’m instantly behind the eight ball once more. This is the way of things. But, for the next day or two, this is a good feeling.

So, please, no one write anything on the web. If I’m caught up, I don’t need you adding anything to the To Do stack.

Aaaaaaand … there it is, I just realized something I’m behind on. Oh well, I’ll get to it Thursday, maybe.

Besides, these guys demand all of my attention anyway. Demand it.

We’ve created monsters.

I wonder how long we will leave this box on the kitchen island since Phoebe has made it her own.

After an afternoon of box-sitting, she was ready to quietly sit next to us and take a little nap.

What, in the world, is cuter than that?

Not to be outdone, Poseidon would like to show you his sleeping technique.

How is that comfortable? And it’s easy to say “He’s a cat,” as if that explains anything. But that guy is as spoiled as can be. Not, his cat cave is sitting on the ottoman, because the cat cave alone wasn’t good enough.

So the cats are doing just fine, thanks for asking. And, once again, it is self evident why their weekly check-in is the most popular regular feature on the site.

This weekend, I discovered we have berries.

Who knew? Not me.

This, I assure you, is the moon.

The timestamp says I took that at 11:09 p.m. on Friday night.

Also, I had a 35-mile bike ride, but we’re just going to treat that it’s not even a big deal, in an effort to normalize longer bike rides. I’ll just say this, 35 is sort of the mental barrier. Once I get through that, I’m ready to go out on actual longer rides, and that’s the plan. I’ll continue increasing the mileage because the goal, as ever, is to take nice, long, enjoyable, bike rides. Tomorrow’s ride will be longer than Saturday’s, and so on, for a while.

This weekend we also returned to our best summer weekend system: reading in the shade on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday I read the great Willie Morris’ Yazoo. Morris was from Yazoo, Mississippi, but while he was working as the editor of Harper’s Magazine he made several trips back to his hometown to follow along with how his unique small town was handling integration.

(Most small towns think they are unique. Some of them are. Yazoo may be. How they handled integration, at least in those early stages, was different from most.)

Morris, being a liberal Southern Democrat, and more so while he was living in the north, was hopeful about those early days, as you might imagine one would be about a place he loved. He became haunted by what happened in the longer term. None of that is an author’s fault, when you expand on a longform article to turn it into a book, the book becomes a bit of amber, and the stuff frozen inside of it can be right, or wrong. What we get, from our modern vantage point, is a glimpse of a particular moment in time, 1970, and just more of Morris, the tremendous reporter and writer.

As I’m sitting there, a little insect flew onto the left margin of the page, sat there for an eyeblink, and then hopped-zipped into the pages. It was eager to be in the book. Perhaps it was eager to be a part of the book. One with the book. Or maybe it wanted to fly to Mississippi, and then thought better of it, because it quickly zipped away.

It’s a musty old book, in that delightful, yellow-paged pulp way. Probably the insect’s impulse had something to do with the paper’s aging process. And, almost as quickly, it thought better of it, and flew away. It was one of those things in life that seemed important, important enough that you wanted to share it, even as you knew, in real time, you had no way to do it, or the feeling, justice. And so here I am.

Anyway, I started it yesterday, I finished it yesterday. I’m pleased to have done so, as part of my quest to read pretty much everything possible that Willie Morris wrote. It isn’t all grand, but if you read Terrains of the Heart, you’ll understand the impulse.

I forgot to mention this entirely, but since we’re on the subject of books, last week I finished Marching Home. The subhead is “Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War.” Subtitles are a terrible modern publishing necessity, but they hit the nail on the head in terms of the thesis.

It turns out, we’ve never been especially good at supporting veterans. I knew that. It goes back to the Revolutionary War and has been a shame and sometimes downright shameful part of the American condition. These guys had it no different.

One part was physical, and one part was the rest of the north wanted to get on with it. Another part was, psychological therapy just wasn’t a thing yet. That’s seeing a 19th century problem through a 21st century lens. It is a thing we caution people about when reading about historical periods, but it’s easy to do, and easy to return to.

Another one would be: 19th century alcohol might have been less than helpful. The descriptions of some of the people in this book beggars belief. But the whole thing really does seem a shame. And while this is, of course, a book about the Union army, reading it makes the humanist wonder how these same real, gritty, daily problems impacted the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, too. As lousy as some of the northern infrastructure was for dealing with these problems en masse, it would have necessarily been hard for those guys, too.

After I finished that book, which was well-written and seemingly exhaustively researched — almost 40 percent of it were footnotes and other after matter — I asked the random number generator to pick another book from my Kindle queue, and I started in on Rising Tide. Again, the subtitle, “The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America” tells the tale. (Why not just use that as the title?)

Where I am, as of this writing, is still about 50 years prior to the flood, but it has been a fine read, and very digestible. These two pages are the bulk of what has been offered in terms of hydrology.

Even something like the movement of water is written in a lean-in style, to author John Barry‘s immense credit. And if these two pages intrigue you, even a little bit, this is a book for you.

I’m five chapters, I think, in. We’ve met three main players. Two of them were surveyor-engineers. One of them was fast, and the other fastidiously, obsessively thorough. The former died in the Civil War. The later did not, and, thus far, has proven to be something of a megalomaniac who becomes the head of the Army Corps of Engineers. And he’s just about to run, head-first, into the third main character, a captain of industry who Barry has thus far portrayed as an irresistible object.

Speaking of which, I think I’ll go back and continue on. When I last looked in, they were just getting to the problem of the legendary sandbars.

Feb 24

Mostly words about reading words

I am grading things. This is a week of a lot of grading. I made the mistake of grading the simpler stuff first. I thought it would build momentum, but now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of things to grade this week. The only thing to do is take them on one by one and try to provide useful feedback to everyone along the way.

In class last night we talked about social media and how it is used, sometimes for good, sometimes for less desirable purposes. These are the four readings the class had this evening.

#BlackLivesMatter and the Power and Limits of Social Media

Social media helps Black Lives Matter fight the power

It takes a village to find a phone

From hope to hate: how the early internet fed the far right

The thing about this class is that I’m always eager to see what they’ll think about the next readings. I hope they come to see how all of the things they are being asked to read over the course of the term come to complement one another and, ultimately, come to work together.

What I’ve been grading today are assignments out of that Monday night class. This assignment asks them to chart several days of their personal media consumption and write about some specific things in that context. First of all, everyone should do the charting exercise now and again. We all think we have a handle on how much we read and watch and listen to this and that, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it on paper. Every time I do this assignment students come away surprised by something or another. That’s useful for some of them, and some come to a conclusion that they want to make a few changes to their personal habits. But the writing is interesting, because they have to tell part of their own story, and you learn a lot.

One student watches 1950s variety shows on YouTube to unwind. Another introduced me to some new music. Still another name drops some bands I played on college radio a million years ago — that must have been an interesting childhood soundscape. Another wrote, beautifully, elegantly, about the impact Little Woman had on her life. It’s a nice assignment.

Then, of course, I spent a few moments reading Louisa May Alcott’s poetry. Her stories, I think, are better than her poetry, but maybe that’s me. Or her books, some of which are magically timeless. Perhaps I should add Alcott back to the list of things to read. She might be another one of those authors that is lost on us when we’re young.

Speaking of books. I finished When Women Were Birds on Sunday night. It was 54 essays Terry Tempest Williams, who, was gifted her mother’s journals. As she lay dying, she says these are for you, but don’t read them until I’m gone. Some time after her mother passes away the daughter is ready to look in those journals, eager to gain the insights of a woman she knew, wanting to learn about the woman she didn’t know. They’re all neatly arranged, these journals, waiting for her to discover what’s inside. They’re all blank. And, from this, Williams writes about her mother, the birds of the west, womanhood, faith, family, and what is there and what’s missing.

It is a writer writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think I finished it in four late night sessions.

The next problem is that I have so many things to read, how do I choose what to read next? I have a random number generator on my iPad and I let it decide. It decided that, next, I’ll read Brian Matthew Jordan’s Pulitzer Prize finalist book, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War. Jordan teaches at Gettysburg College and this text has a great reputation for the depth of its research. I saw that right away in the footnotes.

I bought this in December of 2020, and it’s just been sitting there, waiting for the random number generator to call it into action. And chance has good timing. I like to change up the periods I read about, and haven’t read anything from the 19th century since the end of 2021, somehow. (All of which is to say I need to read more, obviously.)

This photo isn’t good, and breaks a lot of the supposed rules of photography, but I love it anyway.

It is the way the light dances at the surface, how the water is blue and white. Sky and clouds and water and you could go any direction you wanted to right here, at least in your imagination. My dive buddy, my lovely bride, is facing away from me, but that’s OK. I like the composition.

Makes me want to go diving. Go figure.

Jan 24

Not exactly quotidian, but close

Saturday morning meant a continuation in the granola experiment. This is flavor two of this brand, and also my third granola ever. I believe this one is the basic offering from Bob’s Red Mill. Last week I tried their maple sea salt variety. On its own, it was a bit over-sweet. I tried it with some raisins and that was much better. But, Saturday, and today, I gave this one a shot.

It’s a bit cleaner, a bit simpler. And quite tasty. But it is missing something. And while I’m no taste expert and even less of a granola connoisseur, that might be as precise as I can get.

Today, I put a box of raisins — the generic store brand of raisins, which is always the preferred dried grape — in the bowl. And today, this tasted like a favorite cereal of my youth.

Crispy Wheats ‘n Raisins was introduced in the late seventies. It found its way in our cereal cabinet, the low one to the left of the oven, alongside the Froot Loops and Cookie Crisp and Rice Krispies and Apple Jacks. Only one of those I ate so much of I can’t consider eating today. It seemed like Apple Jacks got stuck on the grocery list every day. But despite all of those hyper cereals, Crispy Wheats ‘n Raisins was the best. Sales plummeted somewhere near the turn of the century and General Mills discontinued the brand. But it was good stuff, and definitely the best raisin-based cereal. This bowl this morning is the closest thing I’ve had to that taste. I’ll have to remember this combination.

Phoebe likes it too. She’s in danger of ruining her good girl reputation with her aggression for milk. She’ll sit and stare and if you get distracted by things like putting the milk cartoon back in the refrigerator, she’s over in a flash.

You’ll note that she’s not on the countertop, which is against the rules. She’s on the box which is on the countertop. We don’t have a rule against that.

And when she gets down, Poseidon is ready for his shift.

Buncha jailhouse lawyer cats around here.

Poe is much better about milk. It’s one of the few times when he isn’t an active bother. When I’m done, I’ll give Phoebe a tiny bit. Poseidon sits patiently and watches. This is the only time he will allow her to do a thing when he doesn’t insert himself. I’ll give him a tiny little sip of what’s left, just so he can have a taste. But not too much.

This big bad cat can’t handle his milk.

This weekend I finished Studs Terkel’s Hard Times. It’s an oral history of The Great Depression, with interviews all conducted in the late 1960s. Terkel worked for the WPA’s Federal Writers Project during the depression, particularly in radio. He spent a significant part of his career keeping the craft of oral history alive. A few decades after this book, he would win the Pulitzer Prize for another oral history series. That book is in my queue, as well. But, today, The Great Depression!

He traveled all over the country talking to people from all different walks of life, and different generations, about life in the 30s. And some of these stories are tough, but just as many of them are comically funny. I don’t think any one anecdote can explain the time to the rest of us, but it’s pretty obvious that one person’s experiences can inform us about them. And so, in this book, you get dozens and dozens and dozens of people’s experiences.

In this collection, at least, I think you can group people into one of three broad categories. You had people who lost everything, of course. And some of them learned to survive, and some learned how to thrive. Among them, you’d see people have a wide array of reactions to what the U.S. government did, or didn’t, do to solve the problems of the day. Among them, you find a certain group of people, particularly those that were young and previously of some means, that had a eye-opening experience when their parents lost it all.

In the second, smaller group, you’ve got people who weren’t directly impacted by the depression, or at least, a generation later, wouldn’t admit to anything of the sort. Throughout, people talk about how people who lost everything reacted, how they felt it was a personal failure, how that informed everything about them for a time, if not forever. But in this second group, you would have some people who weren’t touched by the Depression. People who thought others who were down on their luck deserved to be there. Or they just didn’t see it at all. No soup lines in my town, no apple sellers on my corner, this sort of thing. No direct exposure makes denial that much easier. And this second group would be people full of people in this general condition.

The third group of people would be the youth. The children of people who experienced The Depression. Teens and twenty-somethings in the 1960s. Unless Terkel was cherry picking, these young people were almost entirely ignorant of the Depression. At best, you’re left with the impression that people didn’t want their kids to know about their struggles. And sometimes bliss looks dumb.

Last night I started a new book, something I picked up for the Kindle. It starts with the death of Terry Tempest Williams’ mother. And it grows from there.

Mother tells the daughter that all of her journals are hers, but don’t read them until she’s gone. And soon after, she dies. Later, the daughter feels ready to look in those journals. They’re all neatly arranged, waiting. They’re all empty. And, from this, the author has put together 53 other essays on womanhood, memorializing her mother, musing on her faith and filling the empty places.

It’s lyrical in its own way, and it feels like a journal. I’ll probably be through it in a few sittings. I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this one. The title and the blurb were intriguing, good reviews on Amazon and sometimes that’s how you uncover something you wouldn’t otherwise happen upon. It’s a fast read, When Women Were Birds. I bet, by the end, the already accomplished writer will find her true voice.

And if you don’t want to read, we can always go diving. Let’s go!

Here are a few more shots from our recent trip to Cozumel. Here’s one of me. My dive buddy took this one.

I think it’ll eventually wind up as one of the rotating banners here on the blog.

And if you think that a photo of me means I’m running out of other fish of the sea, nope.

In this one we have three or four different species, including grunts and a stoplight parrotfish and an angelfish.

Also, the classic pufferfish flyover.

But, for my money, this is still the best fish in the sea.

Tomorrow, more underwater scenes, something on the bike and something about campus — where I must go to right now — ya know, the usual Tuesday stuff.

Oct 23

Bikes and barns and books

Have you been enjoying Catober? Sadly it comes to an end this week. Cats are feted around here all year, but tomorrow is the last official day of Catober. Don’t worry, the kitties have some bonus photos planned for you. As ever, they like the spotlight. Which is why, next week, we’ll return to the regular Monday cat updates.

If you somehow missed some of this year’s Catober, click that link and scroll backward. There are five years of Catober photos with Phoebe and Poseidon to scroll through. Five years. Doesn’t seem like that should be the case. Time flies when you’re counting purr cycles.

Sorry, I had to hold a cat for 25 minutes, where was I?

Oh, yes. This was the weekend of the big weather change. Warm on Friday. Warmer on Saturday. Overcast today. Overcast and warmer tomorrow. We’ll be in the 50s on Tuesday. Next week, I think, is when we adjust the clocks, and we’ll all just get used to doing things on a different schedule until February and March, when the days start getting noticeably longer again. That’s fine, I suppose. There’s a lot to do indoors. But there are things to do outdoors, as well.

I have to bring in seven plants and set up a livable arrangement for them in the basement. We have to figure out how to protect a fig tree. What other fall maintenance needs to happen? And so on.

Also, there’s work, of course. My Monday class will have a midterm next week, so tonight’s class will be about preparing for that. And, in all of my classes, we’re now preparing for the big deep breath that will begin the last six weeks of the term. And while I’m wrapping up that fig tree — that’s what you do, I’m told, you wrap up a fig tree — I’ll be beginning to think about next semester’s classes.

It’s a pleasant enough cycle, the ebb and flow of the academic calendar. One week leads to the next and the next and then you’re thinking about the next semester, thinking about two terms at once. You’re only forever hoping you can make it be pleasant and effective enough for the people around you.

I had two nice bike rides this weekend. Friday, I shared a video from the ride, a reverse version of the regular lunchtime route. It was a good video, you should watch.

One part of the route takes you out to the river. There, you can see the Phragmites, an invasive plant that is trying to choke out more beneficial marsh plants.

Right there, it looks like they are winning. But I’m no coastal ecologist or botanist. At least they look nice.

Here’s one of the trees in the neighborhood, in Friday’s full glory.

Leaf blowers will be in full rapture by this time next week, I’m sure.

On Saturday I took a longer ride. This was a 51-mile ride to the other end of the county — hunting for historical markers for a future post — that ended at a state park. Of course there’s a video.

I saw some good barns on the ride down.

Picture book quality stuff, really, in a picturesque farming landscape. It’s quite lovely, really, as you can tell from the video.

Down at the state park, which sits where the pine barrens and hardwood forests meet, there’s a diverse ecology, at least 50 species of trees, more than 180 species of birds and …

The markers I wanted to find were in the state park — a place with a long and complex history. The first Europeans came into the area in the 1740s, but there’s plenty of evidence of Lenape habitation before that. In 1796, Lemuel Parvin dammed the Muddy Run stream to power a sawmill, thus creating a lake, named after him, and the future state park, that also shares his name. Turns out he’s buried in a cemetery I went right on Saturday, not too far away. In 1930, the state bought the acreage to make a park. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed much of that park, which, in 1943, was a summer camp for the children of interned Japanese Americans. The next year it was a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers captured in Africa, and in the 1950s it was refugee housing for Kalmyks.

The first marker was easy to find, and right where it should have been. After some time, longer than I’d anticipated, I found the second marker almost by chance. It was, really, my last guess, because the day was getting late.

I only had to ride about 20 miles back under fading daylight. I changed my route … OK, I took a wrong turn … but it worked out better. Better, clearer roads, broader shoulders. And just seven or eight miles from the house it finally got dark. I had to turn on my headlight. Took a roundabout, turned on the headlight and pedaled straight up a clean, broad-shouldered highway for five miles, through town just after it got properly dark.

It’s OK, though, because there’s only three miles or so more to go. Country-dark, but good roads. And look at the quality of this light.

The battery died on the last mile or so, which was disappointing and a bit of a surprise. It just went dark, and right before a little downhill where gravel gathers. I was able to get it back on for a few seconds, to navigate that stretch. And then finished the ride in quite and darkness. OK, by the oddly spaced streetlights and neighbors’ porch lights. It was great.

I bought new batteries for the bike light yesterday.

And I finally got around to finishing Eudora Welty’s memoir, which I’ve been sitting on since August. One Writer’s Beginnings (1984) is the only thing of hers I’ve ever read. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but she’s a really fine writer. This third section, the last part of series of lectures she delivered at Harvard before turning them into this book, is the lesser of the three, but only because the first two parts were so charming and strong.

Throughout, she talked about her bygone days, and a great deal of this section is about her parents, her beloved father, a captain of the insurance industry who died far too young, her mother who lived, as Eudora said, with grief as her guiding emotion. These were two people who came from Ohio and West Virginia, got married and moved to Mississippi as an adventure and had three children. Eudora grew up the oldest of three surviving children, but she was writing all of this in her seventies, when she was the last of her siblings. (One of her brothers served in the Pacific during World War 2. They were an insurance man and an architect by trade.) There’s a reverence and profound introspection involved with that much time and perspective, and all of her endearment. She talks about the characters she’s written, how they aren’t the people she knows, but how they are sometimes inspired by people she’s met. No less a scribe than Robert Penn Warren teased his way through this, through the beauty and difficulty of human relationships in Welty’s writing, in his famous love and separateness review. That was in 1944, and by then she was well on the path to literary success: having people disagree and/or find infinite layers of nuance to your themes. What, then, could I add to the larger, impressive body of work of a critically important author?

I’m glad I read this memoir. And though I don’t read a lot of her, if you like human themes, fiction or old Mississippi, you should start dogearing some pages today.

Aug 23

‘Just like children sleepin’, we could dream this night away’

I swam 2,000 yards this evening. It was that or go stumble through a run, and my knees said: swim, why don’t ya? So I dove in, donned the ol’ goggles and started the freestyle stroke, with the occasional kick when I could remember to, counting laps along the way. Somewhere around 360 or 400 yards, my arms stopped complaining and just carried on with the effort. That’s my longest swim since 2015, where one fine September day I put 2,900 yards in the books. It is my 10th swim of the summer, and I did it all uninterrupted. I’m pleased with what seems like an impressive progression, and wondering what I’m doing poorly if I’m not a.) super winded or b.) exhausted or c.) both, after the fact, and if I have enough time to get to two miles this season.

Three, four, more swims, right? Surely that’s outrageous and feasible, all at the same time.

I do not know what is happening.

This has been a nice exercise. Something about the rhythm, even for an inconsistent water splasher as I am, becomes meditative enough. If you’re concentrating on keeping the lap count right or, occasionally, focusing on your technique, all of the other things can go out of your mind.

This lets the other things come back into your mind, because when you splash the water away at the wall, more water moves back through.

I don’t know what that means, either. Not really. I didn’t spend my time in the pool writing this. Clearly, that’s the oversight here.

Anyway, laps, time spent not writing this in my mind, because time was spent thinking about class preparation, instead. Not every day is a day full of deliverables, and this was one of those days. But! Two thousand yards!

Phoebe was not impressed. But, then, she’s a classic sidestroker, swimming on the carpet as she does throughout the day.

On Friday, she was very cuddly.

Some days, kitty needs dictate events. And part of Friday morning was one of those days.

Poseidon continues to maintain a watchful eye over his kingdom. He’s lately improved his approach to climbing up the narrow scratching post. What was once a chaotic effort to get up there for “Now what?” has become a confident, measured attack for “Where else should I be?”

I expect he’ll be leaping directly on top of it before long. When, that is, he’s not on the top of the refrigerator.

“No peektures, please.”

So the cats are doing just fine. So are their talons, as you can see a bit there.

We had an interesting bike ride on Saturday. We started too late. My fault. It was already quite warm. But we started with a tailwind. (Which is counterintuitive.) And so we had some impressive splits in the first half of the ride.

It was all I could do to hang on, so there’s no video, no shadow selfies or other cool camera tricks this time. Even still, we had the wonderful opportunity to see a few cool barns. This one was between here and there.

And this one we rode past just after our turnaround about halfway into the ride. (But more about our halfway destination at a later time.)

Soon after, we got back to a place that was more familiar, which meant my lovely bride could drop me. I was dead, but knew my way back, at least. I went a longer way, just for the spite of extra mileage. And, right at the end of that, I blew another inner tube.

They come in bunches for me, and that’s not frustrating at all, getting to break out a tire lever on your rear wheel twice in two weeks.

I suggested a lovely and romantic night out. There’s a winery nearby and they serve upscale pizzas on the weekend and it’s supposed to be lovely. Reservations were made, and 3.6 miles down the road we went. We timed it such that we caught last bit of the sunset creating a bokeh effect of the cars making the drive down the last dirt road. By the time we parked and got onto the property the sun was gone. A three-piece band was playing, mellow strains floating over the rows of grapes on the still August air being our introduction. This was the view.

We were sat right away. And the group played “Harvest Moon” as if on cue.

The only Neil Young song you need, really.

Some time passed and the hostess came by to see where our waiter was. You could tell there was some back-of-the-house drama going on. Someone else came to take our order. She did not know the special pizza of the day. A third person, then, stopped by to tell us about that creation, which was when our actual waiter turned up.

This was the special pizza of the day. They called it a Cubano, something or other. And though I have little need for dill pickles in general and no need for them on my pizza, you had me at Cubano.

Being the special, I reasoned, must mean that it was good. And it was good. Somehow those pickles worked.

They also had a lot of pizzas they put honey on. The Yankee’s had honey, and it was delicious, and maybe honey is one of those things, like bacon, that’s good on everything.

What if you put honey on bacon?

After an hour our pizza showed up, which is great, because I was about to launch into my whole “… and this is why I don’t pick restaurants” bit, which is absolutely why I don’t pick restaurants. We didn’t have a waiter. The place that is serving only pizza was struggling to get pizzas out. But it was tasty. The music was fine. The singer had a terrific Jeff Tweedy vibe, but judged his audience not-yet-ready for the Uncle Tupelo or Wilco catalogs. He mumbled when he talked. Couldn’t make out a single word. Sang wonderfully.

Our waiter, our real one, brought our pizza and … that’s about it. It brought up questions about who gets the tip, which is really just a question about why we use a tipping system, anyway.

After pizza we got a little ice cream, a nice end to a lovely day.

Yesterday afternoon we sat outside, as has been our recent custom, and read. I breezed through the second section of Eudora Welty’s memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings (1984). As I don’t read a lot of fiction, I’ve never read her work, but she’s a marvelous writer, and she delivers it with the most deft touch, when she’s talking about her bygone days. This second section — all of this book adapted from a series of lectures she delivered late in life — is about traveling as a young girl with her parents to see the extended family. Traveling from Jackson, Mississippi to West Virginia and Ohio was a week, one-way, in the car. At times they were ferried over creeks and rivers. Sometimes the ferry was powered by a man pulling on a rope. It was the 19-teens, and the same world, but harder.

The whole section dives into her grandparents, and deeper parts of the family roots as she understood them. And the people here are developed with the depth and care you would expect of a keen observer and a more-than-able writer. The very last part, after they’ve gotten home from the long summer journey …

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence of time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily — perhaps not possibly — chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.”

I bet even that paragraph means different things to people at different points in their lives. Looking back and marinating in it all, re-playing and re-rationalizing things, putting a narrative to it all. It would be different to a woman of 74, as she was when she delivered that lecture at Harvard, than it would have been to the students in the audience. And the professors and middle-aged people in the room that nodded along sagely, they’d have another understanding, too.

It’ll probably mean something different to me, next Sunday, when I finish the book.