Accidental Critic: Earth Day



Today is Earth Day, and my recent reading has me in the right frame of mind. I’ve been comforting myself lately by re-reading (for what my mother would have declared the umpteenth time) one of my favorite authors: E.B. White.

I read White’s children’s books as a kid, but it’s his essays that speak to me. My love affair with them began decades ago, and I no longer remember how I first discovered them – the browsing section of a library? the stacks of a used bookstore? a friend’s recommendation? I return to them regularly, re-reading and re-reading and re-reading, and they never lose a bit of their magic.

A city fellow who moved to Maine and took up small-scale farming while continuing to write for The New Yorker, White had a special relationship with his environment: his own land, the land around him, the animals in his care. He respected nature, and it sustained him. I have a sense that every day was Earth Day for E.B. White. You can hear it in the title’s of the essays: “Hot Weather,” “The Flocks We Watch by Night,” “Compost,” “Coon Hunt,” “Spring,” “Songbirds.”

One of my eternal favorites is “Once More to the Lake,” collected in the book One Man’s Meat, wherein White returns as a grown man to the lake resort where he spent childhood summer vacations. Bringing with him his own young son, he finds all of the lake’s old magic … plus a connection to the eternal rhythms of the generations:

“I could tell that it was going to be pretty much the same as it had been before – I knew it, lying in bed the first morning, smelling the bedroom, and hearing the boy sneak quietly out and go off along the shore in a boat. I began to sustain the illusion that he was I, and therefore, by simple transposition, that I was my father. This sensation persisted, kept cropping up all the time we were there. … I seemed to be living a dual existence. I would be in the middle of some simple act, I would be picking up a bait box or laying down a table fork, or I would be saying something, and suddenly it would be not I but my father who was saying the words or making the gesture.”

As I read, I have the illusion that I, too, am somehow transported, that I am White, watching my son, his son, through his eyes.

Indeed, White’s essays transport me – to a different world, filled with nature, farming, the earth and sky. They are simultaneously introspective and minutely observant.

Perfect for Earth Day.

Kim Kishbaugh is no kind of artist at all, but a lover of art in many different forms. She travels through life with an open mind and open eyes in search of magic, and sometimes finds it. She is Escape Into Life‘s social media editor and a long-time journalist with an unsettling history of seeing the companies she works for go out of business. She blogs occasionally at kkish.net.