This post is regularly updated with new books (listed below)
“The old men kept reading, I think, because they hoped that one evening it would happen– they would stumble upon that sentence, that paragraph, that would at last take them beyond the material world, the technocratic world, and immerse them in the earth itself, stripped of pretense, the earth that was beyond the grasp of science and technology.
Winter gave us our most fitful nights of reading, like the February night Albert paced the floor turning the pages of a book on the natural history of the American Southwest. Emerson was outside gathering another load of wood. Five pieces each two and a half feet long. Albert stopped suddenly and stared blankly out the window. A cloudy night, with the wind out of the west shaking violently among the gray, leafless trees. A hard wind, one that felt of snow.
“Aspens,” said Albert with a touch of deep longing in his voice. “Aspens in the early fall, leaves the yellow of young squash. Fresh snow in the high mountains shining in the morning light. Wide valleys, tall grasses bending in the wind. Cold mountain streams winding down the hillsides and onto the flat mesas. Cottonwood stands along the banks. Smoke rising from a small adobe house.”
I sat by the fireplace and listened and the words built images in my mind that i thought surely I could reach out and touch. Emerson had come in and stood nearby, loaded down with wood.
“Moonlight on the creek,” Albert said, continuing to stare out into the night. “A liquid light, soft and yellow. Trout rising from below. Goldenrod bending in an easy rain. Water flowing down from the Peaceable Kingdom over smooth rocks. A hawk on the wing. The call of a kingfisher nearby. Wild violets in the spring.” Then he paused, reflected on the book in his hand, the one proclaiming the beauty of the Southwest. A long pause as he considered his last words, his paean to the land beyond the back door. “Beauty is beauty,” he said finally. “Rich, diverse. It’s like Emerson’s atlas, isn’t it? The points of my compass bring me here…right here. Home.”
Books enriched them without changing them. The old men were what they were, farmers, men of these mountains, not alien to the land, dispossessed. Many books reaffirmed this belief, no book ever altered it. Reading was not a quest for answers, assurances. Rather it was, like every aspect of their isolated and pinched lives, an effort to grasp whatever hold they could on the earth and mankind and their relationship to both. For me, the books had an even more compelling allure. Arriving at Trail’s End, I had at first felt like an amputee, cut off, beyond reach. Norwell’s secret, it seemed, had left me cold, insensitive, beyond feeling. Reading, like the Orvis fly rod, served as some new and amazing prosthesis, one that, in time, lost the feel of artificiality and took hold like a graft of living skin.”
-Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough
Below is an ever growing list of books that will take you underwater…into trees… above the clouds…
Walden, Henry D. Thoreau
The Journals, Meriwether Lewis & William Clark
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
The Power of Myth, Joseph Cambell
Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, Julianne Lutz Newton
Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard
My First Summer in the Sierra, John Muir
The Earth is Enough, by Harry Middleton
Ode, Intimations Of Immortality, by William Wordsworth
Big Two-headed River, by Ernest Hemingway
A River Runs Thru it, by Norman Maclean
The Longest Silence, by Thomas McGuane
On the Spine of Time, by Harry Middleton
My Story as Told by Water, David James Duncan
Rivers of Memory, by Harry Middleton
Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner
the Riverkeepers, John Cronin/Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.