One perk of ADVANCED AGE is that the daily arrival of the mailman, for me anyway, never loses its luster.
The mailperson, almost inevitably a man in my experience, is right up there in my mind with the local librarian and the priest as a consoler, a bringer of sustenance, a conduit between my cloistered little world and the world at large. I have come close to tears in my occasional outbursts of gratitude and wonder that the guy reallly does show up, mostly, rain, shine and here in Tucson, almost dangerous heat.
“Eh, it happens every summer,” he shrugged with a smile when I waylaid him the other day to breathe my thanks, then ducked his topeed (is that a word? topee-ed?) head, and walked on.
Some days the mailbox contains but a flyer for some fancy horse-boarding stable addressed to the previous tenant, or the sixtieth ad for Spectrum cable, or the weekly specials at some local grocery store. Or a bill. Or something in the way of a snafu that requires a few 800 phone calls, or a lengthy session online.
And then some days the mail is like Christmas morning.
That happened yesterday.
I received a check and a nice note, for starters, from the one person who’s definitely signed up for my next Writing Workshop.
I received a used book, Ring of Bright Water, which is a memoir about living in a remote spot in coastal Scotland with an otter by an aristocrat named Gavin Maxwell who was definitely eccentric and perhaps slightly mentally unstable. Apparently this is a classic but I’d never come across it before.
I opened the book at random and found: “Mijbil had in face displayed a characteristic shared, I believe, by many animals; an apparent step, as it were, on the road to travel-shock death, but in fact a powerful buffer against it. Many animals seem to me to be able to go into a deep sleep, a coma, almost, as a voluntary act independent of exhaustion; it is an escape mechanism that comes into operation when the animal’s inventiveness in the face of adversity has failed to ameliorate his circumstances…I came to recognize it in Mij when he travelled in cars, a thing he hated; after a few minutes of frenzy he would curl himself into a tight ball and banish entirely the distasteful world around him.”
Some of us have another word for this coping mechanism: drinking.
Anyway, I can’t wait to dig in, though I have many books on my nightstand I need to plow through first.
One of these is called Scraps of Wool: A Journey Through the Golden Ages of Travel Writing, compiled by Bill Colegrave. Here I’ve come across many old favorites: Bruce Chatwin, of course; Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mary Kingsley. But I also have a whole new long list of other books to check out: Isabella Bird’s A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Wilfred Thesiger’s The Marsh Arabs, a biography of the short tortured life of Swiss-Russian writer, explorer and vagabond Isabelle Eberhardt.
Another is the apparently hard-to-find and therefore expensive Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence by Hans Urs von Balthasar. This also arrived by mail (on a previous day) from a reader in Connecticut who lent me his copy! Larded with fantastic passages and quotes, among them: “I never have time to write; but I have made it my duty to receive anyone who shows up at my house, and it happens all too often that I have to lose a whole hour in the company of an idiot.”
Also, “[E]ach of us is in some way or another, and in succession, a criminal and a saint.”
Finally, I received in the mail yesterday a card (printed by the United States Holocaust Museum, “View of the countrysde in Csobanka, Hungary, as the Hungarian Labor Service conpany 109/13 departs on the morning of April 20, 1942”) from a friend in Northern California. Our is an epistolary friendship–we’ve never met in the flesh–but since at least 2016, when she first wrote to me, we have exchanged anecdotes, reflections, and (mostly from her) book suggestions. Ann is the one who told me of Clare Kipps’ Sold for a Farthing, and for that alone, has my eternal and undying gratitude. She always has some interesting tidbit of thought, or a surprising insight, or a fantastic, little-known book she wonders if I’d like.
She ended with this quote from Camus’ The Plague: “What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in people than to despise.”