His capacity to conjure landscape is alone astounding. Add to that an astonishingly wide-ranging grasp of geography, geology, natural history, cartography, and literature. Throw in the fact that he’s no mere scholar or armchair philosopher: every book is grounded in his willingness to take on the physical hardship of mountain climbing, hiking, camping, sailing, and tramping. But what makes Macfarlane sublime is the aching longing for a lost Eden that sounds like a bass note beneath all his work.


I keep thinking of Fr. Walter Ciszek, who said clandestine Masses in the woods, under penalty of death, as a prisoner in Siberia. “[T]hese men would actually fast all day long and do exhausting physical labor without a bite to eat since dinner the evening before, just to be able to receive the Holy Eucharist—that was how much the Sacrament meant to them in this otherwise God-forsaken place.”


Here’s how this week’s arts and culture column begins: Madame Ganna Walska (1887-1984) was the type of Southern Californian eccentric over whom  people from back East love to roll their eyes, muttering “land of the fruits and the nuts.” Born Hanna Puacz in Brest-Litovsk, Poland, she was an opera singer who was married six times. […]