“Plows to the left and plows to the right! Tired men sipping coffee in the cabs of their pickups, state plows with eight tons of sand on board, men making the best of their snowblowers, old women crossing the road to church wrapped in white clouds like Venus calling on Aeneas.”
These are the voices of Walter Clark, serious prose writer of both close descriptions and idiosyncratic depictions of landscape he loved. This book intersperses these two ways of looking at the world as he retired from university life to long-planned new ways of life in New Hampshire. Now in new energy he wrote or revised 49 poems of perception and contemplation, joy, despair, and resolution. The poems bring us into the narrative of his life. Meanwhile, he was writing letters in pleasure to his daughter, Alison. Through them, along with her, we roam at night between snowdrifts, dismember a beaver dam, learn how post-and-beam carpenters walk, welcome a mouse invasion, boil maple sap all day. Together these perceptions capture seasons and years, bringing the reader into the kind of magnetism held by a Northern New England place.
From the 2015 Reunion of the New England Literature Program of the University of Michigan:
author of Turn & Jump: How Time & Place Fell Apart
The man most everyone called “Housty”—or his middle name Houston—was consistent from his first words to his last. He was modest, brilliant, funny, impish, and kind. He was a teacher, father, sailor, woodsman, and a seeker of solitude. His life had a granite-solid integrity. We are lucky to meet him again in these pages.
retired teacher in the University of Michigan New England Literature field program
How can it be that no writer since Thoreau evokes so well our own landscapes: the “eye” of a pond, interaction with a woodchuck, intimate geography of Mount Monadnock’s summit. Thoreau is still unique in conveying with detail and insight his precise natural observations. Kathryn Schulz’s characterization includes this ability, but she misses that it will become his main life focus, the consistent subject of thousands of his pages.
You can explore Maine’s Penobscot West Branch river following Thoreau’s trip of 1853. But that night at your campsite, when you read his description of what you just saw, and then read that he dove to explore the river bottom and reports on that too–you know that you are in the presence of someone else. Afterward, you will not forget it.
This flow of “acuity and serenity” from the landscape is Thoreau’s steady gift.
A longtime professor at the University of Michigan, Walter Clark founded the university’s New England Literature Program, which annually brings students to a lakeside camp (first on New Hampshire’s Winnipesaukee and now on Maine’s Sebago) for a half-term of studying New England authors, writing, and exploring the New England countryside, people, culture, and history.
Walter was author of two previous books of poetry and numerous articles, essays, and reviews, many of them on the art of teaching. He retired from University of Michigan in 1993 and died at his Hancock, New Hampshire, home in 2008.