Saturday, August 29, 2015

NOVA this week (August 29, 2015)

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

During one of the traffic jams, that are just an accepted part of my daily commute, traffic was crawling along slow enough that I had time to contemplate the various items of human neglect littering the side of the road. There was nothing terribly exciting, but one item at least sparked my curiosity.

A shoe.

Not a pair of shoes, but a single, good condition, late model shoe, and I wondered: how does this happen?

How does someone just lose a shoe? How – head in the clouds – must a person be, not to notice that? On a few occasions I’ve lost a shoe while running, but I noticed immediately. Never have I lost a shoe just strolling along, and if I had, I am certain I would have noticed at once and retrieved my shoe.

How far down the road did this one-shoed wonder travel before the noticed: "Hey, I'm missing a shoe!"?

I try very hard not to judge, since I seldom have all the facts, but in this case I cannot help but presume this one-shoed wanderer is either a complete simpleton or a sagacious thinker. I think the simpleton hypothesis is self-explanatory. As for the thinker: I believe it might be possible for a person to be so completely engrossed in thought of matters so profound as to render all other stimuli ineffectual.

If that’s the case, I’d like to know what they were thinking. Undoubtedly something more ponderous than the duality of causative exigencies and resultant fractional exuviation of lower extremity aegis.

Anyone missing a shoe?


Critique is welcome.

You might have noticed a difference in the focus and format of NOVA this week. I started NOVA a few weeks/months ago. I could look up precisely when, but it isn’t important. What is important, is that I had strayed a little from my original intention of writing something original and a bit more unified than the memeish items I’d been putting in NOVA.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Beauty of Slight Decay

The Beauty of Slight Decay
by J.E. Fountain

Somewhere once, I read a curious phrase. A poet, a philosopher, a drunkard, I cannot recall, spoke of “the beauty of slight decay.”

The creative within me thrilled at this phrase; the analyst wondered at its meaning.

In my youth I spent many hours exploring the hills and woodlands that adjoined my home. Deep in the woods were the decayed remains of a small cabin. The roof was completely gone. Portions of the walls still stood but time was taking its toll. Only the stone fireplace and chimney remained fairly well intact. There was no other sign of prosperity or possession. It was one of my favorite spots. I would halt my patient mare and survey the crumbling trace of humanity. Other times I might climb down to sit on one of the logs, or kick the leaves and debris on the floor hoping to discover some token of the souls that once called this home. Hoping but never finding.

I could never discover the history of the homestead. It may have been shelter for a sole pioneer, but I prefer to imagine a young and growing family. I hope the mantle once held stockings on Christmas Eve; that the fire warmed a meager stew which was received thankfully; that the woodland creatures timidly watched and wondered at the strange sounds of laughter and song that sprang from the curious new object of their realm.

I would like to say I could hear their echoes, but my senses are not so keen. They tell me only that some manner of life passed there. Someone with a name, with hopes and dreams, with fears and disappointments, called this home. It may be that elsewhere they left a mark. They may have achieved some distinction and posterity has duly honored them. It may be their names and perhaps even their faces are cherished in family lore; that their story is passed by the very old to the very young.

It may be. I cannot say. It may be this is their only mark and sadly it is fading. Only a year ago I revisited the crumbling cabin. Credit to the builder, the chimney yet stands, but year by year the walls crumble further. If this is their only mark, then I am glad to have marked it. Very little that is beautiful lasts forever.

The beauty in slight decay lies, I think, in the memory of what once was.

© 2015 Joseph E. Fountain

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Group Check-In #14 – August 2015

I am the Once Lost Wanderer (aka Joseph or J.E. Fountain), from the blog of the same name: formerly known as The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time (and my quest to read them). While that old title was very descriptive, it was also very boring. One of the first things the Classics Club did for me was to inspire me to change the name of my blog. There were so many creative, poetic, fanciful names, I felt compelled to come up with something more lyrical.

I’ve been with the Classics Club since May 2014, and I’ve completed 32 of 50 (57 of 100 of my greater Quest) novels thus far. My favorite is The Lord of the Rings, but that was a reread and it has been my favorite for decades. So, my favorite NEW discovery was Gone With the Wind.

I completed a reading bucket list thing last weekend with my last read. I read The Call of the Wild at the Library of Congress. Read more about that venture here.

I’m enjoying my current read, The Scarlett Letter, very much.

Next up is Mrs. Dalloway. I’m not terribly excited about that. I was not overly fond of my other experience with Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.

A couple reads that I have coming up that I am looking forward to: War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Atlas Shrugged.

I haven’t changed my list at all, unless you count a few that I threw out. I’m on a pretty fixed quest, and I haven’t really given myself the option of changing.

Regarding those I threw out – Please – no debate. I am not asking anyone else to burn books, just some things I didn’t want to read.

New favorite authors: I’ll say the Russians as a group. I loved both Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov.

Everyone must read now: I could never be so demanding, but here are a few that no one besides myself at the CC has reviewed: Lucky Jim, Catch-22, Under the Volcano, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Blood Meridian, and The Day of the Locust.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about the Classics Club is the ability to compare notes with other classics readers. A bit more specifically, one of the things I enjoy most about that is how another blogger and I seem of the same mind for most books, but then one comes up that we are polar opposites. Sort of related to that, there have been a number of books I have not enjoyed, but then I read some passionate reviews by other members and they helped me see things from a different perspective and improved my opinion.

I’ve made some wonderful acquaintances here, but I don’t dare begin naming them, for fear of leaving someone out.

Blog administrivia: If you have added The Once Lost Wanderer to your blogroll (or somesuch), and I haven’t returned the favor…Please send me a note. So, many blog tweaks, updates, etc. that is something I sort of lose track of. My apologies.

BIG, BIG thanks to The Classics Club Mods for creating and maintaining such a great forum.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays (August 18, 2015)

“In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators, as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold.”

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Call of the Wild by Jack London (57 down 43 to go)

Never was there such a dog ~ John Thornton

Only Buck wasn’t a dog; he was…

Well I’m getting ahead of myself.

This is the second time I’ve read The Call of the Wild. It is the third person narrative of Buck, a four year old half-breed St. Bernard and Scotch Shepherd. It is sort of a canine coming of age tale (bigdogsroman perhaps?) or Buck’s journey from being a comfortable domestic pet, to becoming a free and dangerous beast of the wild.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this novel in entirety at the Library of Congress, reading from one of the Library’s copies. Read more about my Library of Congress venture HERE.

This novel satisfies square N4 of 2015 Classics Bingo: Children’s Classic

I’m no dog expert, but the combination of St. Bernard and Scotch Shepherd would seem to denote great size and strength on the St. Bernard side, high intelligence from the Shepherd, and fierce loyalty from both branches of the family tree.

As the novel opens, Buck lives an easy life as the alpha dog on the Southern California estate of a wealthy judge. Buck is treated well, but is more of a prized possession than a beloved family pet. The story also begins in the early days of the Yukon Gold Rush, when there was high demand for such dogs. An unscrupulous employee dognaps and sells Buck into service. Buck goes through a procession of masters. The first is cruel and Buck learns "the law of the club". The second, a pair of French Canadian mushers, Francois and Perrault, are decent to Buck and all their dogs, but there is no love. Francois and Perrault know their livelihood depends on the dogs, so they treat them like valuable assets. Buck learns to respect such men, but not to love them. He also learns about other dogs, including the team lead, Spitz. Spitz senses Buck will challenge him one day, and is hostile from the beginning. In this stage, Buck learns "the Law of Club and Fang".

One day Francois and Perrault discuss the brewing contest between Spitz and Buck (they’re French-Canadian remember):

“One devil, dat Spitz,” remarked Perrault. “Some dam day heem keel dat Buck.” 
“Dat Buck two devils,” was Francois’s rejoinder. “All de tam I watch dat Buck I know for sure. Listen: some dam fine day heem get mad lak hell an’ den heem chew dat Spitz all up an’ spit heem out on de snow. Sur. I know.”

Francois and Perrault break up several fights, trying to save both dogs, but the showdown finally comes, when the dogs are far from their human masters.

As they circled about, snarling, ears laid back, keenly watchful for the advantage, the scene came to Buck with a sense of familiarity. He seemed to remember it all, - the white woods, and earth, and moonlight, and the thrill of battle.

But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness – imagination. He fought by instinct, but he could fight by head as well.

Buck is victorious, and takes over as the alpha and dog team lead.

After a grueling 2500 mile trek, when the dogs should rest for several weeks, they are sold to an inexperienced trio of Gold Rushers, who know nothing about traveling in the Yukon, and less about dog sledding. They eventually acquire a team of fourteen dogs, a subject of pride to the owners who did not know…
In the nature of Arctic travel there was a reason why fourteen dogs should not drag one sled, and that was that one sled could not carry the food for fourteen dogs.

This trio, man, wife, and the woman’s brother set off nonetheless. They do not make half the distance they expect on any given day, and consume more food than planned. The situation becomes desperate with the dogs nearly starving.

It was heartbreaking, only Buck’s heart was unbreakable.

Eventually, they reach a dangerous ice crossing, where a rugged frontiersman, John Thornton is encamped. Thornton warns them the ice is too thin, but they attempt to set out nevertheless, only Buck won't budge. He senses danger and in spite of a cruel beating he will not move. His master continues the beating until Thornton cannot watch. He intervenes, threatening to kill the man if he continues. There is a brief showdown, which of course Thornton wins; the trio leave Buck behind and set off across the ice. Almost mercifully, for the dogs' sake, they do not reach the opposite shore.

But now Buck found himself in a new existence: 
Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time.

Thornton who knows how to survive in the Yukon, is also wise, demanding when need be, gentle whenever possible, and kind always. He grows to love Buck who saves his life at least once, and nearly kills a man who was threatening Thornton. Buck becomes something of a legend in the Yukon, and once when Thornton is boasting of Buck’s prowess, he gets cornered into a nearly impossible high stakes wager, that Buck could break free a sled frozen in place, with a thousand pound load, and pull it 100 yards. Just before Buck makes this mighty effort, Thornton kneels before Buck, takes his head into his hands, and whispers…
As you love me, Buck. As you love me.
Buck whined with suppressed eagerness.

You can probably guess how that turns out.

But all of this, that I’ve described so far, is really secondary to the real plot – the call of the wild. Buck is increasingly aware of a primordial urge, an ancestral memory, a savage side that is strangely familiar:

This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment.

And not only did he live by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again.

The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck…
He was not homesick. The Sunland was very dim and distant, and such memories had no power over him. Far more potent were the memories of his heredity that gave things he had never seen before a seeming familiarity; the instincts (which were but the memories of his ancestors become habits) which had lapsed in later day, and still later, in him, quickened and become alive again.
He was a thing of the wild, come in from the wild to sit by John Thornton’s fire, rather than a dog of the soft Southland stamped with the marks of generations of civilization.

But most poignantly when he encounters, and joins a wolf in the wild:
Buck was wildly glad. He knew he was at last answering the call, running by the side of his wood brother toward the place from where the call surely came. Old memories were coming upon him fast, and he was stirring to them as of old he stirred to the realities of which they were the shadow.

SPOILER ALERT: The following contains a spoiler

Though you have probably guessed. Buck eventually answers the call and becomes once again, for the first time, a beast of the wild north. I remember reading this as a child and I was sad that Buck did not spend the end of his days with Thornton. Obviously, I didn’t really get London’s point. As a child, I wanted a happy ending, like Lassie Come Home, but this is not that kind of a tale. This time, I was happy when Buck answered the call.

I think this is a superb piece of writing. London undertakes the unusual challenge of writing almost entirely from the perspective of an animal; I think he did a magnificent and completely believable job. Obviously, we can’t know exactly what goes on in the mind of animals, but I believe the call of the wild is real. I’ve seen it in the intent gaze of an otherwise docile house cat as it stalks prey. I once watched my brother’s Irish Setter, make short work of a raccoon we chanced upon in the wood. I remember his bloodlust and his unmistakable pride when the battle was over. It was a bit unsettling, and at the same time beautiful. That is what London achieved with this brief masterpiece - unsettling and beautiful.