There is a nature preserve not too far from where we reside that has a bench with an excerpt from Thoreau’s Walden pressed into it.
In the spring and summer, the place runs wild with ferns, soft moss and lichen, and dozens of mushroom varieties. In the autumn, it is a burnished explosion of red and gold foliage, and the branch of the Shepaug river that courses through it moves with a kind of ancient, solemn purpose that is comforting. I haven’t been there in the winter, yet, but I plan on exploring the changing face of Bee Brook the next time it snows. It is a gratuitously stunning area:
Some posts ago, I attempted to describe the series of monumental fails, flails, and setbacks that were emblematic of the move from DC to CT. Two and a half years in, I am still looking for my Walden, but I realized that part of the problem was that I had brought a towering colossus of chaos with me: a daily social media and news scrolling habit that guaranteed a constant sense of striving, consumerism, comparison, horror, and rage.
So a little while ago, I just stopped. I took the apps off of the phone, set some ground rules, and have been working to rewire my brain and see who I actually am after nearly a decade of compulsive online-ness. I have books, magazines, and notebooks strewn around the house so that when my fingers get itchy (and my brain is remembering that a moment without a task is not an emergency) I can be engaged in that subtle, quiet way. As someone whose childhood was made survivable in large part due to books, it makes sense that they would once again be grounding when I need them to be, and escape, when grounding isn’t enough.
I’ll leave you with some of my recent favorites, including Unheard Witness, which was written by one of my high school English teachers; a woman who gave me a much-needed boost and heaps of encouragement. Unheard Witness is the story of Kathy Leissner Whitman, the young wife of the University of Texas mass shooter who was, along with his mother, murdered before he drove to campus. If you have the ability to read about such difficult incidents, I encourage you to bear witness to her life. She has much to tell us, if only we listen.
Natalie Haynes has done nothing to stem my obsession with Greek myths. Circe kicked it off, and I’ve been going wild for years, seeking out retellings of the events I first learned about in Ovid and Homer. She also has a wonderful series called Natalie Haynes Stands Up For The Classics, which is in turns hilarious, informative, and completely surprising. Divine Might is a series of essays about goddesses, and Stone Blind is a loving, beautiful retelling of Medusa’s story. I loved it so much that I got a tattoo of Medusa in the regalia of a saint!
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is something I listen to on Audible, and it gives such a dose of peace and serves as a tonic for the odd ways westerners have decided to think about life, death, and meaning. It’s an epic tome, but I find that even 10 minutes of listening gives me enough to consider for days afterward.
Starling House is right on the edge of being a YA novel, but if you’d like a mischief-filled magical romp with two anti heroes, a curse, and a sentient house, this is the one for you!
I’m not linking to the titles, because I will not deprive you of the pleasure of buying a book at the smallest, coolest, independent book shop you can find. I will link to Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, however. When I can’t get to a brick and mortar place, I check there first.