THERE is always a feeling of ruefulness in putting a summer house to sleep for the winter. We cling to the woods of our three-acre moraine till the last possible moment, savoring the golden hours of Indian summer, reprieves which sometimes stretch into November, but conscious that we are doing things for the last time. This is my last fish on Beaver Pond, I think to myself, as I strip my rod in the dusk of a Sunday afternoon: the little lake is a cool black mirror enclosed with every scarlet variation of swamp maple, but not a single bass have I seen for three hours. In the shallows by the blackened lily pads the pickerel would occasionally arrow the surface; they have taken over the lairs of their large-mouth neighbors, where they were not privileged to venture in the dog days. The bass have gone where all good bass go for the winter — to the depths. This I suspect will be my last trudge along the sands of Plum Island: the honking of the Canada goose had pierced my early morning sleep, and now I was listening to it again as another long V glided down against the sunset. No guns spoke, for this is sanctuary. The marsh is a cold brown, and as I turn at the top of the dune for a last look at the breakers, the wind from the north makes me shiver. Last time, last time. On the road home the closed cottages seem desolate; the roadside stand where we shopped for baby carrots and Country Gentleman is reduced to pumpkins and cider. Don’t stop.
As the days become colder, it is only a matter of time before we must shut the water off. Meanwhile there are certain small urgencies to attend to: the family of gray squirrels who have taken up residence in the barn and whose youngsters enjoy chewing up my wife’s leaves must somehow be induced out. The carpenter ants in the guesthouse have the same steady, insatiable appetite for the living room beams, as their daily scattering of sawdust suggests, and one day we shall be stove in if they are not dislodged. Hay scented, the fast-spreading fern which would like to take over the whole of the rock garden needs thinning. No need to worry about the raccoons; they may miss the soft touch we are, but the hollow tree where they lodge has weathered every hurricane and they will keep warm and multiply. However, we should worry about our oaks: they are constantly underfed on the sour, meager soil of our ridge, and now we mark the dead limbs which ought to be cut before they crash down on the guesthouse. This is a job calling for ladders and tree surgeons, and I have a mental picture of the bill. I say that there are those who have so little respect for American values — other than that of the quick buck — that they need to be restrained. Neither private rights nor zoning laws are proof against their assault, nor does it reassure me to be told that this is all in the name of private enterprise. Just as we have a commissioner of motor vehicles to grant licenses and protect us against the hit-and-run driver, so there ought to be a commissioner of community development, an authority as invulnerable to bribery as Robert Moses, to protect us from the hit-and-run contractor. Today, development and desecration go hand in hand from Bangor to Virginia Beach, and there is no authority local or federal to whom citizens can appeal when they see the locusts coming. If we really want to beat Egypt to the sand, okay; if we really want to duplicate on the East Coast the neon-lit, chromium-plated resorts which have made the coastline south of Los Angeles so hideous, just let the boys keep going.
The leaves fall, the scenery is stripped away, and underneath we see what the pattern of tomorrow is doing to our countryside. As the city moves out, the contractors move in with their trucks and bulldozers. The movement which certainly portends a greater good for a greater number is as ruthless as a stone crusher. The wood lots come down fast as the through ways are built; contractors dig the gravel needed for the roads, and when the excavations have grown as big as a baseball diamond, they are rented to the nearest community as a town dump. Brooks are diverted or left to flow into ranch house cellars after heavy rain. I don’t say that all contractors are corrupt;
This is what I brood over when I come back to the open fire. We are right in the midst of the perilous decade: Cape Cod as unexploited as Truro, beaches as breathtaking as Nauset, woods as cathedral as the Essex pines are ripe for the plucking unless there are citizens angry enough to stop it. (As I write this the residents of Concord have voted 603 to 38 to move the town dump to Walden. Where else would you put the stuff!) This autumn, this week, we may be seeing some things for the last time.
All of us who have lived in the woods dream of owning a log cabin in a remote spot whose beauty will never change. This is what SIGURD F. OLSON found for himself on a glaciated spit of rock in the Quetico-Superior country. The cabin, weathered to a silvery gray, he purchased from one of the old Scandinavian settlers in Minnesota and then moved it to his chosen site, sheltered in the pines and overlooking his favorite lake. The hideaway is only thirty miles from his village home in Ely, and thus he and his family have been able to commute to wilderness in any of the changing seasons.
A geologist by training, president of the National Parks Association since 1954, Mr. Olson brings to his writing a native’s perception of the north country and the happy gift of making readers participate in his appreciation of trees and plants and animals. The adventures which he writes about in his new book, LISTENING POINT (Knopf, $4.50), reach back from civilization to the days of the voyageurs. He follows the ancient portages between the lakes, he knows the old campsites the voyageurs once used, and his affiliations with the land are those any woodsman will relish.
He writes of the cycle of the forest which has resulted in a stand of climax pine, trees which were young before the American Revolution. He writes of the sound of the rain on canvas (when the tent is dry and the bedroll cozy) and of what the freshets mean to the brawling rivers and to the intricate accumulation of humus ("Here in the north it takes over a thousand years to form a single inch of it”). He writes of the wild music of the laughing loons. There is a “danger call used when a canoe is approaching a nesting area. . . . It can start all the loons within hearing, and when the yodeling blends with tremolo they are really making music.” He writes of the cock of the woods, the pileated woodpecker, and of standing to watch one at close quarters while the pack and canoe on his shoulders grew heavier and heavier. The humor here is sparse and dry, the feeling is restrained, as when he tells of paddling the smaller lake at the magic hour “when canoes seem to be floating high above the water, and thoughts drift with them in an all-engulfing quiet.” This is a competent book with a refreshing, lyrical quality. Certain impressions stay in mind: first, the wonder that so many of these famous sites had been reduced to deserts or jungle or rubble before their rediscovery. (Must man always destroy what those before him have held sacred?) Then the realization that these ancient civilizations reach further back in time than first we had imagined, and again the surprise that inspired amateurs like Georg Friedrich Grotefend could plunge in where the scholars hesitated. At the age of twenty-seven Grotefend took a bet that he could decipher the cuneiform scripts from Persepolis, although he knew scarcely anything about the ancient languages of the Orient, and by a stroke of genius the young schoolmaster did.
RETRIEVING THE PAST
THE MARCH OF ARCHAEOLOGY (Knopf, $15.00) is the pictorial dramatization of a search and a science that have been developed into one of the most fascinating pursuits of our time. What began as a treasure hunt with the rifling of a sarcophagus has grown to be a search for the key to lost languages, for the sites of vanished cities, and for the discovery of the arts of ancient civilizations. C. W. CERAM, who wrote so entertainingly of the lives and adventures of the famous archaeologists in his Gods, Graves, and Scholars, has now produced this handsome picture book which tracks them on the way to their diggings, shows what they found, and reproduces, on occasion for the first time, the drawings and maps which they made on the spot. His running commentary begins on Rome’s Via Appia in 1485, traces the birth of classical archaeology and the search for Pompeii and Herculaneum, and gives us a character drawing of Heinrich Schliemann, the incredible entrepreneur, the millionaire who at the peak of his success in 1868 retired from business to devote his fortune to digging up Troy. The prose is a suspension bridge leading from peak to peak, pointing up and amplifying our appreciation of the 326 illustrations.
Book I, as I have said, is devoted to Pompeii and Herculaneum, Troy and Crete; Book II leads us to the Egyptian Sphinx and pyramids. Here we see for the first time the wonderfully precise drawings of Robert Hay; we read of that strong man, G. Belzoni, and of the Arab tomb robber, Abd-elRasul; we see the portrait of Champollion and a reproduction of the Rosetta Stone, whose hieroglyphs he deciphered. In Book III we are taken to Babylon and Persepolis, we follow the long struggle to decipher the cuneiform script and are shown, though somewhat meagerly, the treasures which were excavated at Ur. In Book IV we come to the new world with the archaeology of the jungle cities and Thompson’s great finds in the pool at Chichén-Itzá.
We see and respect the persistence of Schliemann, whose theories ran counter to accepted scholarship; we see the prodigious treasure which awaited Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter; we suspect that the surface has hardly been scratched in the Mayan and pre-Mayan regions; and we wonder whose luck it will be to spell out the mysteries of the Sumerians.
This volume is like a long and edifying journey — without sunstroke, insect bites, dust storms, half-broken backs, and the endless wrangles with native labor which must have conditioned each one of these rare discoveries.
AN INNOCENT IN WASHINGTON
I know of no place in the world where it is as difficult to maintain one’s perspective as in Washington. The jarring impact of recurring crises, the fatalistic feeling that we have done or are about to do the wrong thing, the frustration of security regulations, the charge of incompetence in high place — all of this, exaggerated by political partisanship, produces an atmosphere of strain very difficult to live in. I believe HERBLOCK, our most virile cartoonist, survives here because he is essentially an innocent, a man who still believes in right and wrong and who is swift to hit back at what he perceives to be stupid or unfair. This daily discharge of indignation, these strong black strokes in which he vents his scorn and laughter, has made him our most powerful and original artist in the political sphere. It is his knack to take a familiar scene — Khrushchev strolling along a golf course, cap in one hand, club in the other, a pleased smile on his face, while overhead the Sputnik zooms — and with that ironic twist the picture becomes as unforgettable as the blow of a sledge hammer.
Since it is the function of a cartoonist to be always in opposition, the Republicans who read HERBLOCK’S SPECIAL FOR TODAY (Simon and Schuster, $3.95), a collection of 430 of his best drawings and 30,000 words of commentary, may have more than a moment’s resentment as they see their favorites being pilloried. But a cartoonist is a faultfinder by trade, and in this volume Herblock deals just as unsparingly with the brutal tactics of Khrushchev as he does with the pussyfooting of Congress, the autocracy of the labor unions, or the vagaries of Mr. Dulles. Dulles, Nixon, and Charlie Wilson are the three who are the most vulnerable to the piercing pen of this American Daumier. The best of these drawings are museum pieces: Chiang leading Dulles, Ike, and Uncle Sam deeper and deeper into the bog; Khrushchev spoiling for a fight at the bar as he says with clenched fist, “I can lick any other peace-lover in the house”; Dulles pushing an apprehensive Uncle Sam to the brink with the caution, “Don’t be afraid — I can always pull you back”; Eisenhower throwing a wreath to the drowning School Bill with the remark, “Nobody can say I wouldn’t do something for him”; Congress releasing the beat-up scientist from the subcellar with the welcome, “Dear Boy, where have you been keeping yourself?” while a Sputnik zooms over the Capitol. In each case the powerful economy of the drawing has been pointed up by the simple yet penetrating stiletto of words.
Pittsburgh has been going through a most exciting decade of self-discovery: the smog has gone out of the sky, the Golden Horn has been cleared of rusty iron and dead cats, the slums on the once wooded slopes, as dingy as any on the Eastern seaboard, have been cleaned up — and the Pirates, coming from nowhere, finished in second place! As part of the celebration of Pittsburgh’s bicentennial, EDWIN L. PETERSON was given a leave of absence from the University of Pittsburgh, and with his good friend and photographer, Tom Jarrett, he devoted a year to visiting and recapturing for others the often unsuspected beauty of Pennsylvania.
PENN’S WOODS WEST (University of Pittsburgh Press, $15.00) is a personal chronicle, a delving exploration in the manner of Thoreau, of mountain streams such as the Loyalhanna; of the virgin hemlock and white pine which still stand in the hundred acres of Heart’s Content, a vestige of the great forest which once belonged to the Senecas; of the half-hidden campsites and the dulcet reflection of Kettle Creek; and of dozens of encounters with natives who have one thing in common, their love for Pennsylvania. The halftones in this book are scrumptious, particularly those of the trees and of the still or running waters. The prose is direct, homespun, freely given to lyrical outbursts when the narrator can no longer contain himself. In these descriptions of the great green shoulders of the Appalachians, in these pictures of lakes in the misty dawn, I find a calm renewal of the spirit.