The Peripatetic Reviewer
BY EDWARD WEEKS
WHEN the White Birch, the best of our roadside farms, no longer has any green corn to sell us, when at sunrise I hear the rusty honking of the migrating geese, and when the maple at the entrance to my neighbor’s drive turns red and begins to show bare branches, I heed the signal. In Robert Frost’s words, I have “miles to go before I sleep,” haunts ranging from the tip of Plum Island to Wareham on Cape Cod to visit before snow covers my hibernation on Beacon Hill.
With the Ingrahams we go for the last of our boat trips on the Merrimack—drifting our lines baited with sea worms on the ebbing tide, catching the odd sculpin or flounder, until just as the Rock begins to show out of water, we “have a message,” as Franc puts it, from one of the schools of stripers in the estuary and are lucky enough to boat five of them before dusk. “Fish are on the move; they’re migratin’,” says Malcolm; “when the fishin’s poor upriver, it’s apt to be good along the beach,” and on that note of hope we take leave of Hudson’s Landing for another year.
For an interval I base my hour of departure from the office on high tide, for at flood and an hour after, the bull bass moving south from Maine and Nova Scotia have been known to hit a popping plug or tinclad even in daylight. There is one rocky promontory to which I have private access, and from which one October midnight some years back, under a full moon, I hooked and beached a twenty-nine-pounder. The leaps between rocks seem larger now, and I wonder, puffing slightly, if I’d be as surefooted were I to tangle with such a stray. Out goes my plug — with the wind at my back I can still do seventy yards — and back it comes over the unresponsive deep, with an occasional pause to unknit the bird’s nest a nylon line reverts to when I take my eye off it. No response, save for the tightening of the muscles in my shoulders as I swing the big rod. But the fading light on the sea, the gulls’ island one can wade to at dead low, and the lovely crescent of sand are as they should be, and I’m glad I have come. I’ll be back.
Plum Island, the nine miles of it that are uninhabited, is a federal wildlife sanctuary, the marshes on its western flank a well-kept preserve where huge flocks of duck and Canada geese pause and feed on their way south. On my drive to the beach I pass some two hundred resting geese with their sentinels gravely watching me, and when I park and slam the car door, black duck by the score rise and then settle back into their marsh holes. I turn toward the Atlantic and follow’ the contours of the deep sand valleys, clean-swept and hidden between the dunes; the beach plums are ripe and tasty, there are acres of bayberries, and deer tracks lead to the dense stunted little forests in the hollows which Arthur Rackham might have painted.
The beach is mine — ominous — no other surf caster in sight, and no gulls swooping close to the water. I sling out a bright new tinclad with feather tail, haul it in, shake the seaweed off, move along the beach, quartering to get the benefit of the north wind and glad to be alone. Cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve, no answer and not much expected. A great gray gull wings slowly past on patrol. I remember when Bob and Barbara Livermore, with rods set up on their beach buggy, drove in at Big Sandy to see, close in shore and stretching for more than a quarter mile, a dark-blue school of feeding stripers with the terns darting and hitting at the little fish that were surfacing. Once in a lifetime: cast, hook your fish, play him, beach him, and then race back to the buggy to catch up with the slow-moving school. Once in a lifetime. I have never yet landed a fish on Plum, but I’ll be back.
The flowers of the fall are the wild aster and the goldenrod; and the fruits, which have such a special flavor, the beach plum, the Baldwin and McIntosh, the sickle pear, and the Concord grape. On my way down to the Cape there is an old country store, selling everything from a secondhand coffee grinder to homemade anadama bread. At this time of year I shall be looking for butternut cookies. Very relaxing with a glass of milk after the drive from town.
My last visits to the freshwater ponds are more a matter of farewell than of fishing. The brook trout have long since spawned and have no interest in my fly; the bass will still flirt with a Gray Ghost; but mostly I row looking for the great blue heron, the osprey’s nest, which is now deserted, and the kingfisher, who still scolds at my approach. Once as I was casting at the Frog Foot Dike, I heard a soft snuffle behind me, and turning, looked eye to eye at a large doe just out of range of my back cast. Curiosity satisfied, she flaunted her white tail and went straight up the soft sandy bank. Another time, after sunset, as I was standing in the shadow of my car stripping my rod, down the dusty path came a small fox whining to himself in a dissatisfied way. He never saw me, never smelled me, just went right on by, complaining as if he had no more use for the approaching winter than I had.
THE BATTLE FOR SPIES
In a world fearful of explosion and prone to suspect the worst, the business of espionage has acquired new respectability. It cannot be said that the CIA is of equal importance to our State Department, but it presses close in influence, and its mistiming can be very damaging to diplomacy. The totalitarian states assume that every visitor is a potential spy and that military attachés and scholars speaking their language should be ejected at the slightest provocation.
The democracies counter by publicizing the number of defectors who have fled to us with their secrets. This battle for spies is more ruthless than it was in the days of Mata Hari, and in it sex is even more compelling, as we know from the number of homosexuals involved, in the trapbaiting for scientists or for anyone thought to be in the know, one thing is certain: neither side has succeeded in shielding itself with foolproof security, and in the attempt to do so it may be questioned whether the democracies with their respect for habeas corpus have not the sterner problem.
DAME REBECCA WEST has been keeping a book on all this ever since the days when England stood alone. Incensed by infatuates with fascism, like Sir Oswald Mosley, by the silly women with their hero worship of Hitler, by veterans who kept muttering that nothing could stand up to the Wehrmacht, and by such taunters as Goebbel’s English-speaking broadcaster, William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw), she eventually agreed to write for Harold Ross of the New Yorker a series of papers — the first on the trial of John Amery — on the motives and meaning of treason. The cool accuracy with which she examined character and evidence and the moral indignation which informed her prose made her indictment a matter of history, and her series properly became a book. Then as the battle for spies and the trial of traitors entered the new phase of thermonuclear armament she amplified her text to study the cases of Dr. Alan Nunn May and Dr. Fuchs, of the Rosenbergs, Pontecorvo, Burgess, Maclean, and finally, Stephen Ward. Her illuminating, excoriating record, THE NEW MEANING OF TREASON (Viking, $6.95), is a Book-Of-the-Month Club selection.
The older we grow, the plainer it becomes that the police, intelligence officers, even Cabinet members are as vulnerable to deception as the next man. I remember the incredulous amazement of intimates of Alger Hiss when first they heard the Chambers accusation. Our innocence is no worse than that of the British for keeping Burgess and Maclean so long and so responsibly employed in the Foreign Office when both were known alcoholics with Communist associations. And, as Dame Rebecca points out, even after they had fled, their closest link and the man who had probably given them their final warning, H. A. R. Philby, then First Secretary at the Embassy in Washington, was left unmolested until he too slipped behind the Curtain. How much such defection has cost us in secrets exposed no one can compute. But the author is Caustic in denouncing the complacency of those responsible for security, and in pointing out the calculable distrust which springs up between allies when such carelessness is disclosed. “Treachery,” she writes in her conclusion, “is a problem we will have to live with for a long time, and the nearest we can come to a solution is to recognize the problem for what it is. . . .”
It is the license of a sharp critic to scold, and she does. She does not say how we should guard against the witch-hunts of McCarthy, and she overdramatizes the treachery of Ward. Yet in the main, this is a long and powerful warning to the West.
He was genial and had weathered well from many years on the plains; he was a native Texan, and the library on the second floor of his home in Austin, with him in it, was a lively museum of the Southwest. His talk matched his sturdiness, and his independence unfitted him for teaching, but at a time of teachers’ oaths and academic half-freedom his presence on campus was a godsend. J. FRVNK DOBIE was about our last link with the Chisholm Trail and those who rode it; and the advance copy of his new book, COW PEOPLE (Little, Brown, $6.00), he had riffled through with a smile just a few hours before his death.
One can make a rough classification of Mr. Dobie’s Cow People into three lots: early in the book he deals with the big ranch owners, speculators of the open range like Ike Pryor, whose luck never ran out and who, adjusting to the changes, lived to see his ranch worth a million; or a man as rapacious and loudmouthed as Shanghai Pierce, who earned as much hatred as his money. In most cases Mr. Dobie has taken down their stories in their own words, and he does not adulterate the color or the toughness; yet it pleases him to note when the widows of such buccaneers have willed their estates to universities or hospitals. In the second category are the cowboys, the wild-horse riders and Mexican vaqueros, the cooks and trail bosses, redoubtable as the strapping Negro A1 Jones or old Ablos, the drunkard who became such a legend on the King Ranch. “In a country where men were mostly without women,” writes Mr. Dobie, “cowboys looked upon females, except the dance hall variety, as sacrosanct,” and he proves his point with some delightful stories of reticence and gallantry. As for the dance hall, nothing on the screen could possibly rival that luscious account of the “Two Minnies,” which Lloyd Lewis took down verbatim from an aging cowpuncher and which Mr. Dobie quotes verbatim in the chapter entitled “Of Imagination All Compact.”
In a third, and special heaven, the author places those few for whom he has unbounded admiration, like his Uncle Jim, who in 1920 owned 56,000 acres (with 200,000 more under lease) and went bankrupt five years later, or his father, Richard, who lived by the maxim ”Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” and who was the first rancher to cultivate flowers — chrysanthemums, Cape jessamines, roses, violets — in a ranch yard. The flavor of Mr. Dobie’s style will be gleaned from these few sentences taken from his admiring description of Colonel Charles Goodnight: “He made a deeper imprint on the Great Plains than any other man who has lived there. . . . He had a compass inside his body, was never lost, day or night, alone or leading. . . . Often over a hundred cowhands worked under him. He forbade gambling and drinking on the ranches, demanded cleanness in person and camp. . . . He was a great friend to some of the Pueblo Indians. He rated natural men and nature above anything else.”