Thursday, July 03, 2008

Local Wonders: Ted Kooser's and Mine

We awoke to a thick, cool marine layer today. This is our favorite kind of San Pedro morning. The front windows of the apartment are wide open facing out to a misty, dreamlike harbor, only four shadowy palms visible at what I know is Fort MacArthur. Behind the fog, the harbor sounds continue, muffled, a murmuring chant, soothing after last night's annoying bursts of cherry bombs. The marine layer is a local wonder.

The phrase emerges because on the flight out here, I finished reading a book about a life about as far from LA as you can get -- Ted Kooser's Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps. The "Alps" he writes about are a series of low hills in Eastern Nebraska settled by Czech and German immigrants in the 1870s. Writing one chapter for each of the seasons, he ruminates about his outhouse, church dinners, the rarity of curved roads in the Midwest, his dog Alice, tombstones, mice families, herbicide sprayers, his Uncle Tubby, Mennonite women in their sixties at the Etcetera Thrift and Gift Shop in Seward, Nebraska: "They handle every article with reverence, as if it had personality and character; they have a winning way of looking upon a homely paint-by-number picture or a tweed sports coat that's a little bit stinky under the arms. You can tell that though they'll be happy to see it go, they wish it a happy future."

I imagine some "sophisticated" people find Kooser's writing dismissable -- his writing is quietly observant and his topics totally unpretentious. I seem to recall a few sneers when he was named the 13th U.S. Poet Laureate. (Jim Harrison, a dyed-in-the-wool Michigander who, let's face it, hangs out with pretty rarefied company from time to time, and who's a friend of Kooser's, says Local Wonders is "The quietest magnificent book I've ever read." So there.)

As a Midwesterner to my marrow, I think Kooser gets it -- the weather, the heart of life in the lands of four seasons. He makes me want to buy a chunk of land and raise goats -- a ridiculous notion for ME. But still. His similes and metaphors are wonderful. Here's one of my favorites: "The sky is like old blue denim just before dawn, with one round hole worn through, exposing the cold bony knee of the moon." I've been thinking about that image ever since -- how it perfectly captures something both weary and resilient about certain Midwestern nights.

Now off to walk to the Korean Bell in the fog, before it burns off.


Theodosia (Teddy) Robertson said...

I've seen Ted Kooser on the NewsHour and he quiet, practical midwest. As I read about his "Local Wonders" I think of how fortunate I and my mother have been to locate her in the midwest for her last years. On July 1, Jane Gross's article "The New Old Age" appeared in the NYTimes and had 400+ emails posted in the first 24 hours. Tales of frustration, exhaustion, indignity, and despair with caring for our elders, we of the 40 to 60 aged children. The years I have had organizing first a new life in Michigan and now after assisted living to adult foster care have been feasible and even good due in large part to the possibilities of the Midwest. So now on a little vacation from caregiving (and after a reassuring call to my Mom) I am off to the Torrance, California, Borders to find Mr. Kooser and "Local Wonders."

Macy Swain said...

Cool! So nice to have you nearby, Teddy, and joining in the conversation. Possibilities of the Midwest -- they are many. And we have water to boot.

greg rappleye said...

I love Ted Kooser.

But then, I am hopelessly Midwestern...

Macy Swain said...

I love him too, for the same reason. And I actually think anybody who disses him is missing an essential depth -- I want to call it cosmopolitan Midwesternness, but that's not quite right...he sees things with great compassion but is also wry and very, very smart.