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Inhaltsangabe: A reporter and columnist for The Mountain-Ear newspaper in Nederland, Colorado, for 20 years, Liz Caile spent her entire life in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, building relationships with people and with the landscape. This book was culled from the awe-inspiring collection of columns she left behind when she died.
Vom Verlag: The Life & Art of Liz Caile
Everything Worth Having
By Kevin McCarthy
Liz Caile [KAYLE] died on Valentine's Day, 1998. I confess I've had a hard time getting over the loss, which is strange since many were far closer to her than I was. For years we had only a nodding acquaintance. Then, in 1993, she began reading manuscripts for my critique service, and so began many long talks about life and art. She took my advice and wrote for The Bloomsbury Review; I took her advice and read Edna O'Brien's House of Splendid Isolation.
Liz lived in a series of primitive cabins at timberline, often without plumbing or electricity. She raised three sons largely by herself. For many years skis were a primary means of transportation, as she refused to drive. Even in a mountain community full of nonconformists, she stood out as an advocate and model for low-impact living.
When I realized how astonishingly observant she was, I wondered at her diffidence. She was probably gun-shy. It's not uncommon for artists to lack confidence, as reassurance comes slowly to them. With Liz the lack of validation was exacerbated by her determination to live life in a spectacular context that only she fully understood. To most of us, conditioned as we are by a culture of consumption, this earthy sensibility seemed a stark iconoclasm.
For 20 years, Liz wrote a weekly column for The Mountain-Ear in Nederland, Colorado. Her passion for wilderness was often tempered by compassion for her broad audience, and you could feel her working hard not to preach or scold. Still, she inevitably rankled some, especially the sorehead set, who seem to require rankling. But she was as gracious as she was uncompromising.
Now her columns are available in book form. Liz Caile: A Life at Treeline was painstakingly produced by three of her friends: Claudia Putnam, Kate Readio, and the publisher of The Mountain-Ear, Kay Turnbaugh. You can always recognize a labor of love. These women loved Liz. The columns are organized in categories that establish not only guideposts but also a satisfying unity. The layout and design are elegant. A brief quote or paraphrase at the beginning of each piece neatly suggests its essence. It’s possible, I suppose, to find things to quibble with here, but it’s hard to imagine anyone undertaking the petty task; in any case it wouldn't be me.
Liz may have had more time for the kind of writing she longed to do had she made more concessions to expedient conventionality. But the choices she did make infused her writing with a selfless sense of wonder. She wrote with precision and joy about the most subtle aspects of plant life, about how about how children learn in the wilderness, about the shifting relationships between people and earth. Her humility was enlivening. There was no squinting around the monolithic "I." Though she was often misunderstood, her vision was clear as the air that whistles over the Continental Divide.
In our world of bluster and bombast, where absurdly accidental celebrities rush to have "best-selling author" tacked onto their resumes, the meek are often overlooked. I implore you not to overlook this book, this life. To my mind Liz was a kind of Emily Dickinson of the tundra—modest and more observant than all but a distinguished handful. Read "And I Would Be Connected," "Silent Night: Variations on a Theme," or two dozen other pieces, and tell me this is not poetry.
“I have the feeling here that if I sit long enough, I will see everything worth having. I think I could open a seam and spill into the soil, happy enough to be a dried stalk of grass, a raggedy, weathered rosette of mullein, an orange blister of lichen on the rocks.”
Every chapter is worth reading, but I don't recommend reading the book straight through. Crack it open here and there. Liz would be pleased to know that her book is perfect for the backpack. Each essay is short and often impressionistic—vespers for weary hikers. I prefer the sections where the poet's perspective and powers of description are given full play: "The Seasons," "At Treeline," and "Walking."
Skip tells me Liz expected to die of cancer someday. She often spoke of the disease, which ravaged her family. When she was finally, belatedly, diagnosed with brain and kidney cancer, she had only a few months left. When I visited her, she confided that she had just decided not to fight it. I resisted the impulse to cajole with false encouragement, and spent the remainder of our time together reading her columns aloud. In this case, it was as great a luxury to read as to be read to. I gave her best columns to her adult sons. The youngest, Dan, eventually wrote to say that she had passed on just as he had finished reading "Searching Out the Winter Blues" to her.
“There is blue you can't get your hands on, yet it soaks into the mind: the blue of distance and sapphire glow beneath the snow, the cerulean light spilling unexpectedly between tree trunks at the crest of the hill.
“Blue in winter has its own voice. Oddly enough, one of my favorite blues is the reflection of puddles in a dirt road at the end of a day's walk home, when the sky is relaxing its bold hold and vibrates into dark night, a deep-blue ocean blue like an opening to an underground sea.”
I don't mean to suggest that Liz Caile was a saint. She was wonderfully—sometimes exasperatingly—human. As full of doubt, self-recrimination, and worry as any of us. But Black Elk would say she walked in a sacred manner. She demonstrated how courage takes root in deeply held convictions, regardless of temperament.
One of her convictions was that it's often better to write a note than to pick up the telephone. Consequently, many of us have her heart-felt letters and handcrafted cards. As I leaf through my modest collection, I wonder at the riot of emotions evoked still. I was—probably still am—angry. The petty glorifiers of pushy mediocrity, disciples of must-be-invented-here, must-be done-this way, had won again. Another nagging poet silenced. Even one who is not so much different as more down-to-the-bone, one with a credo as simple as "walk, read, write, live simply" must struggle in relative obscurity and then be struck down. In our accelerating insanity, few can understand the high-impact death of a low-impact life.
Now I find myself continually disappointed in the world, and intolerant of the unimaginative. I can't say that will change. I can't resurrect my former idealism any more than I can resurrect Liz Caile. But out of the blue comes A Life at Treeline, and I am grateful for the unexpected broadside at complacency, grateful for these illuminating conversations with a long-lost heroine.
Copyright 2001 The Bloomsbury Review
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