December 14, 2019

IM Recommended Reading: Late Migrations

I am reading a remarkable, luminous book by Margaret Renkl, called Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss. This book of meditations and and short essays reminds me of Annie Dillard’s writing, with its intermingling of nature observations and reflections on life. Maureen Corrigan said the following in her review: “Late Migrations is a vivid and original essay collection that’s a little hard to characterize because — to borrow from the title of a novel by Jeannette Haien, another one-of-a-kind writer — Renkl’s subject here is “the all of it.” By that I mean the cycle of life, out there in nature and inside our own families and our own bodies.”

Lee Smith’s recommendation at Margaret Renkl’s website captures the intricacies of Renkl’s narrative prose well: “Here is an extraordinary mind combined with a poet’s soul to register our own old world in a way we have not quite seen before. Late Migrations is the psychological and spiritual portrait of an entire family and place presented in quick takes―snapshots―a soul’s true memoir. The dire dreams and fears of childhood, the mother’s mysterious tears, the imperfect beloved family―all are part of a charged and vibrant natural world also filled with rivalry, conflict, the occasional resolution, loss, and delight. Late Migrations is a continual revelation.”

Here is a brief excerpt. I highly recommend this book as a generous gift of contemplation and wonder to us all.

In Mist

It came in the night on a cold wind that rattled the windows, and it lingered after the cold rains moved out this morning. It seems to mean that we will have no autumn at all this year. The long, desultory summer has finally given way, but it has not given way to fall. Winter is here now, and to signal its arrival we got just a single night of wind and rain, a single morning of mist beading in the air above the pond and blowing off with the wind.

It won’t last. In Tennessee we don’t get much of a winter anymore, and highs below freezing are random and uncommon. I like the idea of mist as much as I enjoy the lovely mist itself. Aren’t transitions always marked by tumult and confusion? How comforting it would be to say, as a matter of unremarkable fact, “I’m wandering in the mist just now. It will blow off in a bit.”

Late Migrations (p. 39)

Comments

  1. “I’m wandering in the mist just now. It will blow off in a bit.”

    That sounds a lot like life.

    • “I’m wandering in the mist just now. It will blow off in a bit.” Also an apt metaphor for the spiritual wilderness many here at Imonk entered after leaving Evangelicalism. The statement reveals confidence born of experience. Only after having been through a few trials do we learn the faith and patience of the saints that all will be well. Think of the teenagers who commit suicide because there is no possible good on the other side. They simply lack the experience that gives one the fortitude to wait it out and just don’t believe those around them that assure them of brighter days ahead.

  2. the themes sound a bit like that book ‘Dakota’ by Kathleen Norris . . . . . in the writing about natural landscapes, the poetry is woven sometimes so subtly that it is even more startling when we come upon it

    I should very much like to read Margaret Renkl’s book.

  3. Anyone who’s spent time in San Francisco knows that the mist never quite leaves. Maybe that’s a metaphor for some of us, too.