I wonder if a reader can tolerate this kind of reminisce, punctuated by date and time. A bear at point blank range, riding a standing wave higher than my head, scaling a rotten cliff above a waterfall…in those moments my mind knew only the unfeeling automation of a ghost man. Maybe only in the rare vignettes, as in this place trapped by the raging winds, did I live.
July 17, 4:19 P.M. — I faced the day’s inactivity with ease, because last night I began again to read Aubrey De Selincourt’s elegant translation of Livy’s books on the Second Punic War, his last project before he died. His translation of Arrian is one of my finest possessions. I am not a man of organizations. I know now that, had I belonged to an army, I would not have distinguished myself; nevertheless, I can turn once again to the exploits of that one-eyed general, Hannibal, and dream of what never was, but might have been.
Reading Livy brings to mind other pleasant associations.
In the not distant past, Livy was part of the curriculum for every schoolchild. By my time standards dropped, and Livy disappeared from the consciousness of a generation. I read Livy as an adult, but the reaction to Livy that interests me is not my own.
Jean Webster in her novel, Daddy Long Legs, creates the young girl, Judy. As an orphan, Judy lacks the means to attend college. A wealthy patron of the orphanage, who chooses to remain unknown to her, pays her tuition, his only requirement that she send him letters denoting the progress of her studies. In one of her classes, she reads Livy, and she writes reports to her patron of news from the battlefront. “Hannibal victorious. Romans in full retreat after ambush at Lake Transmeire.”
Jean Webster never established an enduring reputation as a writer that outlasted her lifetime, but, in Judy, she created a character of vividness, of curiosity, of wonder, and so full of life that I find it sad that I never knew the young woman who created her.
I am well into my middle years.
Most of my age-mates are married, settled into the career in which they will die or retire, and have managed to defeat that greatest of fears, the fear of growing old unwanted, and alone. Most of them accept they are lucky to have what they have. Yet, when I think of the women I have known, and imagine how it would be to sit in the family room with any of them night-after-night, not talking: she has already heard all she wants to hear from me, and I from her. I live with a companion, yet I am alone, my solace, the dancing flames from the hearth, as my imagination takes me to what might have been—to another fire in another place.
I didn’t accept that life, and I didn’t find a Judy or a Jean either, and now perhaps I am too old, and too accustomed to my solitary path, for it to make much difference if I did. I have, however, the horizon. I am slower now, and it will hurt, but in the pre-dawn light of the morning, I will pack my few possessions, and move toward it.
Jean Webster didn’t write very many books.
She died young, long before I was born. Her life, I think, was like the blooms of these Arctic wildflowers, full of color, scent, pageantry, and passion, but of too short a duration.
6:18 P.M., Camp XLII – Who am I kidding? I won’t move again tonight. The whitecaps roll. Way out, they are rough. Had my purpose been to edge the shoreline, and not to cross to the north shore, I might have moved: a six-mile day.
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