Saturday, October 02, 2010

Books in my life: ‘Country roads take me home …’

Hill country harvest by Hal Borland
J. B. Lippincott Company: Philadelphia & New York. 1967. 377 pp.
[Genre: Country life; Nature; Autobiography]

This book sat on my shelf for five years before I eased it out a few days ago, resolved to read it this time round. Not that I’d started it earlier, and left it mid-way. But I must have taken it down and browsed through it at least a dozen times, replacing it in line with other un-read ones, simply because I wasn’t ready to begin.
            A few pages later I realised that I had stumbled onto something so luminous in its flow of language, so serendipitous in its subject, that I was literally spellbound. The book itself, is a third print run of the first edition, which speaks for its popularity when it came into the market—to be printed thrice in the same year! And I don’t know whether it went into more print runs that year. It’s heft, and type, are just right, and my clean second-hand copy has the comfort and familiarity akin to a favourite reading chair.
            Borland wrote a weekly outdoor editorial-essay for the New York Times Sunday editorial page, a selection of which takes the reader, in Hill country harvest, through a year of New England’s countryside. Each commentary runs a short two-and-a-half page, roughly segregated into the cycle of seasons, melding imperceptibly into each other with the telling subtlety of the seasons themselves, reflecting the transformation in the author’s physical and mental landscape.
            The unhurried, yet inexorable progress of time, and its journey through the eyes of a countryman is reflected off the city-dweller’s frenetic clock. Borland shows us that the difference between watching life go by, and tarrying to see, is a gentle chasm that makes all the difference in our quest to ‘take life directly, and not [through] someone else’s interpretation.’ And there are no better places to do this than the countryside, for cityscapes are run over by so many interpretations that they’ve become an unreal, frightful dimension of the real earth.

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