"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"
Taos, New Mexico USA
Frank Waters found his great themes in his own life. Several of his books are explicitly autobiographical, but nearly all of them, in one way or another, derive from a lifelong self-examination, a patient exploration of his background, and an investigation into the importance of landscape and place. This anthology outlines Frank Waters's journey of discovery.
I have just finished reading proofs for the book, which should be out this year from Ohio/Swallow Press, and I must admit the experience has surprised me. Maybe it's just that when reading proofs, you have to be slow and careful, and pay attention. But I think there was something more profound involved, and the something came from Frank Waters.
It has been an unexpected renewal for me. Going through the excerpts from The Wild Earth's Nobility, Below Grass Roots, and the Dust Within the Rock, I began to feel somehow as if I were reading these old familiar books for the first time, and coming upon a whole new writer. Then with People of the Valley, The Man Who Killed the Deer, The Yogi of Cockroach Court, and The Colorado, I felt a kind of philosophical thrill, like being pointed toward a new, larger world.
How can this be? I'm an old jaded ex-professor! And I've read Frank Waters since sometime back in the last century. But I think there might be a secret here in this little personal encounter. It's all about freshness and discovery. The secret is that Frank Waters was a genuine learner, and he could convey the inimitable excitement of the moment when the eyes open on something truly new. He could communicate newness as a state of mind.
I'm afraid our usual, or so-called normal condition, is anything but that of a learner. We're so caught up in strategic planning, day to day, and so judgmental (necessarily, we think) about absolutely everything, that there's no place for the simple freshness of the world. We accumulate tons of data, but we don't really have much openness.
One of the pieces in the book is a modest little editorial from El Crepusculo, dated May 11, 1950. It's about walking to work at the paper, probably that very morning, going past plum trees in blossom. There aren't many images, and the whole essay isn't long, but as simple as it is, it radiates the unmistakable beauty of free consciousness. Frank Waters was learning that morning, every step of the way, as alive and ready as a human being probably ever gets to be.
This can be, thank the Lord, contagious. This little editorial, with its so obviously beating heart, took me across the desert to Taos, to the bright air and the shadowed mountains and the yeasty feeling of a spring morning, when even going to town, to work, has something special on it. In Utah, where I first read Frank Waters, it would be the time of first plowing, when the dark moist ground is steaming in the sun and gulls flutter above the tractor. Here, it is southern California, and spring is something more subtle, but if you're in the mood -- if you're for a moment at least, a learner -- it can still work some magic.
Frank Waters, I think, lived a lot of his time at the edge of that expansion, that young state of learning. Two of his favorite words for opening out into this mysterious, larger, beyond-thought world were "apperception" and "emergence." What a good thing for us, that he was willing to be vulnerable as a writer, and sincerely try to communicate what was most magical and central in his life.
As often happens to the best of mice and men, our mind is not on our business today.
We feel immune to the worthy innovations that are making Taos a more comfortable place to live in. We have no invectives to hurl at Labor, Big Business, or even the Chamber of Commerce. Nothing in the horrible state of world affairs could induce us to preach a tidy little sermon on the injustices of mankind to man.
In our distorted frame of mind, the world looks like the best possible abode for mortal man. Still we know that there comes a time in the Fat Forties when a man must resist the blandishments of nature, and look only at the facts of life seen through the myopic gaze of middle age. Not at the thickets of wild plum blossoms heaped like snowdrifts in the sagebrush . . . crossing the pastures like a file of white-blanketed Indians.
That is probably what threw us off balance this morning. The deplorable necessity of having to walk to work through a country pasture instead of taking a city subway. . . And being inflicted with the unavoidable sight of that beach of white blossoms flanking the blue pine mountains all the way to the Pueblo.
It could be
a touch of May fever. It could be us. But the safest bet is to blame
it on those blossoms.