Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In Search of Stones by M Scott Peck

In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason, and Discovery by M Scott Peck took me a peculiarly long time to read because I was reading it slowly, savoring the chapters one at a time rather than rushing through in haste. And this collection of essays merits a gradual reading for it is layered in meaning and intent. On the surface, the book is one man’s trip with his wife through parts of England and Scotland, exploring the countryside, suffering through inclement weather and not so stellar hotels, and discovering a passion for megaliths. Throughout the pages, the reader gets an intimate view into Dr Peck’s personal life without sinking into the salacious details of his relationships. He shares his imperfections as a husband and father never once going into facts that might compromise the privacy of his wife or children. On another level, this book is also a collection of travelogue essays, describing the trip with an almost “wish you were here” allure that would make nearly anyone wish they could hustle over and explore the areas described for themselves. Sprinkled with gorgeous drawings, done by the author’s son, the content shares enough to make even the most surprising somehow familiar and the least comforting a temptation. But on the most profound level, this is a collection of thoughts and ideas from a man who has made a career out of thinking and then presenting his ideas in the form of books, lectures, and even the creation of an organization meant to fulfill an ambitious vision he has for global society. Whether he’s talking about aging, addiction, art, or any of the other topics he applies to each day’s leg of the journey, Peck allows himself a curious tone that while protesting humility still manages to come across as arrogant. I doubt that he himself would deny the assessment and I can’t say that I blame him. While fully aware of his blessed and even privileged life’s experiences, he exposes himself as flawed. In fact, this is possibly the most intimate and personal text Peck has written, although I have not read everything he’s written. Because of his remarkable success as a writer, his best-selling The Road Less Traveled breaking records by staying on the New York Times list longer than any other book of its time, it is inevitable that he has become nearly iconic. In the pages of In Search of Stones, Professor Peck purposefully steps down from the pedestal upon which his readers have probably placed him. However, because he is so eloquent and knowledgeable, he practically climbs up to place himself on a new platform. This book is not light reading, but then none of his books really are. Although I didn’t always agree with what he had to say, I enjoyed reading his ideas. His words are provocative and, in spite of his protestations, he is to be admired for the work he did through the written word.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Falconer on the Edge by Rachel Dickinson

Falconer on the Edge: A Man, His Birds, and the Vanishing Landscape of the American West by Rachel Dickinson is a faceted look at falconry through the experiences of Steve Chindgren, a virtual legend in the American falconry community. Through Dickinson, we come to know why Chindgren’s legend has grown. From the time he was introduced to the pleasures of owning and training a raptor, he moves deeper into an obsession that demands not only his patience but the acceptance of those around him. Dickinson creates an intimate portrait of a man who is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual loner. When her husband’s own proclivity for falconry is resurrected by being gifted with a kestrel, Dickinson is soon forced to face the nearly manic commitment that falconry requires of the human who must adequately train a bird that is simply not meant to be tamed. Her curiosity piqued, Dickinson finds a wealth of information in the form of Steve Chindgren. Like any good falconer, she makes certain sacrifices, meeting Chindgren in his world, waking with him to go out on the hunt even when it is bitterly cold, weathering whatever comes to get to the deeper meaning behind what would seemingly be an archaic hobby. And through Chindgren what might have turned out to be a simple story about one woman’s curiosity turns into so much more. Not only is a summarized history of falconry given, the history of the American west and the expansion that occurred during the 19th century beautifully unfolds. Chindgren’s roots trace back to the Mormon’s journey across the nation and his youth draws in the changing laws that surround the endangerment of different species through the present day drilling for gas and oil that may or may not be compromising his own passion. Not once does Dickinson overlook the potential of what she is writing. She doesn’t pull away from using falconry terminology throughout the text and when she explains the history of falconry, the details she provides are never overwhelming nor speculative. A novice to the hobby will learn a great deal but only a foolish reader would assume enough information is given to take on the responsibility for one self. Nor does Dickinson overlook the romantic quality to falconry, perhaps drawn from the Medieval images of noblemen and women riding the hunt, a raptor elegantly portrayed. Dickinson capably exposes the reality of the discipline, the demands in emotion and time that most people cannot possibly appreciate. A violent sport, falcons are designed to kill and to do it well. There is little romantic about a kill; and yet, the loss of a well-trained falcon cuts deeply. I found myself dreading the possibility that this aspect of death, something that Dickinson foreshadows delicately but without compromise. But she also manages to create a narrative that does not pander to the pathos nor attempt to apologize for paradox. It would seem, given Chindgren’s passions, that he would lean politically and socially in particular directions. The man Dickinson shares is as complex as any of us and when he expresses remorse it is believable, even when the reader might find his choices selfish or self-involved a natural sympathy is inevitable. Readers can’t help but recognize themselves at some point in Chindgren for haven’t we all found something or someone so consuming that nothing else matters? And on another level, Dickinson shares herself, her own ponderings about the man, his birds, and her country. She doesn’t offer simple platitudes or try to offer a neat summation of what she learned. There is no need. What she has created is like a lavish tapestry, with so many different threads carefully and beautifully woven together to create a single piece. But a single piece that is so large and overflowing with detail that to comprehend it all one must step back and make time to appreciate. A wonderfully satisfying read, informative without being dispassionate.