Now I come to the second of the beloved books that will never leave my library:
In a previous entry, I said that some books were Portals Into Places of Enchantment. Click the link to read the first installment in this series. To read more about Places of Enchantment, click this link.
The first “portal” I described is an early edition of Cross Creek, a gift from my son. The second one is a hardback edition of The Yearling, with illustrations by Wyeth.
In her book of memoirs, Cross Creek, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings describes herself as an excellent and discriminating — yet vain — cook. She declares that she would squander her very last dollar to buy Jersey cream and butter.
For my part, I would invest my last dollar to rescue her Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Yearling, from the dusty recesses of the Young Reader Section of book stores and libraries.
It is true that the protagonist of the book is a boy of twelve but it does not follow that the primary audience of the book should be of the same age.
To fully appreciate the novel, you must first experience a great deal of life: an impossible feat for a Young Reader. Only an adult is seasoned enough by life to appreciate the depth and richness of the wisdom which flows through the narrative.
I first read The Yearling as a young mother and I have read it now, as a [young] grandmother: Every time I read the book, its lessons becomes more essential to me.
In fact, this novel is the best book on parenting and grandparenting that you will ever read. Yes, a woman who bore no children wrote the best parenting book. Yet, sadly, you will never find this book on a list entitled, “How to Parent.” [But I intend to remedy that oversight, also.]
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at her home and farm in Cross Creek, Florida
Thirty-five years ago, I visited the hamlet, Cross Creek, near Micanopy, Florida, where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote the book, The Yearling. I confess that I did not read her book until almost five years later.
I thought it odd that, when I finished the novel, I wept. I am not a sentimental person [and neither was Rawlings]. Yet, I am astounded by genuine beauty, goodness, and truth: themes that Rawlings, a master story-teller and wordsmith, brings to life with brilliance.
Evidently, the weeping is not a rare response to the reading of this book. To the other readers who wept upon finishing this enchanting book, I assure you: I am a kindred spirit.
I wept not because I was sad. Please understand, however, that the novel, mirroring life, contains tragic events. No, I wept because the novel was so beautifully written. It was painful to awake from and leave the enchanting world that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings had created.
And yet something else made me weep: Although Rawlings had been dead for decades before I read the book, I recognized in her a kinship and I deeply regretted not knowing her in real life.
The enchanting world she creates is not a romantic, escapist world. Rawlings casts a non-sentimental view at the hard lives which her characters lead. She was part of that world and her own life, invested in that rural hamlet of Cross Creek, echoed the lives of her characters.
It is difficult to describe the novel as fiction: The characters she draws are intimately familiar to her. They are composites of “real life” children and adults that she knew in her 25 years of community living in Cross Creek.
She was never an impartial observer: She was absorbed into the agrarian life, struggling, with her neighbors, to wrest a living from the land and water surrounding Cross Creek. And she was not always a famous author: For decades, she depended upon the successes of her orange orchard and upon the produce of her farm. A failed crop spelled disaster to each of those in the community.
If you are curious enough to enter the world of The Yearling, you must conform to its rhythm and cadence. The book will absorb you and demand that you quiet your mind. As you enter the portal, time will slow down. The themes and metaphors will ebb and flow like the spring-fed rivers of North Florida. The images evoked by the words and phrases are as crystal-clear as the springs. It is an enchanting and quiet world and, for a time, the only sound you will hear will be those of the water birds, winging above those springs.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Home and Museum: Cross Creek, FL
I fully intend, someday soon, to return to Cross Creek, Florida, to pay homage to the woman who wrote this masterpiece.
By the way, the illustrious Max Perkins was Rawlings’ editor and you may want to read a delightful book, based upon the volume of correspondence between the editor and the writer: “Max and Marjorie.” It is out of print but I ordered a used hardback. Sorry; I cannot let you borrow it. You will have to order your own.