A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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David James Duncan is the author of two novels, The River Why and The Brothers K, and a collection of stories and essays titled River Teeth. He lives with his family in western Montana.
As I strolled through a glide of water clear as air, my fisherman’s heart did a somersault when I sighted, not twenty feet away, two chinook salmon easily twenty times the size of the trout I’d been happily catching and releasing.
Here’s part of what I love about spirit threads: words that once inflicted only pain can become a heart wound, which then becomes both guiding scar and guiding star, transforming a perceived enemy into a genuine, if accidental, teacher. “Faith can move mountains,” that seminarian in the hospital said. “If you pray for your brother hard enough, with a pure enough heart, you can save his life.” Those words taught me via pain that, as writer Anne Lamott has it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: it is certainty.”
my heart went out, M. then there you were, nowhere visible, yet present in a way that made me turn to the spring snowflakes and whisper, live forever.
I’m not complaining. In fact I want to praise You. But here’s the trick about You, me, and praise: every time I vanish into the Moment and feel how You took 10 million years to prepare a place for me, I’m flooded, as You come again, by a gratitude that drowns me.
The peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink of extinction by a ban on DDT, but also by a peregrine-falcon mating hat invented by an ornithologist at Cornell University. If you can’t buy this, Google it.
In Henry I’d met a man with no sense of proprietorship in the presence of true words. In one sense I’d been, as I said, a mere parrot, but in another sense I’d plucked Henry’s insight off the radio and taken it to heart. Henry honored this second capture as the solo philosophical event it was. He was loving a neighbor’s insight as one loves one’s own. He was being a father whose nondogmatic stance let grace flow in an adoptive son.
The Mackinaw and I are now face to face. Nose to nose. In its world, not mine. It regards me with surprising calm. Thanks to the treachery in my heart, I regard it far less calmly. My fingers are in position, just behind its gills. The fish remains motionless. It’s time.
Wisdom reveals itself because wisdom lives, hidden, within the self, where only the lone reader, the lone listener, the self itself, can free it. With a series of stories, I hope to create an atmosphere: nothing more. If the question “Who owns the West?” gets answered in that atmosphere, you will have answered it for yourself.
Thanks to prison, he settled for sitting, munching applesauce doughnuts, and watching his candle burn. No bleeding-heart bullshit, no prayerlike mutterings, no beseechings or lamentations from Everett. He’d come a long way, after a long wait, to do a simple thing, so he shut up, sat down, and did it.