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Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

Encounter Above Tintern Abbey

Tintern Parva was a Cistercian monastery built in the Middle Ages, on the Welsh side of the River Wye. It was occupied continuously for about three centuries, then plundered and closed during the reign of Henry VIII. The ruins were popular with the English romantics of the 1790s. It was just their sort of place: the ancient stones were covered with ivy, an old beggar woman lived in one of the remaining cells. According to the poet William Wordsworth, the surrounding scenery included “steep and lofty cliffs,” “waters rolling from their mountain springs with a soft inland murmur,” “little lines of sportive wood run wild,” and “wreaths of smoke sent up in silence from among the trees.” In a sketch by the painter J. M. W. Turner, the whole area looked like it might have been full of chasms, measureless to man, haunted by ghosts wailing for their demon lovers.

Living Simply

Thoreau wrote Walden to answer the question, “How much does it cost to live?” Is there one of us who does not thirst for a simpler life? We look back to Thoreau’s time with nostalgic yearning; yet Thoreau discovered that farm families labored their whole lives for their cows.

Uncommon Prayer

Toward A New Liturgy

As a college student in the early seventies I once attended a Lutheran service in the modern idiom, of which the only words I remember are “Lord of atom, earth, and space.” I remember them because they seemed so modern as to be almost insincere, like the smiling, openhearted insincerity of a television host: an attempt to update the church’s image with a casual assortment of items that sounded newsy and scientific. A writer who had sufficient awe of atoms or earth or space — or sufficient Lutheran fear of the Lord — would never have invoked all four of them in terms that sounded so much like dismissal. That leaden echo of biblical language has stood as a warning to me ever since of what the modern liturgist is up against.

Fiction

Friday

I washed the dishes and the ashtrays and the silverware and the mugs, then rinsed them off and set them on the counter on paper towels to dry. The fan faced the other part of the room, so it was hot by the sink; I could feel beads of sweat on my forehead and temples. A large dark insect had flown in off Eighth Avenue that morning and it made occasional shuddery swoops across the room. I could never find it when it landed and I didn’t know quite what it was or if I was afraid of it.

The Carrion Heart

He came in on a royal blue 1928 Studebaker, the engine rattling, leaving a dusty cloud billowing into the desert air. He passed the visitors lot, swerved around the barricade that was supposed to keep out unauthorized vehicles, and parked his car in front of my home, which used to be the barbershop but was now the ranger station in Bodie, California.

The Cruise

“Here we are in Martinique,” the man said. He was standing at the window with his hands in his hip pockets, looking out at the green lawn and the deep woods beyond.

Readers Write

Great Expectations

Jeff and I learned CPR at the hospital where we worked. I secretly hoped to use it someday. I wanted to drag someone back into life, to tear them away from death; I wanted that power.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸
Sy Safransky's Notebook

June 1992

The Map I Was Promised

Things I didn’t get to last week: answering the mail, giving up coffee, saving the planet.

Musings From Our Founder ▸
Quotations

Sunbeams

Why 300,000 varieties of beetles? The great English geneticist J.B.S. Haldane was once cornered by a distinguished theologian who asked him what inferences one could draw, from a study of the created world, as to the nature of its Creator. Haldane answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”

David Quammen

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