We went hiking with some friends in the Hudson Valley over Columbus Day weekend to catch the fall foliage. Therapy, as one might call it. It was a crisp October Saturday, the sky a cloudless cerulean blue, trees flaming in cranberry and creamy ochre along the flanks of the highway roping through the Catskill mountains. After scaling the hills through dappled light and back down to accidentally crash the tour of the house and floating art installation on the pond, we drove back toward the river to a historic little railway town opposite West Point to thumb through the shelves of an incredible little bookstore where the walls are lined with stacks upon stacks of rare and vintage books. There was a soccer match blaring in the background, and the affable Australian fellow who owns the place divided his time between shouting calls at the game and poring over the treasures of his nooks with us. He had laid out on the porch a long table of discount items, where my husband found a copy of Winnie the Pooh that had traveled 51 years from the Saint Patrick’s Children’s Library through who knows how many pairs of hands to arrive in mine on a beautiful day in the autumn of my reckoning. When the proprietor came outside to find me coveting it, gingerly pulling open the cover to hear the binding crackle like the dry leaves underfoot on the trail an hour earlier, putting my nose to pages to inhale the perfume of age and wear and experience, he said,
I always keep one of these around – great for kids – but I’m only selling this one for five dollars because, see here, the binding is loose.
Truthfully the broken binding was part of the charm. I feel quite a lot like a battered, broken thing, browned and scratched like this book, yet surviving. So I bought it, not just on the whim of a metaphor, but because I would like to read it to a child one day, snuggled in bed, under the gleam of a bedside lamp, tired and damp from dinner dishes and baths. I honestly don’t know how this will come to pass (and I’m no audience for all the affirmations from all the folks who say the how doesn’t matter because it does, and some are just more equipped than others to compartmentalize the added complexities of alternate paths) but the book brings me comfort.
I took off today for an appointment in New Jersey with much talk of the still remaining frosties and what it means to forge a path forward from a history of pregnancy, loss, and failure that all inhabit the far reaches of the statistical margin. When I got home I finally brought the book inside since it had been casually knocking around under the passenger seat of my car. Within I found the library card of a little boy who must have at one point leafed through these pages on an adventure with an unassuming little bear chasing honey despite the bees. There was something so intimate about this reading list, this window into a child’s interests and when he learned about the stars, Greek mythology, reptiles, and Celtic fairy tales, a whole intellectual life, a hungry little mind now grown into a man with a family who read stories to his own little ones and perhaps now to grandbabies. The book feels like a wish…for the opportunity to nurture such an imagination, a life, in this now empty house. I opened to read a few pages because I was never a Winnie the Pooh girl myself as a kid, and this was the from the first scene of honey-chasing:
Indeed, Pooh – if we were in charge, we’d build this whole thing pretty differently. But bears aren’t bees and the nests are up high and surrounded by stingers. And there’s just no telling which trees we’ll have to climb in searching, how many branches will crack under our weight, and whether we’ll continue to muster the stamina to keep after the honey pot. And some bears have all the luck while others go hungry and that’s just the way of this ungoverned wood.