Note: This post comes as I am reading The Love Charm of Bombs. Being rather taxed by it, I decided today to give myself a break and watch the Ken Burns documentary on the National Parks
By 4:00 p.m. my love for war torn London was finished. Besides the sun would soon fade over a very real Chicago just as it had over the English metropolis nearly 70 years ago. In addition to this I was becoming frustrated with the tortured verse. It was beautiful, but it was hardly affirming and my life already has enough of that which is not affirming.
The last straw had been Graham Greene. He had this affair with Catharine Walston. To do this they devalued their marriages and were not even very good to one another. You would think that would be enough to become incensed about the matter, but upon reading of them I found one more thing distasteful. They flew to Achill Island.
I have never been to Achill. My friend J. tells me it is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. He has been there; he should know. On Achill, Graham and Catherine discovered their geography. Though the world has never seen his accounts of this, it is known he wrote extensively of the place and made Catharine the great mythic figure in those accounts. I would think that such musings must be very real, but Graham and Catherine had a problem, a big problem. They were turned in on themselves.
I think if they found a way to drive from London to the coast and then ferried to Ireland to travel to Achill mostly by car, it would have been better. On the road, you can make another person your all, but the perspective is different. You have to rely on people for directions; you have to stop and eat. In all of this you have to find companions other than one other person. And the slow progression of geography also speaks to you in a way that is different if you just rush off someplace and nest.
I was done with Graham and Catherine. I will always give them their due for they did give us The End of the Affair, but today I needed a little more in the way of affirmation.
To get this I turned on a Ken Burns documentary and discovered Edward and Margaret Gehrke of Lincoln Nebraska. The Gehrkes were adventurers, who ever year traversed the American West. They married, but never had children. I don’t know if that is fortunate or not. Edward died nearly forty years before Margaret. That is a very long time to know only your mother, but perhaps she would have had solace in the presence of children. She rarely travelled after his death.
Unlike Greene and Walston, the Gehrkes travelled by car and unlike these they never turned inward on only themselves, though they were intensely private people. The Gerhrkes went to the National Parks. Margaret kept a journal of these trips. Of the Grand Canyon she writes “unearthly beauty, one can only weep.” Along the way they met others and understood themselves not to be wholly one onto the other but beautiful to one another because each was a small joyous piece of the great good earth and all who inhabit it.
As they set out on their adventures, Margaret would write in her journal, “today is the day of days.” Like Graham and Catherine, they had their Achill. It is a place called Colorado; I hear it is very pretty. Margaret writes about it as if there is no other place on earth that can compare, as if all the beauty in the world can be captured driving forty miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake. She would know; her and Edward did it often enough. Of all I read of her, it is the only place in their travels she returned to after he died.
I tired of the war today. I tired of the wealthy literary people who betrayed their marriages and ignored their children. I needed the presence of others instead. And I needed the sunlight as I had too long deprived myself of this. I had Margaret and Edward to lead me. I walked outside only wanting the air and the sunlight. What I received was much more.
Of all the stories in the world, my greatest stories are here in big and brawny Chicago. It is majestic in the urban sense, but I imagine it is hardly Achill or Colorado. In 1997, I had seen the sun reflected over Devon Avenue and Misericordia in a way that I thought it must be reflected over Achill and all of Ireland. I did not think I would ever again see a sun so beautiful. Tonight I was proved wrong. The sun tonight was not the azure blue of November of 1997; it was that more beautiful still, the fading though brilliant light, of the summer’s last stand….the sunlight of Malick and Camus.
I must now admit there was a little trickery in this post for I wrote “I hear Colorado is pretty,” but in fact I also know that, for I had seen the light that blessed Chicago’s closing day once before in a town called Granby south of Grand Lake and the Gehrke’s beloved National Park. Granby is a mountain town. It is one of the places you see if you head from RMNP to Denver along route 40. In the Gehrke’s time 40 was really the only way east to west across much of America and it remains the quickest route between RMNP and Denver. Most probably know it today as where you find Winter Park, a point of destination for tourists to the Arapaho and the highest incorporated place in America.
Margaret and Edward would not know Winter Park as a destination. It did not yet bear the name and it would only be a point on that route that would help them get back to Nebraska, always a bit of a sorrowful event for Margaret as it meant going back to the ordinary world and the beginning of the end of the annual gift that Edward always gave her. It was still a place of adventure though, as the Gehrkes having gone over to the Pacific watershed at Milner would have to come back to the Atlantic side at Bethound, a mountain pass that at 11,300 feet in elevation is still cited as one of the most treacherous places to drive in America, though nowhere near as much as in Edward and Margaret’s day.
I wonder what Greene would have done with Colorado and America, with travel by car and a woman who was his wife. I’m very sure he could do much. His writing is direct and touching, not too unlike Margaret’s, though we see her writing as much more the linear account of travel than myth. Perhaps I am wrong, though. Perhaps he could have done little with it. He was often disdainful of America and being the new world, he and Catherine could not fall back on old stories and retreat in on themselves. Here you have to make your own stories and you need others to help you get there. That is the advantage of a big country with fierce landscapes. You create new myths that will one day be old stories.
Image: Margaret and Edward Gehrke in the Rockies