Our book today is Wallace Kirkland’s lovely 1969 meditation The Lure of the Pond, which is sparsely but beautifully illustrated by Eugene Karlin and tells the story – in a string of twenty self-contained, poetic chapters – of Kirkland’s various encounters with a pond in Wisconsin;
A narrow, winding road led up through a forest of naked trees disrobed by frost, and out upon a clearing. The land sloped gently downward to an abandoned cabin under a large poplar tree. Beyond it was a pond, winter-locked in ice. The brilliant midday sunlight of early March sparkled on a fresh fall of snow. In the distance was a wide expanse of marsh in which were whitened trunks of trees long dead. The left bank of the pond was once a cultivated field. Sumac and wild blackberry bushes now covered it. Along the right side was a tangled growth of willow and swamp maple trees.
An opening paragraph like that one instills a feeling of sweet peace in the reader – not only because the scene described is itself peaceful, but because we can hear the author’s quiet authority, and it’s reassuring. Kirkland was a photographer for Life magazine for 25 years, and The Lure of the Pond is suffused with visual imagery. But there’s also a tempered wisdom here that comes from sitting quietly and watching the life of a pond forget you’re there and resume going about its business. We’ve explored something of the mystery and joy of ponds before here, and Kirkland’s book joins a small shelf-collection of other such titles that are the next best thing to being there.
Of course, given his job, Kirkland has been everywhere, not just to the tangled bank of his own little pond. This book is also alive with the richness of those many travels:
Another morning on the path in the abandoned field I came upon a painted turtle laying eggs. I was reminded of a night on Key Marquesas, beyond Key West, where I had seen a giant hawksbill turtle laying hers. The moon was full, the sea a sheet of yellow glass. She came in on the rising tide, her enormous head breaking the surface a few yards out from shore, and the pent-up air in her lungs was expelled in one tremendous gasp. I crouched and watched her lumber up across the white sand. The moonlight shining on her sea-encrusted shell enveloped her in a phosphorescent aura. She was like an apparition from from another world.
It’s late winter here in New England, which means, in the 21st century, that high summer is only about three weeks away (the seasons of Spring and Autumn having been officially abolished during the ‘strip-mine our national parks’ years of George W. Bush) – the three ponds to which I make regular pilgrimages will all soon be open for business again, bustling with the uncanny microcosm of all life that ponds always present to the patient observer. Kirkland’s book elegantly captures that microcosm, even if he does begrudge us his own photos. Karlin’s minimalistic line-drawings are plenty compensation enough.