Bloomington, Indiana author Scott Russell Sanders is celebrating the launch of his newest book, small marvels, (Indiana University Press) in conversation with Morgenstern's in-house host, Mitch Teplitsky, on June 9 at 6:30p.m. at Morgenstern Books, 849 South Auto Mall Road, Bloomington, Indiana. Just show up.
I’ve been reading and rereading Sanders’ two dozen brief essays over the past two weeks, finding delightful moments to linger over as I connect with the springtime busy-ness of flora and fauna, and mulling over his insights during walks around my neighborhood. During this interlude, my mailbox has yielded journals and magazines and more new books that magically connect with Sander’s protagonist— Gordon Mills— as he lives each day with a joyful passion interwoven with wonderment. Gordon, as I now call him, because we are in kinship, inhabits the contentment of Thoreau, the conundrums of Frost, the continuity of Dickinson, whose lines came to mind;
“Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
The promotion surrounding the book spells out: “Scott Russell Sanders is a novelist, essayist, conservationist, and a distinguished professor of English, emeritus, at Indiana University. He has written and taught for decades about nature and place, family and community, and the concerns of social justice and ecology, woven together with a spirituality that is rooted in awe and wonder and has won the John Burroughs Natural History Essay Award, the Indiana Authors Award, and the Mark Twain Award, among other honors. In 2012 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.”
If it happens that small marvels is the first book a casual reader finds by Sanders, that could be a sufficiency without cognizance of what has come before. I have come to know much of the before in Sanders’ oeuvre across nonfiction and fiction. small marvels spans a bridge between the designations, luring us into a new genre, by academic standards, or into re-tasting of wisdom tales shared within the kitchens or around open-pit fires. These make no distinctions between what is verified and what we hold as verity. And so I am in the company of the tale that begins with a rainbow and closes with a flood, with a three-generation family of nine, in a place I know and need not find on a map anymore than I ever have had to precisely locate Brigadoon.
There’s a quantity of one-liners waiting for a calligrapher to create a new line of small wonders gifts; erg: “Gordon knew from experience that everything on Earth is doomed to sag” [see “Weight” p. 68]
“As a young child she feared vegetables” [excerpted from “Sisters” p. 12] & this somber truism: “As old men died off the number of widows grew” [see “Widows” p. 27]
And here I pause, because my neighborhood falls within this category. This is an essay worthy of excerpting into church and medical bulletins across the land. Gordon is ever observant of a neighbor’s need— people choosing to stay in their homes, being as self-sufficient as possible, but needing a helping hand now and then—including the day Mrs. Hernandez was “worried the robin’s nest is going to fall,” in its precarious perch under the porch roof rafters. What follows is a psalm of repairing…and a litany of sharing.
Gordon quit school to work to support his widowed mother. He joined the military, a steady gig with a check to send to her. When he mustered out, he returned to his hometown and took the job offered.
Within the essay titled “Trash,” are treasures to commune with; from the top: “During his tours of duty on the garbage crew, Gordon enjoyed more than anything else the spell of stillness in the predawn city before he started his truck.” And across the years, the awe never dimmed, even “As his vision began to dim from cataracts, Gordon could no longer track the planets or see any but the brightest stars, but he could still watch the moon filling and emptying like a bowl of milk…” and this: “In winter, when his gloves froze to the handles of trash can and his feet grew numb in his boots, the sight of rabbit tracks in fresh snow or raccoons raiding birdfeeders made him feel he had been let in on secrets the sleepers would never know….”
Please, find a copy of small marvels and embrace within it your personal moments of wonderment and joy, connections and discoveries, and the simple gift of love.