A few weeks ago, I was able to finish an entire book. That I am even marking the act of being able to finish a book as an event tells how derailed I have been from the life I envisioned for myself. I used to think that at this point in my career, I should have more time for books, less time for meetings, to dos, and plans of action.
Alas, that is not to be. But I am not one dwell on the derailment, what I do is steal time away from the everyday to sneak in some reading. When a book turned up on my shelf a few weeks ago, I half resented, half appreciated its coming. Resented because it was one more reminder of my life not turning out the way I wanted it to. Appreciated, because well, a book is passage to another world, away from this one, as long as the pages are open, other worlds are open to me.
Cold Mountain is a strange series of journeys, moving through a war, conventions of the times, moving out of the self, moving towards another person. I learned new things from the book, a few almanac-style facts that I think would be useful to add to one’s skill sets: how to survive in the wilderness. I haven’t seen the film, so it’s good exercise to be able to form images without benefit of celluloid suggestion, to form scenes not colored by cinematic lighting. It is a cruel landscape and time that unfolds in Cold Mountain. It made me realize how, shaped by the elements, what we know in one culture shifts radically in another, owing in no small way to geography. What I know of winter is that it is cold and bleak. But the winter described by the book is much harsher, a season tempered by a gnawing hunger in the stomach and in the soul.
It made me think of journeys, the kind that take you out of yourself and what you know, into landscapes that are vaster, altered, alien. To be made aware of how much we can change as we move through time and through worlds imagined and real, that for me is the gentle nudge the book gives.
Not everything that is still remains in place, and all that moving doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to get somewhere. But the journeying, sometimes, is all that matters.