When I saw Laura‘s description of this book on Good reads, “Quiet, beautiful, a heartbreaker.”, I knew I wanted to read it. I really can’t describe it any better than that. But, maybe I’ll elaborate…
Martha and James meet at a conference in Iceland in 1974, she as a journalist, he as an ecologist. Almost the entire book is made up of letters over the next 30 years of their lives. The letters are short and simple, but beautiful and able to convey everything there is to say without even saying it.
Like any other lichen, the cryptoendolith is a symbiotic colony formed by bacteria and algae, but this lichen is even more unusual: it lives inside rocks. Incredible how tenacious life can be in its efforts to carve out a niche for itself, even in the harshest terrain.
The story of Martha and James takes us through the joys and sorrows of life. There are gaps in the writing signalling the times in which one or both of the writers are deeply involved in their own lives, or the flow has been interrupted by life events.
It occurred to me after reading your last letter just now that the night Michael was born was the same night you saw the moonbow. So now you know what I was doing. I was too busy to be out skywatching, but I did discover a wonder. This baby is without a doubt the most amazing little-known fact I have ever encountered, though I think I am getting to know him a little better each day.
In most of their letters, they share with each other some little known fact or interesting tidbit they have picked up at some point in the past, or in between letters. They also share their beliefs and questions about the universe and the meaning of life. It is like they are living a life ‘on the side’ that is just as meaningful as the life they are concretely in.
We humans believe we are separate from other creatures, but we are what that first tiny spark of life eventually became… Life has suffered catastrophic losses during Earth’s history, but it has always carried on and flourished again, and found new forms… If conditions had been different, human beings might never have been. But here we are, one of the many filaments of that single thread that began so long ago. In all these unimaginable eons, through all the struggles against nature’s implacable forces, the thread of life has never been broken… This will sound strange, I suppose, but I take comfort and inspiration from that thought.
The whole feel of the book took me back to the days before computers and e-mail. The joy of getting a letter in the mail, and the anticipation of reading it and writing back.
Sometimes a person doesn’t really want certain things to change, even if they think they do.
I highly recommend this one if you are looking for a “quiet, beautiful, heartbreaking” read. I think I would like to have quoted whole chunks of the book to you, but you’ll just have to go read it yourselves.
… if you wait until something is a dead certainty, by that time it may just be dead.
After reading this book, I went to Thomas Wharton’s website and discovered a treasure trove of other books that are now on my list (and my daughter’s). Which ones sound good to you?