I have been reading up a storm, at least by standards of the past few years. The threat of losing vision has, as the hangman would expect, focused my mind sharply. Without realizing exactly what I was doing a few weeks ago, I stopped in at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and browsed around. I came out onto Main Street with two books in my hands: a new memoir written by Alan Greenspan, "The Age of Turbulence, Adventures in a New World" (The Penguin Press, New York) and "The Animal Dialogues, Uncommon Encounters in the Wild" by Craig Childs (Little Brown). Both turned out to be adventure books but each with a distinctively different flavor, notwithstanding the fact that each encompassed characteristics of courage, strength, excitement, tension, and fearful encounters. Apparently not focused entirely while leaving the bookstore, I walked a few blocks and stopped in at the Vineyard Haven Public Library and checked out a book on dog behavior and training by Dr. Nicholas Dodman, "Dogs Behaving Badly," (Bantam Books).
I steamed through the first quarter of Greenspan's 500-plus-page text and realized I was reading well above my intelligence quotient. Fiduciary, economic and financial, adjectives much in use on Wall Street, seemed to have different meanings to those of us living in the County of Dukes County. In any case, I was much the naïf pursuing the pages of this book. As Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and chairman of many important committees, Greenspan lived a tightly scheduled life and must have hoped on many evenings he would be able to sleep the night. Greenspan was certainly a genius and controversial, but his rich humanity struck me as he recollected early life, describing a studious nerd-like but likeable type who became a talented musician and jazz aficionado and, in full maturity, a romantic, as he met and courted "my beloved Andrea" (Mitchell), the well-known news reporter and analyst. His ability and coolness in facing up to some of the most distressing economic conditions of the 20th century and his ability to hold fast in face of harsh criticism were awe-inspiring. Undoubtedly his history is now being written and rewritten in light of developing events in the wake of his many crucial decisions in the tangled economic and financial spheres. His vision was always clear.
Dr. Dodman's book is meant to be a friendly guide to understanding dogs. He writes his advice that somewhat belies his book title, i.e., the words "behaving badly." At least it is what I'll tell my pal Ticker, the English Springer, at my side every morning for a vigorous walk around West Chop on the Vineyard. I cannot convince my wife to mount a campaign to convince women and others that dogs must sniff their encounters to discover what and whom they are greeting. The prejudice against this dog behavior is heavily engrained in our social consciences as anyone can observe upon the arrival of a visiting dog who greets each person with tail wagging and nose sniffing to get acquainted. The result often turns a quiet living room of calm and stolid folk into a scrambling mob headed for the nearest exit amid much barking and yelling from the host and hostess to stay DOWN, Ticker.
I really loved Craig Childs's book on uncommon encounters in the wild. He really means what he says. He has lived his life in the far west in the great mountain ranges of the United States. Mountains, deserts, canyons, arroyos, dry-washes, carved limestone pillars and great expanses of tundra, three-foot snow falls which blanket his tipi in winter storms, his stove stoked with juniper and the sometime face-to-face encounters with the likes of a mountain lion, a jaguar, even the lowly preying mantis and unusually vicious mosquito. To name a few, these are the regular denizens of his world. One of his touching stories tells the wherewithal of the stuff of his life in an enormous fir and leather full-length coat given to him by his grandfather with the big hands who at first told the young boy he was wasting his life camping out in a tipi in the wilderness. Childs wore the great coat as a skin, his identity as one who is tied to the wild, a man of nature extreme, comfortable in the heavy garment while grunting his way across the desolate land of his explorations. What he has brought to the pages of his book is an unglamorous and nearly unbelievable clarity to what he sees and hears in the wilderness. He makes a thin sister of any reader who hopes to achieve such a life as his. He can scramble over rasping grass and brush on his hands and knees in order not to show a human body to the wild creature he is following just for a picture, no, not even a picture to see but the wool of a mountain goat which he squeezes in his great fists and to savor the wooly smell and feel the warmth of a tuft of the stuff torn from thorns of a bush. If you would care to have the printed page come to full view television, of course, better a firsthand 360-degree view, of the wildness, which is in Idaho and Colorado and Arizona, take off your glasses and hear his words as they flow from the page. I have seen them and they have turned to find permanence in my visual brain and I am content.