Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Thoughts - Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life by Karen Babine

Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life by Karen Babine
published 2015
240 pages

Synopsis -

In essays that travel from the wildness of Lake Superior to the order of an apple orchard, Babine traces an ethic of place, a way to understand the essence of inhabiting a place deeply rooted in personal stories. She takes us from moments of reflection, through the pages of her Minnesota family’s history, to the drama of the land and the shaping of the earth. From the Mississippi’s Headwaters in Itasca State Park—its name from veritas caput, or “true head”—she explores the desire that drives the idea of the North. The bite of a Honeycrisp apple grown in Ohio returns her to her origin in Minnesota and to pie-making lessons in her Gram’s kitchen. In the Deadwood, South Dakota, of her great-great-grandfather, briefly police chief; in the translation of her ancestors from Swedish to Minnesotan; on the outer edge of the New Madrid Fault in Nebraska; through the flatlands along I-90; at the foot of Mount St. Helens: Babine pursues what the Irish call dinnseanchas, place-lore. How, she asks, does land determine what kind of people grow in that soil? And through it all runs water, carrying a birch bark canoe with a bullet hole and a bloodstain, roaring over the Edmund Fitzgerald, flooding the Red River Valley, carving the glaciated land along with historical memory.

As she searches out the stories that water has written upon human consciousness, Babine reveals again and again what their poignancy tells us about our place and what it means to be here.

My thoughts -

I picked this book up because the author is a friend of a friend. I didn't know much about it - just that my friend Carolyn told me I'd enjoy it. She was right.

The author explores the effects that place can have on a person's development - the way the land, the water, the home that we return to impacts the way we see the world. As a concept, I would have found this interesting, and her writing compelling, enough to keep me engaged until the end.

But, then there's the kicker - this place of the author's is also MY place. The small Minnesota towns she writes about are the towns of my ancestors - the towns we returned to every summer, and still return to as a family, each year, even though our ancestors are no longer with us. Reading her thoughts about these SPECIFIC places made this book heart-stirring for me in ways that I didn't expect.

Standout essays for me include Roald Amundsen's Teeth, which talks about the idea of The North as a choice, a place people seek out as an escape; The River - 1997, about the flood of the Red River Valley; Grain Elevator Skyline, which had my favorite sentence of the whole book - "The homeplace is where you go to be reminded of what you know."; I-90, about road trips, and soundtracks, and the highways that become part of your heart.

I expect I will read this book many times, sometimes in its entirety, but more often in pieces. It feels comforting and embracing - for me, it feels like home.

Finished - 11/13/16
Source - my shelves
MPAA Rating - PG, less for adult content than adult musings
My rating - 4/5

1 comment:

Carolynn said...

Can I put in a request to be on the pass-around list after all my aunts? :)