Kathleen Dean Moore is one of my favorite nature writers. For a long time this was hinging completely on the one essay I had read by her: “Refrigerator Fungus.” The essay was just that good. Then I stumbled on an entire book she wrote and decided to bring it to Paris, just in case I needed a dose of Pacific Northwest nature in the City of Lights and Pavement. I started reading it today, down at the Paris Plages.
I should tell you about the Paris Plages. Maybe you have been to Paris, and you know that the walkway along the Seine usually looks like this:
Well, right now, it looks like this. That’s right, they’ve carted in a bunch of nice, fine sand, beach umbrellas, striped beach cushions, a pirate ship playground, a bunch of ice cream-and-beer stands, toilets, and some palm trees. And the place is packed. Music, naked children, picnickers, dogs, sunbathers — it has everything you could want in a beach except for swimming. Some people I know think it is cheesy and artificial, but you know what? Civilization is artificial. I mean, everything about Paris was made, so why not make something awesome like a beach?
Anyways, so there I am on the beach in the middle of Paris, reading Kathleen Dean Moore’s Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature, while scoping out the scene through my rockstar shades. And the book is awesome, even if it does feel like writing that must be called nature writing, meaning it feels like it’s part of one long circular conversation around an isolated campfire by a group of people who all know what each other are going to say, which is basically this: lots of sharp, particular description of the natural world, some deep human ruminations, and too many sloppy, vaguely Mary Oliveresque phrases. Like “The Solace of Nature,” for example. And don’t get me wrong, I love Mary Oliver and nature and ruminations on humanity, but I studied this shit for a long, long time, and like the Delmore Brothers, sometimes it seems to be on repeat.
But back to the book: sometime after the one where she imagines what it would be like if we could understand air through our brains like snakes can (hint: it would be awesome), she has this lovely essay about a year when she wrote down every time she was really, really happy, and put the slips of paper in a basket to examine later for life-data. Which is a really cool idea, and the slips she shares in the essay are beautiful. I want to try it. But the thing is, I think I might be happier than Kathleen Dean Moore.
This is what I have so far today:
When the old woman with the word search sat on my bench in the park with the fountain of roses and talked to me, and kept talking to me even though I’m pretty sure it was clear I didn’t understand too much of what she was saying, and I wrote so much and the sprinkler made the air smell like water.
When I got a great email from someone I like, (Hi Nate), and every time I reread the email today.
When I thought about reading something I wrote at this lit thing in Paris.
When I felt the pure exultation of pedaling a bike through Paris. (This was, I should say, mixed with big chunks of terror.)
When I was people watching on the Plages, and being a rockstar in my sunglasses.
When I was window shopping in all the schmancy boutiques and French underwear stores in the stone streets as the sun was going down and everyone seemed to be out being happy.
When I was caramelizing onions and rolling out pastry dough with a wine bottle for a quiche (still baking) and new, free music was playing by the Dust Busters, who are a really cool little old-time group, and the light in the apartment was golden.
No offense, KDM, but that’s like a month of happy in your essay. And I haven’t even eaten my quiche. Maybe I’m not being as selective. Maybe today’s results are skewed by sunshine and emails and Paris itself. Maybe the happiness two people feel is incomparable. I guess what I’m saying is that I would need a big Happy Basket. I bet, too, if we did Sad Baskets I’d need a big one of those, as well. I cried, for instance, reading things on your happy slips….
Thank God for rockstar shades.