Friday, October 1, 2010

Umnak, 8 January 1945

Rosita Conchita…

The boys were playing football in the area today, several of them felt a vernal urge and blossomed out in crew haircuts, and I went for a pair of long walks. The first walk was not really long. On my way to bed, I realized that with no assurance out current improbable weather will last it was a near crime not to take advantage of it. So I climbed the ridge.

It was quite beautiful. The sky overhead was clear except for a high burst of cirrus clouds. But over our neighboring island cumulus were massing and the sun, which was still low at tem am, slanted through holes in the cloud to make glittering patches on the brooding Bering. From the water to the snowline everything was brown: brown grass, brown rock, brown road, brown fox, khaki clad men. There are no flowers in bloom now, but there are occasional bursts of a hundred or more sparrows.

On the ridge I saw three caribou. There were a long way off, apparently working their way down from the hills with the snow. I did not try to get near them. The caribou, I believe, prefer tundra to grass and stay high as long as they are able to kick down through the snow to the creeping evergreen.

When I came back I started back to the hut to go to bed, but I ran into Godfrey, who was sunning himself and feeling good that his wife remembered his birthday with a telegram. We got to talking and pretty soon along came Brady Tookie Choate, whom I talked into going for another walk. Tookie had never seen the spring, so we walked there. ….

One the way back we cut across the field and came to several small pools which had frozen into thin sheets of ice which stood suspended across the dip of the pond. As the ice contracted it had shivered into broken patterns. Each pond looked like some magnified snowflake, or a blown-up section of window frost. I have never seen anything quite like it.

A while back I told you I have been trying to lead Tookie into the literary pastures by the back gate. I have been successful to a degree, at least. He has just finished Cain’s [James Cain: Career In C Major; The Embezzler; Double Endemnity ]three big ones and likes them, partially for the pornography of course as who doesn’t? Then I got him interested in Thurber by starting him on “Hell Only Breaks Loose Once” in The Middle Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze. It is a superb satire on the Cain style (“So I clipped her with a left hook. She went down like a two year old. It was like dying and going to heaven.” Or “I crossed with my right, but it hit her high and she didn’t go down.”) Now he has out of the library “Tortilla Flat” (He didn’t like the movie) and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” They will be the real test.

As I told you the thing I like best about Tookie is his complete and antisocial candor. We were talking about one of the fellows today, and I maintained that he was “the most completely average individual I ever met—believing in all the Sunday School platitudes, honoring all the clay-footed idols of our society, and placidly believing wealth makes for unhappiness and that everyone’s social duty is to work hard and get rich.” Tookie said “exceedingly average.” And then a hundred yards farther across the field he started to laugh. “We both say ‘average’” he said, “and we both know he’s a goddam idiot.”

Oh my darling, how I wish it had been you on the walk with me this afternoon. I felt very close to you as I roamed along the ridge in the morning. It was our sort of a day—cool and clear, with the grass snapping underfoot and just enough wind to carry the cool evergreen scent of the tundra.

M

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