Sarah Juniper Rabkin opens What I Learned at Bug Camp: Essays on Finding a Home in the World with these words in her introductory piece, “Notes from the Trail”:
“What usually motivates me to start writing is the desire to move through some new stretch of emotional, intellectual, ethical country: to discover the inhabitants of this landscape, feel its breezes, take in the view from its heights. … If it’s country worth exploring in an essay and if I’m writing honestly, then eventually the trail winds up at the lip of a gorge–and then another and another. These are junctures where I’m forced to face the limits of my understanding, to explore beyond habitual platitudes and into the unknown.”
Rabkin delivers on that promise. Each essay in this wide-ranging volume takes readers to the lip of a gorge, and then to another, carried on Rabkin’s lucid and thoughtful prose as she tests the edges of her knowing. In the title essay, “What I Learned at Bug Camp,” Rabkin traverses several metaphorical obstacles in her weeks of learning entomology at summer field camp–mostly loving the whole experience–before concluding:
“… In spite of my science envy, I am not likely to become a science researcher. Not in this lifetime. For better or worse, I apprehend the world most readily and most keenly through the eyes of an artist, writer, a dreamer. And I can’t help feeling that, like good science, these ways of knowing also contribute something essential to healing a tattered Earth.”
In Rabkin’s hands, they do. As she walks readers through essays on the perils of eating mushrooms, seeing eco-erotics, why we need the unexpected, cosmetic surgery in our cosmetic culture (yes, she has personal experience), growing up in “integrated” Berkeley, music therapy, teaching, and life in a world of scarcity, Rabkin’s rambles yield surprising insights. She turns topics that seem timeworn into fascinating ruminations on life and how we live it, on the nature of humanity itself.
Although the title and cover illustration might discourage bug-phobic readers, don’t be daunted. What I Learned at Bug Camp is a book worth picking up and savoring, again and again.
On a personal note: Richard is solidly in chemo-fatigue, a tough place to live. But he’s determined to muster the energy to travel to Arkansas for a visit with his 94-year-old mother, and his sister and family. Because we have to fit the trip in before his next treatments (a brain MRI and blood work next Tuesday, and his infusion on Thursday), it’ll be a short visit: we’ll leave here day-after-tomorrow, arrive in Arkansas on Friday evening and depart Monday morning, headed directly for Denver and the VA Hospital.
For those who know their geography, Arkansas lies across the entire width of the southern Great Plains from where we live in south-central Colorado. Which means we’ll make a thousand-mile drive on Thursday and Friday, and then drive 1,200 miles Monday and Tuesday, plus our usual 135-mile-commute home over the mountains Thursday afternoon. A lot of miles, in hot weather. (It’s supposed to top 100 degrees on the Oklahoma Panhandle, where we’ll stop for the night on the way to Arkansas.) Good thing our trusty Subaru is easy on gas and has good air-conditioning.
Still, the drive will give us plenty of time to hold hands, talk now and then, and just relax into restful and ruminative quiet as we watch the expanse of the Great Plains roll by.
With any luck, we’ll get to see the moon rise as we did tonight, only on the drive, it’ll be edging over the level horizon of the Plains instead of the horizontal haze of forest fire smoke in our mountain valley, as in the photo below, shot from our bedroom patio just a bit ago. Life’s full of such beauty and small graces, if we just remember to pay attention and keep an open heart…