Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Joseph Wood Krutch: November 25, 1893--May 22, 1970

Joseph Wood Krutch, along with Loren Eiseley and Konrad Lorenz, had a profound effect on my way of thinking. Through them, I learned to appreciate the benefits of reading essays. Up to that time, I had focused primarily on fiction, but they taught me the value of reading directly the thoughts of others. I guess credit should also go to the old and now sadly defunct Time Reading Program, for it was through it that I first encountered Eiseley, Krutch, and Lorenz.

Moreover, they taught me that humans were not alone here and were not the sole owners of Earth. There were and are others here, many of whom also have a claim upon this planet and their own right to be able to live out their lives .

I moved out to Tucson in 1968 and found that Krutch had written several of works about the southwestern desert country. In one of them, I discovered that Krutch had left the east coast and was now living in Tucson. I grabbed a telephone book and found a listing for him. I drove by the house which was set far back off the road in one of the few undeveloped areas near the Tucson Medical Center. It was a huge plot, acres maybe, and except for a dirt road, still much as it had been before "civilization" arrived. I wondered if he owned it all and had kept it undeveloped.

I decided to write him and let him know how much I had enjoyed reading his books. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to write, I read a newspaper account of his death. I felt that I had missed an opportunity, but not exactly sure for what.

The undeveloped area surrounding his house is now built up, and to be honest, I no longer am exactly sure of its exact location any more. It now looks just like any other urbanized area on that street.

Joseph Wood Krutch's works are numerous and range from scholarly works on Samuel Richardson, Miguel de Cervantes, and Boccaccio to Proust. He also has a number of essays on a variety of subjects: Darwinism, behavioral psychology, determinism, Freudian psychology, contemporary views of humanity, any topic in fact which impinges upon what he sees as the human condition today. He has a number of works about the desert southwest and his various experiences there, some laughable, some serious, but all interesting. A good place to start would be a fine collection titled The Best Nature Writing of Joseph Wood Krutch, which includes a selection of essays from his other works.

Some excerpts from the above mentioned collection:

On Autumn

Krutch, prior to moving to Tucson, lived on the East Coast, and some of his finest writings about nature relate to that period. The excerpt below is from that period.

"One day the first prematurely senile leaf will quietly detach itself in a faint breeze and flutter silently to the ground. All through the summer an occasional unnoticed, unregretted leaf has fallen from time to time. But not as this one falls. There is something quietly ominous about the way in which it gives up the ghost, without a struggle, almost with an air of relief. Others will follow, faster, and faster. Soon the ground will be covered, though many of the stubborner trees are still clothed. Then one night a wind, a little harder than usual, and carrying perhaps the drops of a cold rain, will come. We shall awake in the morning to see that the show is over. The trees are naked; bare, ruined choirs, stark against the sky."

What follows is an expression of Krutch's attitude towards those who admire autumn. I must admit I'm one of those whom Krutch considers a bit perverse in my thinking.

"To me there always seems to be something perverse about those country dwellers who like the autumn best. Their hearts, I feel, are not in the right place. They must be among those who see Nature merely as a spectacle or a picture, not among those who share her own own moods. Spring is the time for exuberance, autumn for melancholy and regret. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Yes, of course, it is that too. But promise, not fulfillment, is what lifts the heart. Autumn is no less fulfillment than it is also the beginning of the inevitable end.

No doubt the colors of autumn are as gorgeous in their own way as any of spring. Looked at merely as color, looked with the eye of that kind of painter to whom only color and design are important, I suppose they are beautiful and nothing more. But looked at as outward and visible signs, as an expression of what is going on in the world of living things, they produce another effect.

'No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face'--so wrote John Donne in compliment to an old lady. But Donne was enamored of death. Send not to know for whom the leaf falls, it falls for thee."

Along with the above cited work, I recommend the following.

The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country--twelve essays which begin with Spring, of course.

The Desert Year--essays on the yearly cycle of living in the desert.

The Grand Canyon--essays

If You Don't Mind My Saying So--a quote from The Saturday Review-- these essays "add up to an irreverent commentary on muddied thinking in our time." It is a book "not to please mankind, but to vex it."

And to tell the truth, Krutch has vexed me at various times.

Overall Rating: sitting down and opening up one of Joseph Wood Krutch's works is an adventure. Try it some time.

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