Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Deer In The Wood

We finished reading Little House In the Big Woods to Abby last night. Cathy and I have been taking turns over the last month reading a chapter or two each night to her before bedtime. We were riveted by tales of spooky panthers chasing grandpa through the darkest woods; of the explosive moment where Laura slaps her sister Mary because Mary insists her hair is prettier; and the delicious scene where Pa returns home from an outing to collect honey, pretending he hasn't had much success, only to surprise Ma with buckets and buckets of the stuff!

I had forgotten, in the 25 or so years since I first read it, the wide-eyed cinematic splendor of the books final chapter, The Deer in the Wood. You might remember? Pa lays a deer-lick trap in the forest and spends a crisp autumn night camped out in a tree with his gun. He's going to bring his family fresh venison and whatnot, whatever unfortunate critter comes sniffing and licking about long enough so as Pa can put in a good shot.

But Pa goes and completely forgets the reason he's there: to bring his family fresh meat! We know from previous chapters that Pa doesn't waste any time when it comes to providing his family with their fill of meat. He's a fierce customer, a frontiersman providing for his family, and a damn good shot.

But Pa is instead overcome by waves of fellow-feeling for nature and its noble creatures. He can't bring himself to shoot a single one of the animals that falls prey to his mighty deer-lick. He ends up having this wonderfully becalmed transcendentalist moment as cozy as the accompanying Garth Williams illustration. It's a lovely piece of writing.

Though what really makes the final chapter sing isn't Pa and his inner-Emerson at all. It's Wilder herself, describing the moment she first awoke to the present, announcing "now is now. It can never be a long time ago." Its a firework of a line, the surprise of Laura awakening to the sweet, irreplaceable now of things. Like Pa, she's overcome by the moment, of the pause before the past is past and the future beckons. I need to check this book out!