ISBN ### A Pilot's Poetic Prose

ISBN 0-86547-118-5

It's been a couple months since I finished Beryl Markham's memoir "West With the Night." My lingering impression is that the commonly-articulated summary of the plot is inaccurate, but the writing is so lyrically stunning that this inaccuracy doesn't matter. I was led to believe that I would be reading the 1936 flight logs turned memoir of the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean (east to west). From the text, "A number of pilots have flown the North Atlantic, west to east. Only Jim Mollison had done it alone the other way - from Ireland. Nobody has done it alone from England - man or woman." It was more a series of childhood vignettes.

Beryl was born in England in 1902 and her father took her to East Africa in 1906. She was a woman well ahead of her time and in ultimate control of her own destiny. I kept waiting for the crescendo clarion calling to fiercely independent women the world over......! Well, there are perhaps three chapters in twenty-four that deal with Markham's piloting adventures, the rest are snippets of memory dealing with her life in Africa, vaguely referenced love affairs, her pilot friends and their ruminations on the British Empire, etc..

Ernest Hemingway (one in a long line of lovers - a story not told by Beryl but one I'm very interested in researching) commented, "She has written so well and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. She can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers." Whether you enjoy Hemingway's writing or not, we can all agree that humble he was not. For him to pay such a compliment to another's writing (and that of a woman) is enough said.

I figure the best way to navigate this ISBN### post is to share sound bites that I found moving (the anecdotes themselves are something you can research if her life interests you).

Particularly beautiful to me considering my motivations for beginning this blog: "How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'This is the place to start; there can be no other.' But there are a hundred places to start. [...] After all, I am no weaver. Weavers create. This is remembrance - revisitation; and names are keys that open corridors no longer fresh in the mind, but nonetheless familiar in the heart."

"There was no opiate for nostalgia, or at least no lasting cure."

"There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. It's voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so, for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo."

"I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesterdays are buried deep - leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe than an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. the cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late." I can still smell the read leather of our journal and I, too, learned it late. I can, however, attest that the cloud does in fact clear as you enter it.

"I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know - that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it."

"You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. [...] The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animals sounds, not to have crossed continents - each man to see what the other looked like. [...] Such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger."

"It was not like a herd of cattle or of sheep, because it was wild and carried with it the stamp of wilderness and the freedom of a land still more a possession of Nature than of men. To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told - that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks."

Green is Sexy

Hey Philadelphia, say cheese!