You can’t mistake Wild Delicate Seconds for generic nature writing. The Western Toad is described very unconventionally: “It has a slender white line running down its spine, halving it into two meaty sides.” The bison is described in an equally raw way: “shoulders tapering down to ridiculously small hips, hips as delicate and fragile, or so they seemed, as the hip bones of Christ.”
Make you a little uncomfortable? Yes.
Not the way you wrote about your nature experiences in your journaling class? Exactly.
Author Charles Finn, editor of the literary and art magazine High Desert Journal, didn’t set out to write typical ruminations. In fact, in his brief prologue, he makes the point that he didn’t include natural history or specific location, or even the circumstances under which he meets these creatures. These encounters with black bears, bumble bees, red fox, pygmy owl, trumpeter swans and other animals of the Pacific Northwest are his personal encounters.
Ever try to draw a tree from memory, and then go out and draw a particular tree? You’d be surprised by how the particulars make the picture so much better.
Finn goes beyond being the observer who sees himself as separate from nature. For instance, picking up a hitchhiker, “a Blackfeet man by the name of Tony Cutfinger” isn’t a tangent to the story of snowy owls who “swivel their hunters heads” and “blink their telescoping eyes.” And you get why there’s a connection by the end of the essay.
If you’ve been paying attention to Western nature writing you might recognized a few of these 29 micro-essays from Big Sky Journal or Montana Magazine. They seem even more powerful together in one animal kingdom. Finn is good with philosophy here, too. Over-used metaphors about grains of sand in the hourglass are almost too much. Fortunately, just when it starts to get a little too cheesy, Finn cuts back to the animal at hand: Sandhill cranes peddling their wings...beyond them the horizon stretched for miles, the the air above milk blue.” And then he ends with copper light filling the cab of his truck, and “another day had slipped by.” Aha! See what he’s doing there? This is where the sands of time creep back in with exacting, unforced sorrow. I love that. Finn manages, in incredible brevity, to give us enchanting—even, helpful—insight into wild animals, and into good nature writing, as well.
WHAT: A reading of Wild Delicate Seconds
WHO: author Charles Finn
WHERE: Fact & Fiction
WHEN: Tonight at 7 PM
HOW MUCH: Free