In a luminous memoir of a life richly lived, one of America’s finest writers explores the themes that have shaped his life and work: the glories of the natural world, the lure of working for a circus and fighting forest fires, the afflictions of temporary blindness and blocked speech, and the enduring influence of literary friendships, including John Berryman’s, Edward Abbey’s, and his mentor, Archibald MacLeish.
From his childhood in rural Connecticut to some of the earth’s last remaining wildernesses, Hoagland has traveled the world wielding his unusual gift for observation. In Compass Points he delivers an honest and lively accounting of his voyages through two marriages; the New York parties he attended as a precocious young writer; Vermont hippiedom and academia; his many vivid sojourns into Europe, Alaska, British Columbia, the Sudan; and, perhaps most unforgettably, his stint in the “Animal Department” of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fifty years ago. Leavened with Hoagland’s trademark humor and insight, Compass Points is an entertaining and moving account of the days and nights of one of our most eminent literary voices.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: Compass Points|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group|
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Chapter OneIn the Country of the Blind
"The blind eat many a fly," says a fifteenth-century proverb-familiar as recently as sixty years ago, when I was small and blind people were still all over, tap-tapping with their white canes and saddled with dark glasses. The cane, if waved peremptorily, with any luck brought traffic to a halt, and its rhythmic tapping could part a stream of pedestrians and function for the blind person like a kind of radar besides. Power and pathos: because dark glasses were not then an emblem of celebrity or of a fashionable alienation, but of the saddest, sharpest handicap. Ostensibly making it harder to see, they signified instead that the person couldn't see and probably had a face so wooden or profoundly wounded by loneliness that he or she preferred to go incognito. Common problems such as cataracts or glaucoma were not often reversible, whereas today you need to fly to Third World outposts to encounter blindness on such a scale.
This phenomenon of adults who were helpless and pitiable, though in the prime of life, became one of the first moral puzzles children recognized. Old age they knew; jailbirds they knew about; real freaks-like the "waterhead" whom I once visited, painfully imprisoned in an easy chair in a dark cottage, his head bloated to double size-they might also have some vague acquaintance with. But the blind were ordinary folk, innocent of any crime or grotesquerie, of no specific age, who lived in crabby or long-suffering perpetual night. A mean individual I knew used to snicker when he told me how he had snuck into a blind man's house when he was a boy (having watched him leave for his...