I knew not the existence of Raintree County until reading a weekly article by Steven Grutzmacher in the Peninsula Pulse last summer. The gist of the article was a response to a customer asking Steve what he thought the best book he ever read was. His reply to that question was Raintree County, and given Steve’s lifelong devotion to reading and writing and books, I did not take his reply lightly. I immediately whipped out my iphone, opened my amazon app and purchased a digital copy for no other reason than it was the past of least resistance; and I felt the intense need to read immediately.
The book is over 1000 pages in length, which I did not initially appreciate due to its being a digital copy, and only surmised its length after noticing that I was at 1% (in the lower corner of my Kindle) for longer than usual. I also made the mistake of a forgetful thumb on the right side of the screen due to a momentary lapse of attention and inadvertently jumped forward about a hundred pages, not realizing my error for 40-50 page, a day or so later, after encountering some inconsistencies and correlating them to my 15% completion percentage, which I knew to be impossible.
I started over, and enjoyed rereading the first section as much as I did a couple of days earlier. I read the book in 20 minute to 1-2 hour blocks, a day or several apart (due to work constraints), completing about 45% before leaving on a long weekend trip to the Bahamas where I finished it on a balcony, five stories up, overlooking the windward side of Paradise Island, which I found especially poignant given the significance of Paradise Lake in Raintree County.
As one with aspersions for writing significantly, someday, perhaps in another life or alternate universe even, I found Raintree County discouraging due to the reality that I could never write at a level approaching the bare foothills of the mountains that are Ross Lockridge Jr.’s genius. The book spans fifty years in the life of Johnny Shawnessy, narrated in a series of sequential flashbacks within the course of one day, the 4th of July, 1892. It straddles the Civil War, in which Johnny eventually participates in after Gettysburg. It is written in parts from the viewpoint of Johnny as a small boy, his young daughter, his second wife; and there are several “epic fragments” of assorted writers of rustic dialects reminiscent of Mark Twain.
Raintree County is, at the root, a love story, and a philosophy of the meaning of life. It is a grand opus which blew me away with its scope and ambition. Every time I read it, and I do mean in every chapter, if not on every page, I found myself stopping and rereading sentences, pages, paragraphs not because I didn’t understand them but because I found myself enchanted with what Lockridge was saying and how he was saying it. It thought it a mixture of poetry and prose, like a more modern Shakespeare. There are obvious literary references, and you can tell these having had an influence on Lockridge, and as an English major myself, I appreciated these and this.
This is the view in front of me as I read of Johnny marching in Washington after the war, and hours later, after the sudden darkness from the sun dropping below the rim of the ocean, I read of Johnny pulling into the train station in Freehaven and finishing his long way home past the graveyard, approaching the half-buried boulder at the edge of the home place. Sue and Jessie were behind me, in the room and I was glad for the solitude of the balcony, and the darkness as the sharp black edges of the words melted into the screen/page.
I had to be physically extracted from the book for dinner downstairs in some restaurant that required me to wear slacks for some ridiculous reason, especially when half the women there barely had there nether regions covered, and I think my legs were likely more attractive (hair and all) than at least a few of them others there. I was finally able to finish the book before retiring that night.
Ross Lockridge Jr. committed suicide a year or so after writing his book of seven years effort in the writing. He had four children I believe. His son, Larry, wrote a book Shades of Raintree County, that addresses his father’s life and I’ll probably read that one of these days.
It is said that he suffered from depression and I can’t help wonder if the sheer magnificence and completeness of Raintree County was such that Ross couldn’t ever imagine writing something more complete, ever. I don’t know. It was difficult for me to reconcile that with Johnny Shawnessy, who was Lockridge, at least in my mind.
As much as I wanted to finish it, I was saddened by it’s end, and especially after diving immediately into my next vacation read, which was so disappointingly average; but, I knew that it would be so for how could it not. Raintree County is almost like a religion. It is a belief system, and a story of love and passion, written with an eroticism that transcends today’s sweaty purple prose.
Today, I added the paver-lock sand, which is pretty much magic as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure there must be a use for it in the OR if I just think hard enough. And I was right about the river rock around the cobblestone, I don’t think the granite would have looked proper.
I am now ready for winter and all is done, mainly. I only fell down once, in the rain garden, when I twisted my ankle on a rock while levering the 20′ ladder against the roof to put up the heat tape in the roof valley’s. Awesome view up there, but a little scary in a precarious sort of way. I’d much rather stumble on the ground than on the roof.
Time for something new now, and it has to do with warmth, interior environments, and mental stimulation, as opposed to the physical stimulation of hard labor that has so occupied these past three months during my back-breaking work of staggering genius.
Time for me to poke the monster in the eye.
I feel like John Merrick of The Elephant Man as he places the last piece on his puzzle of St. Phillip’s; “It is done.” Fadeout.
Although, when I saw The Elephant Man a few years ago, played brilliantly by Joe Faust, the script was modified slightly from the original English text: “It is done; and so am I.” Then John/Joe lay down and quietly died from asphyxiation. Conversely, I still breath easy, effortlessly even; nonetheless, I have this sense of completeness to the point, as happens from time to time at the completion of a major task or operation, of wondering if this was the meaning of my life, my special purpose as it were, and all that follows is rather anticlimactic, a lame-duck life remaining. I hope not. I guess the morrow will tell if I awake.
I’m ready for something different.
It is nearly done, excepting the installation of the cobblestone circle (which was delivered yesterday) and about 10-50lb. bags of black granite, which is what you see immediately above. I have also an edge of exposed concrete block I need to cover somehow.
The image above is the entry to the garden on a slope; except, is it really a garden (in the traditional sense) any longer given the paucity of dirt and plenitudinous of stone. Ask me if I care.
No. I don’t. I like it, and I will have yet another place to sit and rest, and do little other than contemplate my surroundings, or transcendentivly meditate myself into a state of nothingness when I actually have the time to do such things. It does happen to be the case that I have an awesome wireless signal in the center of the future cobblestone circle, which I’m beginning to consider as my own personal Stonehenge, and I’m thinking that the psychic energy is such that it might be a great place to work on my laptop, on my novel, on consecutive evenings darknesses, broken by the muted glow of thirteen low-voltage lights, each powered by green-friendly 3-watt LED bulbs.
Although the stairs are incredibly level and stable, I’ve still managed to stumble both up and down them for some reason or another. Probably because of not paying attention, looking for a roll of electrical tape or wire cutters or something else desperately in need of, apparently whisked away by one of those little borrowers of childhood fiction just now remembered.
The black granite in the beds is nice, but dirty. It’s only black now because it was raining; when dry, its gray; but if I clean an individual stone of its accumulated dust, it is black. Maybe I’ll take a power washer to it next spring, although that’s uncomfortably close to “maintenance.”
By the end of next weekend, it will be done, if God wills it.
If you were to ask me, now, why I did this I could give you no good answer other than because it was there, and because I could. Sure, it looks nice; stunning even, if for no other reason than the sheer volume of effort the result represents; and it’s still not done. But, Merciful God on High, it is close. I’m finding it hard to resist planting plant media in the various areas I initially intended for rock, insofar as my plan of a maintenance-free dry (Japanese) garden. The original argument included the inconvenience of caring for the flowers on an awkward hill with unstable stepping stones, randomly placed and poorly dug into the ground, that would shift and slide, placing the gardener at risk of fracturing a hip or suffering blunt head trauma from impacting one of the aforementioned stones. However, now with the convenience of 8 steps at regular intervals as much a part of mother earth as, say, the Grand Teton (currently closed), accessing the various planting beds would be as simple as dropping to a foam knee-pad on a stable stone ledge and taking care of business. Hmmm…we’ll see what the boss says.
I planted a Twisty Baby Locust tree yesterday at the top of the hill. On the right are fabric covered sections awaiting black stone, and a few pots. The small green plant on the right, at the top, is a green-seedless grape vine that I’m going to grow along the lattice.
I’ve placed 12 low-voltage lights here and there, and should have got conduit larger than half-inch. I managed to make it work, but only after smashing the knuckles of my right hand against a stone when the fish pulled free of the wires (secured with electrical tape per instructions–obviously not secure enough).
From the bottom, looking up. The joints are mostly mortared, but I have some dry stacked too, and everything is surprising level.
Diamond blades last a long time. I never changed my first one, and I bought at least five. I should have plenty for my next endeavor in the spring which will require much more cutting of stone. I should finish up in one more uninterrupted weekend, as soon as I get my cobblestone circle delivered by Bissen.
Had I the intellect, or at least the common sense to more accurately foresee what lay in front of me before I started, I doubt I’d have begun. Rather; I’d have said, “Look, Honey, it’s not so bad. I’ll have those weeds pulled in a jiffy; and this fall, I’ll happily cut everything down with my machete; and next spring,” with a song in my heart I’m sure, “I’ll thin, and transplant, and mulch the garden on a slope between a fence and a waterfall.”