Anyway, these busy times seem to be good for my enjoyment of good books as well. A little time to chat about favorites with friends over a glass of wine, a little quiet time after the kids are in bed - whatever it takes.
I seem to be reading a string of books about priests in the wilds of the Americas lately. First Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory and I just finished Death Comes for the Archbishop yesterday. Now I'm already digging into John O'Brien's Saints of the American Wilderness, which is looking quite good (readable and with good scholarship from what I can see so far). I want to write more about The Power and the Glory later (so much to write about, so little time - and so much more I'd like to read), but for now I want to remember some of my impressions from Willa Cather's wonderful story about Bishop Jean Marie Latour, the first bishop of New Mexico.
Latour came to New Mexico in 1851. He arrived in his new diocese after nearly a year of travel - starting in Cincinnati, down the river to New Orleans, by boat to Galveston, across Texas to San Antonio and into New Mexico along the Rio Grande valley. At this time, a decade before the Civil War, the railroads ENDED at Cincinnati! His journey was filled with accidents and injuries and when he finally arrived in Santa Fe after all of these difficulties, the Mexican priests refused to recognize his authority!
Thus begins the long and interesting careers of Bishop Latour and his faithful friend Father Joseph Vaillant.
One thing that struck me about the book was the remarkable connection between the author and Bishop Latour in their love and appreciation of what is good and beautiful about this wild and untamed land and its native people. This gives the book a wonderful flavor and fullness that makes it unique and .... persuasive.
Here is a sample of this "flavor" that I so enjoyed...
In New Mexico he always awoke a young man; not until he rose and began to shave did he realize that he was growing older. His first consciousness was a sense of the light dry wind blowing in through the windows, with the fragrance of hot sun and sage-brush and sweet clover; a wind that made one's body feel light and one's heart cry "Today, today," like a child's.
Beautiful surroundings, the society of learned men, the charm of noble women, the graces of art, could not make up to him for the loss of those light-hearted mornings of the desert, for that wind that made one a boy again. He had noticed that this peculiar quality in the air of new countries vanished after they were tamed by man and made to bear harvests. Parts of Texas and Kansas that he had first known as open range had since been made into rich farming districts, and the air had quite lost that lightness, that dry aromatic odour. The moisture of plowed land, the heaviness of labour and growth and grain-bearing, utterly destroyed it; one could breathe that only on the bright edges of the world, on the great grass plains or the sage-brush desert.