Monday, December 28, 2015

"The Appalachians are slump-shouldered and low by alpine standards, dwarfed by the Rockies, mere hills next to the raw and knife-edged heights of the Andes or Alaska Range ... they've dwindled to their present size simply because they've had the time to ..." -- Earl Swift, The Tangierman's Lament.

In Europe and in South America, mountains divide. Cross a mountain in South America and although you might still hear the language of the conquistadors, you'll likely be in a different country. Cross a mountain range in Europe and you'll likely have not only a new country beneath your feet but a completely different language ringing in your ears.

Why not in what we call the United States of America? How did it happen that one nation and one language stretches from the Olympics of Washington State to the Appalachian foothills of Georgia? Was it the speed and intensity of settlement? Was it because it took place during a technological revolution, first with trains and then automobiles breaking down barriers of distance and difficulty?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Often the lone-dweller waits for favor,
mercy of the Measurer, though he unhappy
across the seaways long time must
stir with his hands the rime-cold sea,
tread exile tracks. Fate is established!"

Thus wrote the ancient Anglo-Saxon "wanderer," in words whose poignancy has never been equaled, of the pain of exile. Does it matter if it is voluntary or imposed?

Today I ponder Louis Adamic, a gifted 20th century writer who is not well known these days. Of Slovenian birth, 1899, he emigrated to the United States and threw himself with an immigrant's passion into his new land, becoming known for advocacy of the labor movement. But something must have pained him, some sense of the lost homeland. Two of his books, Native's Return and My Native Land, touched on the subject.

Perhaps that sense of never quite belonging in the new place, of being a stranger even among friends, fueled his founding of the Common Council for American Unity, a group aimed at strengthening ties of human brotherhood.

In one terse line of his entry in Collier's Encyclopedia, the end of his life is summed up: he died an apparent suicide, in 1951. The pain of exile triumphed, albeit in phyrric victory.

Rest in peace, Louis Adamic. You have returned to the homeland from which we never leave again.