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Reaching For What We Most Admire: Rachel Toor And Wallace Stevens

"The man I fall for can be hard to reach," writes author and creative writing professor, Rachel Toor. "When he goes out, he goes far. He fills his bottles, stows food he’s prepared, some of which he’s killed and cured, makes sure his skis are waxed, bike tires filled, boat leaks plugged. He brings extra batteries, toilet paper, and some weed. Some of his clothes and gear, worn but trusted, have outlasted his dogs. He always has a dog, named Rio, or Bridger, or Finn, usually a Lab.He will have mapped his journey, but he’s keen to find new trails, more jagged peaks, loftier snowfields. When he drives he scans the landscape, always looking. He will bring a book, but read only a few pages before he falls asleep, his body trained after long years to take rest when it can.

He will come back shaggy and animated. He’ll provide a highlight reel—a cougar sighting; an epic run above the tree line; an encounter with an eddy, a hole, a drop; the loss of a tent pole and the clever use of a line of rope; an unexpected patch of huckleberries that were so ripe, so sweet. He will account for no more than a tick of the time he was gone. About the many hours of solitude and wilderness he will say only that it was great.

When we meet he likes that I am small and fit and fierce. He teaches me to sleep outdoors and wash in mountain streams, to sniff the bark of Ponderosa pine. Vanilla. Butterscotch. He encourages me to ski in front and lay tracks, run ahead and then back, covering the miles I’d missed when I was younger and only bookish and lived in the East.

After a dozen years in the West I have learned to pitch a tent, carry water, and strike out into a landscape that makes me stop and swallow. I scramble up scree fields and down drainages. Now, I go with my dog into the wilderness, unafraid and hopeful.

I can be hard to reach."

Toor pairs her reflection with a poem by Wallace Stevens, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1955 at the age of 75, just a few months before his death. Stevens was socially awkward, prone to depression, and wrote poetry as he walked to his office at Hartford Insurance. He also broke his hand punching out Ernest Hemingway in 1936. Like Toor, Stevens examines the idea that who we desire is often a reflection of the person we want to be.

Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

 Not less because in purple I descended
 The western day through what you called
 The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

 What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
 What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
 What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

 Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
 And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
 I was myself the compass of that sea:

 I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
 Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
 And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 9/7/16 and 3/15/17. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)

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