My son, Brian Wallace Baker, a recent MFA graduate in creative non-fiction and poetry, wrote this kind post as a gift to me. I am deeply touched and grateful. Brian’s post:
As a writer, I think a lot about other writers, how some get big book deals, big prizes, and how even these writers aren’t household names. And it’s rare for a writer, no matter how popular, to be remembered beyond their generation. Thinking about this has made me realize that fame and success have little to do with being a good writer. There are so many good books out there, and more being written and published all the time, and most of them will have relatively small audiences. And that’s okay. I’ve learned that good writing has a lot more to do with changing hearts than it does with seeking fame and fortune.
Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road is one of those good books with a small audience. It has many profound things to say and good stories to tell, which is why my last book review of the year will be about this book.
My relationship to this book is different from most other books because I appear as one of the characters, and I know many of the people and events discussed in the book. Rabbit Lane is my dad’s memoir. It’s about his experience of moving to the small farming town of Erda, Utah, raising his kids there, and what he learned from the community and the landscape. The stories vary widely in subject matter from escaped cattle to encounters with skunks, from a sacred Native American sweat ceremony to giving a duckling CPR. There are also many poems and songs scattered throughout the book.
The main character of the book is not a person at all. It’s a narrow country road called Rabbit Lane, where my dad walked day after day, finding peace, poetry, and insight along the way. Throughout the book, Rabbit Lane changes from a dirt road lined by trees and irrigation water, teeming with muskrats and crayfish, to a poorly paved one-lane road lined with backyards. Despite its transformation, Rabbit Lane is still an important place for our family.
Rabbit Lane is a place of meditation and observation, and my dad’s book is filled with both. His meditations on life have been eye- and heart-opening for me. Here’s an example:
“In the quiet of Rabbit Lane, I often ponder the purpose of life. Has it occurred to me that the purpose of life may be simply to live? Not just to breathe and have a pulse, of course, but to live the best life we can every day, slogging through the sorrow and the suffering in exchange for hope and a greater measure of joy and contentment, seeking to attain our full potential, to find the best that is within us.”
One thing I love about this book is its many descriptions of the natural world I grew up in, such as this one:
“On many an evening I strained to discern the source of a soft, ghostly, reverberating sound moving over the farm fields. But I never found it. Explaining this mystery to Harvey one afternoon, he told me to look high into the sky whenever I heard the sound. There, I would see a small dot, the ventriloquistic snipe. Flying high, the snipe turns to dive and roll at breakneck speeds toward the ground. Wind rushing through its slightly open wings creates the haunting sound. The snipe throws the sound somehow from those heights to hover foggily over the fields.”
(Yes, no matter what you may have experienced or heard about Boy Scout snipe hunts, snipes are very real.)
Toward the end of the book is a passage that has left a deep impression on me:
“Brian, home from his first semester of college, announced happily he was going for a walk. He bounded away with enthusiasm. Weary from Christmas chaos, I nonetheless determined to venture forth. A walk down Rabbit Lane, at night, under the falling snow, is enchanting and not to be missed. Proceeding down Church Road toward Rabbit Lane, I followed Brian’s footprints. At the intersection, I saw that Brian’s tracks turned north onto Rabbit Lane. I felt contented to see that his spirit had chosen the path that I have so often taken. Now my boots followed his.”
I’ll always be following your boots, Dad, but you have taught me how to “venture forth” on my own, how to find beauty. Thank you for the gift of your book and the gift of showing me Rabbit Lane, not just the road but the sacred life that surrounds it. No matter where I go, I hope to walk the way you taught me to walk down Rabbit Lane, gently, respectfully, joyously.
(Photo by Brian Baker.)