My Antonia (Willa Cather)
– Kindle Loc. 218-27
I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
Feel that affection for a moment, a physical spot, one moment and one spot out of all of them under heaven. I want to read writers who love something, and Cather loves the prairie. We all learn in high school English that “the moor” is a character in Wuthering Heights, and what that means is that Bronte loves the moor. I found this same love in Pasternak, a love for the Russian countryside.
Have you ever been 200 pages into a novel and looked up to ask yourself if this writer even gives a hoot about anyone or any place in this world they’ve created? Why do you write if you don’t love? Maybe that is the essence of modernist fiction: a creator who is not a lover.