Today, August 8th, marks the 110th anniversary of the birthday of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Yearling. Set in 1870 in the scrub country of North central Florida near Lake George, the story describes the waning of childhood and the entrance into adolescence by Jody Baxter with his pet fawn Flag. In 1941, three years after she won the prize, Marjorie Rawlings wrote about the premise for her novel:
"The book began many years ago, when I myself was a child, a little younger perhaps than Jody. I had the same love of animals and of the world of nature that Jody had, and it was passed on to me from the same source, a wise and kindly father. Out of my childhood I recall moments of pure magic, when some special loveliness laid its hand on my heart, never to leave it. I remember particularly a very special sort of April day, that day that I describe in the first chapter of The Yearling. I remember the delirious excitement that I felt. And at the height of my delight, a sadness came over me, and I understood suddenly that I should not always be a child, and that beyond this care-free moment life was waiting with its responsibilities."
On a sunny April day with the bees softly humming near the chinaberry tree by the front gate, Jody sets aside his hoeing of the corn in the hope of discovering a hive of "amber honey." He strolls down to a shallow spring, where the clear water bubbles up through the sand. Carefully trimming some twigs, Jody constructs a small palm-frond mill-wheel. He watched the flutter-mill indolently, sunk in the sand and the sunlight. The movement was hypnotic. His eyelids fluttered with the palm-leaf paddles. Drops of silver slipping from the wheel blurred together like the tail of a shooting star. The water made a sound like kittens lapping. A rain frog sang a moment and then was still. There was an instant when the boy hung at the edge of a high bank made of the soft fluff of broom-sage, and the rain frog and the starry dripping of the flutter-mill hung with him. Instead of falling over the edge, he sank into the softness. The blue, white-tufted sky closed over him. He slept.
Nature can be comforting and childhood can be idyllic, but the wilderness also challenges the survival of Jody and his parents, and against those struggles a boy learns about sacrifices and responsibility. In turning the pages of The Yearling, we can revisit our own childhood selves, where we were nurtured to face the challenges of maturity. On the anniversary of Marjorie Rawlings's birthday, we thank her for this gift of renewal.
Copyright 2006© Patrick Ryan
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Monday, 28-Aug-2006 14:32:46 EDT