The Age of Innocence

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and I am nestled under a down blanket. The Queenslander is cold. R would argue with me on this subject. Cold doesn’t mean to me what it once did. I attended college in a place where your eyelashes froze upon opening the door to your dorm. Yes, this isn’t that kind of cold. It’s a crisp 50′s kind of cold that reminds me to wear more than a nightgown to bed. Nevertheless, I feel the chill – and I love it.

I feared that the lack of seasons in Brisbane would depress me. I love the way the cool mornings burn off and cool nights set in at the outset of autumn. I love the crunch of snow under my feet and the glitter of a snowfield in the morning sun. I love the breeze-rippled lakes of summer. I love the feral emergence of spring from the mud. I feared the non-expression of these seasonalities would harm me in some way—make me hard and unobservant to the way life moves around me. But in their subtlety, the seasons here ask you to be a keener study. And so I notice the birds sleeping in, the spiders slowness to rebuild damaged webs, the passing of mango season into custard apple at the market.

Camping last weekend in Fraser Island, brought some new insights into the changed seasons. It was dingo mating season and we saw 7 of them while out walking after dark on the beaches trying to avoid stepping on the blue-bottle jellyfish and ducking the incoming surf. It was really incredible. Fraser Island is indeed an amazing place. We hiked sand dunes, drove 4WD everywhere, floated down clear streams to meet the ocean, swam in perched aquamarine lakes, saw snakes and ran on the beach at sunrise. Yet it felt overrun and the beauty inaccessible due to crowds. Or perhaps it is just not in our natures to swoon at the sight of 30 Land Rovers and a couple of airplanes parked at the trail head to see some natural phenomena. R and I prefer remoteness, it appears.

So, in answer to the crowds, we retreated to a quiet campsite, set ourselves up in beach chairs, and spent 2 days looking at the waves, snacking on cookies, and immersing ourselves in books.

I’m now suffering a tremendous book hangover. It seems to me that reality is ever so much harder to face after you’ve turned the last page in a good book and said your goodbyes. For me, this time, it was the Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. The last Edith Wharton book I read was Ethan Frome, back in high school at the behest of an evil English teacher. And though I detested the woman who brought her to me, I have to admit that I owe Ms. Bosley a great debt in introducing me to Edith Wharton. Even then, when everyone else was lamenting the pace and paucity of drama in it, I was eating up Ethan Frome – with its images of cold New England life. I can’t resist a novel that gives character to the setting on which it takes place.

Anyway, back to the Age of Innocence. I realize that, yes it is a classic and a winner of the Pulitzer. But yet, I still wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the story and its enduring relevance. I haven’t been able to sit in peace without thinking of it since finishing it. I find myself plotting ways to get to the library over my lunch to check out ALL of the remainder of the Edith Wharton books I have yet to read. I feel my heartstrings trying to shrink back to normalcy, but they have been so pulled out of whack by the story that they may not recover. At the very least, I reason that I should continue on my Edith Wharton bender now, while they’re all misshapen anyway. I’ll spare them the abuse of returning to size, only to be split and torn again.

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