I finished my favorite book of February on the penultimate day of the month. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska, by Heather Lende, is a lovely blend of nature, musing, philosophy, spirituality, and small-town pragmatism.
It’s a good primer on small-town living, and it’s also a decent introduction to Alaska (though I am admittedly much more of an expert on the former than the latter, having grown up in a small town and visited Alaska only once, and on a cruise at that).
A blurb on the front cover calls Lende’s book part Annie Dillard and part Anne Lamott (I found that quite appealing as I like Lamott and love Dillard). By the time I got to the end of the book, I certainly understood the references to Dillard and Lamott, but Lende also brings her own chemistry into the mix.
The passage that first grabbed my heart was her conversation (did I mention the book feels like a conversation?) about furnishing their house in Alaska. Both she and her husband “like to be surrounded by old things that wouldn’t pass as antiques and aren’t valuable to anyone except us.” She mentions her grandfather’s rolltop desk, a worn Oriental rug from her mother-in law’s house, a crystal pitcher that came from Norway with the first Lendes.
I put the book down and looked around me, and the sentiment resounded: I was sitting at the small blue table that held my chemistry set when I was 12. Behind me is my aunt’s copy of The Joy of Cooking. Our everyday dishes include three of my grandmother’s everyday dishes (there were four but I recently broke one) and several plates that somehow made it through my entire childhood. I have my grandmother’s cedar chest, and a beautiful blond buffet that belonged to my dad’s sister. (I call it beautiful possibly because it’s so functional, with three good-sized drawers and a little side door with shelves.) I have a fine old library desk left in my care by a dear friend more than 25 years ago (along with a good wooden plant stand, which holds a fern of my mother’s, in a pot that I think she might have found when she moved into the house I grew up in). And I have hardly started. I walk through my house and feel surrounded by love.
Much of what I enjoyed so much about If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name is that the author and I share some common values and interests, as noted above, and also with nature. At one point in the book, she is at a funeral, and during the talking she looked through the open door at
two eagles circling in the warm breeze high above the water. Although I’ve seen thousands, the sight of an eagle in flight still moves me in a way I can’t explain. It’s like a prayer.”
I know exactly what she means. I see eagles often, and while I haven’t seen thousands, I’ve seen hundreds (close to the Mississippi, after all), but they never get boring. Always I pause, and watch. In reverence or awe, I’m not sure. As the funeral continues, Lende, pondering eagles and spirits and mountains, wonders,
Do we feel God’s presence because we are looking for him, or do we feel it because he is looking for us?”
You see, this is the thing. She leads us down some roads. I went down a road of gratitude, and I went down a road of awe, and I went down a road of resolve. I resolve to appreciate what I have just a little bit more, and I resolve to try harder to see and understand the other person’s point of view.
There were many things I loved in this book, but these rose to the top. I expect other people will take away different things. But one thing I’m pretty certain of: There is something in this book for just about everyone.