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Connecting Through Literature And Letters

For those who’ve not read Wallace Stegner, author of Remembering Laughter and Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs, let me suggest a life without ever knowing “Wally” is as incomplete as a Kentucky sunrise without a Rocky Mountain sunset.

Sadly, wherever I travel in the Commonwealth, seldom is a hand raised to acknowledge having read Angle of Repose or All the Little Live Things.

Stegner was born in Lake Mills, Iowa, February 18, 1909. He died April 13, 1993, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In his 84 years of living and writing about the western heart, soul, and sense of place, he chose paths unmarked by Hopalong Cassidy and Louis L’Amour.

Stegner’s influence enriched the lives and the writings of Kentucky authors Wendell Berry, Ed McClanahan, Gurney Norman, and James Baker Hall—four who attended Stegner’s Stanford University Creative Writing Program.

Let’s be fair. Wallace Stegner is not everybody’s wonderkind. Many of us were raised on a weekly diet of Hopalong Cassidy and some of us have contributed to the phenomenal popularity of Louis L’Amour while managing to live good and decent taxpaying lives.

Some of us don’t darken the doors of libraries and bookstores. But it’s not too late to settle in on a cold February night with something as breathtaking as Stegner’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Perhaps the greatest shame in ignoring fine literature is the willingness to settle for less than we’re capable within a culture that scoops us up and runs away with a big slice of our true worth.

This sermon is running too long. What will be read, will be read.

But in the mail comes a copy of The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner, edited by his son, Page Stegner. It’s a volume to make a reader laugh. And cry. And think.

After reading it, I decided to set aside possible complaints of unconventional spirituality and focus on the old-fashioned idea of letter writing.

As if on cue, comes a letter from a reader of The View from Plum Lick that reads:

“You recently had an article in the November 2007 issue of Kentucky Living about ‘power gliding.’ I live near the Ashland flying club/school. My husband and I both agree with Charles Johnson (your Plum Lick neighbor) the view from up there is as beautiful as can be. If you ever get the chance to ride one, you must.

“On October 1, 2005, our wedding day, my husband and I went to the local flying club/school to watch them fly and ask them about my husband and our daughter possibly taking a ride someday. Several people there noticed our love and compassion for one another. We told them we had just gotten married a few hours earlier. They said, ‘Wait here a minute.’ They came back to us a few minutes later and said they wanted to take us up at sunset for a wedding present.

“I was scared of heights and never even had a desire to try this, but the next thing I knew they were strapping each of us in two separate two-seaters and off we went on the adventure of a lifetime. I was just so happy my husband got to do something he had always wanted to do, and along the way I also had the time of my life and overcame my fear of heights.

“Thank you for sharing such a great story, and thanks to all the great men and women who helped make our wedding day unforgettable!”

Thanks to Natalie Watson for taking the time to write this letter.

If it had not been for her, our neighbors Charles Johnson, Larry Elliott (who has since brought us aerial pictures of our farm), and John Stegner (a relative of Wallace, the western writer), irreplaceable connections would not have become reality.

And it all began with the writing of one letter.

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