Do you believe in heaven? Doesn’t it sound like a nice place?

I'm not sure if I believe in an afterlife or not, but the following chapter in Leif Enger's Peace Like A River made me like the idea of one. It is one of the final chapters in the novel narrated by a twelve year old boy, Reuben. He and his father have both been shot, but only Reuben survives. The passage made me so sad, but I just love this kind of descriptive, imaginative writing, so I had to share it. 
If you like simple stories or Western quests or classic American families I would recommend this novel. Click here for a New York Times critique.

Be Jubilant, My Feet

I waded ashore with measureless relief, stay with me now. The bank was an even slope of waving knee-high grasses, and I came up into them and turned to look back. It was a wide river, mistakable for a lake or even an ocean unless you’d been wading and knew its current. Somehow I’d crossed it and somehow was unsurprised at having done so. Near the shore the water appeared gold as on your favorite river at sunup, but farther out it turned to sky and cobalt and finally a kind of night in which the opposite shore lay hidden. 
At that moment I had no notion of identity. Nor of burden. I laughed in place of language. The meadow hummed as though thick with the nests of waking creatures, and the grasses were canyon colored, lifting their heads as I passed. Moving up from the river the humming began to swell- it was magnetic, a sound uncurling into song and light and even a scent, which was like earth, and I must’ve then entered the region of nests, for up scattered finches and cheeky longspurs, and every sort of bunting and bobolink and piebald tanager. All these rose with sweet chaotic calls, whirling and resettling to the grass. More placid, butterflies clung everywhere to stems- some you would know, the monarchs and tailed ulnas, but others of such spread and hue as to have long disappeared from the gardens of the world. The meadow was layered with flight. In fact it seemed there was nothing that couldn’t take wing. Seized with conviction I spread my arms and ran for it. Nope, no liftoff— but I came close! At time sky feet were only brushing the ground. 
But I was drawn on. Conscious now that something needed doing, I moved ever higher on the land, here entering an orchard of immense and archaic beauty. I say orchard: The trees were dense in one place, scattered in another, as though planted by random throw, but all were heavy trunked and capaciously limbed, and they were fruit trees, every one of them. Apples, gold-skinned apricots, immaculate pears. The leaves about them were thick and cool and stirred at my approach; touched with a finger, they imparted a palpable rhythm. 
It took a long while to traverse the orchard. I began to feel hungry but didn’t pause; though all this fruit appeared perfectly available, I felt prodded to appear before the master. The place had a master! Realizing this, I knew he was already aware of me— comforting and fearful knowledge. Still I wanted to see him. The farther I went the more I seemed to know or remember about him— the way he’d planted this orchard, walking over the hills, casting seed form his hand. I kept moving. 
And for how long? As we measure time, perhaps for weeks; but no sun shines in that sky, so days do not pass; as for the light, it seems a work of the air itself, and of all things illuminated by it. Also, as many a prescient hymn suggests, a person doesn’t get tired there. I walked faster, pressing ahead as if obeying a beloved command. I weaved amid curlyhorn antelope and bison browsing fruit from the lower branches through an enormous unwary herd of horses pulling up clover and bluegrass. 
Here in the orchard I had a glimmer of origin: Adam, I thought. Only the bare word. It suggested nothing. It was but a pair of syllables that seemed to belong to me. They seemed part of what compelled me. And now, far to my right across a valley, I saw a man afoot. His skin was dark and he wore the buckler and helm of a Spanish knight and over his shoulder he carried a flag of arcane device. Though battered in appearance the man moved with spirit. He was like one going to his king, having served to his deepest ability. He was almost running. 
And now, from beneath the audible, came a low reverberation. It came up through the soles of my feet. I stood still while it hummed upward bone by bone. There is no adequate simile. The pulse of the country worked through my body until I recognized it as music. As language. And the language ran everywhere inside me, like blood; and for feeling, it was as if through time I had been made of earth or mud or other insensate matter. Like a rhyme learned in antiquity a verse blazed to mind: O be quick my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! And sure enough my soul leapt dancing inside my chest, and my feet sprang up and sped me forward, and the sense came to me of undergoing creation as the land and the trees and the beasts of the orchard had done some long time before. And the pulse of the country came around me, as of voices lifted at great distance, and moved through me as I ran until the words came clear, and I sang with them a beautiful and curious chant. 
And now the orchard ended, and a plain reached far ahead to a range of blanched mountains. A stream coursed through this plain, of different personality and purpose than the earlier wide river. A narrow, raucous stream, it flowed upward against the gradient, and mighty fish arched and swam in it, flinging manes of spray. I meant to jump in— wherever this river went I wanted to go—and would’ve done so had not another figure appeared, running beside the water. 
A man in pants. Flapping colorless pants and a shirt, dismal things most strange in this place. He was running upslope by the boisterous stream. Despite the clothes his face was incandescent, and when he saw me he wheeled his arms and came on ever faster. Then history entered me— my own and all the rest of it, more than I could hold, history like a heavy rain— so I knew the man coming along was my father, Jeremiah Land; and all that had happened, himself slipping down the hood of the Ford, Roxanna’s hard grip on my shoulder, the air drumming in my ears like bird wings, came back like a mournful story told from ancient days. 
He was beside me in moments, stretching out his hands. What cabled strength! I remember wondering what those arms were made for—no mere reward, they had design in them. They had some work to set about. Meantime Dad was laughing—at my arms, which were similarly strong! He sang out, You’re as big as me! How had I not noticed! We were like two friends, and I saw he was proud of me, that he knew me better than he’d ever thought to and was not dismayed by the knowledge; and even as I wondered at his ageless face, so clear and at home, his eyes owned up to some small regret, for he knew a thing I didn’t. 
Let’s run, he said. It’s true both of us were wild to go on. I tell you there is no one who compels as does the master of that country— although as badly as I wanted to see him, Dad must’ve wanted to more, for he shot ahead like a man who sees all that pleases him most stacked beside the finish. I could only be awed at his speed, which was no effort for him; indeed he held back so that we traveled together, he sometimes reaching for my hand, as he’d done a thousand times in the past; and the music and living language swept us forth across the plains until the mountains lay ahead, and up we climbed at a run. 
Is it fair to say that country is more real than ours? That its stone is harder, its water more drenching— that the weather itself is alert and not just background? Can you endure a witness to its tactile presence? 
We attained a pass where the stream sang louder than ever, for it swelled with depth and energy the farther it rose. Dad reached it first; I saw him mount a shelf of spray soaked stone and stand waiting for me, backlit, silverlined, as though the sky had a sun after all and it was just beyond this mountain. 
But it wasn’t a sun. It was a city. 
Joining Dad on the rock I saw it, at a farther distance than any yet conceived; still it threw light and warmth our sun could only covet. And unlike the sun, you could look straight into it—in fact you wished to, you had to—and the longer you looked, the more you saw. 
Turrets! I exclaimed. I couldn’t wait to get there, you see. 
Then Dad pointed to the plains below, at movement I took at first to be rivers—winding, flowing, light coming off them. They came from all directions, streaming toward the city, and dust rose in places along their bands. 
They’re people, Dad said. And looking again, looking harder, I could see them on the march, pouring forth from vast distances: People like I’d seen everywhere and others like I’d not seen, whole tributaries of people with untamed faces you would fear as neighbors; and most were afoot, and a few were horseback, and many bore standards with emblems strange to me. And even these who were wild were singing a hymn that rose up to us on the mountain, and it was as though they marched in preparation for some imminent and joyous and sanctified war. 
We listened for a long time. Dad held my hand, and I felt the music growing in his fingers. 
Take care of Swede, he said. 
From this pass the stream threw itself over a sheer face, where mist drifted up and was struck gold by the light of the city. 
Work for Roxanna, Dad told me. 
Now I saw the stream regrouped below, flowing on through what might’ve been vineyards, pastures, orchards bigger than that described. It flowed between and alongside the rivers of people; from here it was no more than a silver wire winding toward the city, yet I made out the clean glitter of rising fish upon its surface. 
I thought, Lord, can’t I be among them? Can’t I come in too? 
Tell Davy, Dad said. He sat down on the rock and swung his feet in the stream—it was deep and swift; it would take him in a moment. I seized his arm. 
Please, I said. 
Soon, he replied, which makes better sense under the rules of that country than ours. Very soon! he added, clasping my hands; then, unable to keep from laughing, he pushed off from the rock like a boy going for the first cold swim of spring; and the current got him. The stream was singing aloud, and I heard him singing with it until he dropped away over the ledge. 

Don't Ask Me How I Know It, 


  1. this is beautiful! very very well written! saved this to show my friends :)


Chasing Violets All rights reserved © Blog Milk - Powered by Blogger