13 April 2010

On Learning Something, Finally

"Poetry is as necessary to comprehension as science. It is impossible to live without reverence as it is without joy."

---from "The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod" by Henry Beston

Yet again, I come to insight as if by accident. I was lying in bed, reading and trying to uncoil, when I read the above passage. It always surprises and delights me. The Outermost House is a permanent resident in my top five or so favorite books. I first had the pleasure of reading it nearly ten years ago. First published in 1928, I had the good fortune to stumble across a second edition copy in an antique bookstore on Cape Cod. It was published in 1933 and was in very good condition.* I had been wanting it for a long time. I am glad I found it.

Henry Beston was a young man at the time, with the luxury of being able to take a year off, in essence, during which he had a small house built. It was, as the title says, on the beach on Cape Cod. Literally. I am contemplating recreating the plan of it, for myself, maybe as a small vacation cottage somewhere. The title and the thing itself appealed greatly to the architect that I am.

It was the writing that really piqued my interest. It is not the most polished style, and it flirts with being overwrought at times (hmm...sound familiar?) but it was written with enthusiasm and genuine delight in the natural world. He has a keen eye for observation. A prime example is his chapter "The Headlong Wave", in which he attempts to describe the infinite variations of waves hitting the shore. Great, great stuff, and it made me envious and wistful. The sound, the shape, the color of waves...makes me want to be there, to live that life.

Ultimately, I believe that is why I read this book at least once a year, ever since I first bought it so long ago. It speaks of slow time and understanding a place. He describes a life that I dream of having: a small, tidy place of my own, in a place where I feel connected to the earth, with the luxury of near uninterrupted contemplation and rumination.

That luxury means to me: to observe the world around me, to engage in the fullness of life, and translate that into the written word. It is in that fashion that I could truly make my own poetry. I could learn, as I have been struggling to do for so long, to live in reverence and with joy. I know this now. I will find my outermost house in which to live the measure of my days.

Tell me, dear ones, where is your outermost house?

Photo credit and a short history can be found HERE.

*It was also considerably lower in price than the first edition in the same store. At the time, I could not afford it, and it sure did make my brain hurt to pass it up. Still, the second edition I bought is marvelous. It has pride of place on my bookshelf. I dig it.


  1. I think my outermost house would be on Assateague Island. I rent my friend's "housita" for a week each summer in Berlin, just on the mainland from Ocean city, MD (I know YOU know where it is, but your readers may not). We usually go to the beach on Assateague. I just love the horses and the dolphins and the beach isn't crowded and you can park close to it. I'd move to the beach if I could.
    When I'm in Ocean City (and Assateague), everything slows down for me. I can relax and read and enjoy the warmth. It's very difficult to pack up and go home to Pennsylvania.

  2. Thanks for that, I've put it on my reading list. Have you read A Fortunate Life by A. Facey? Your summary reminded me of it.

  3. I almost yelped in surprise when I saw the photo ~ I love the Outermost House!

    I've been thinking of reading it aloud to Ava, she's ready for it, at almost 9.

    I loaned my copy many years ago, but it never left my soul. Back to the bookstore, today!

  4. optimally, it is wherever I happen to be. That's my goal. I'm getting better at keeping it nearby.

  5. My outermost house has to be anywhere along Couer d'Alene Lake in Idaho where I grew up. Every summer day that I can remember found us in the boat, on the beach, swimming and many more activities of child like nature. It's always my favorite place to be even now that I live so far away. My cabin would be perched at the top of the hill so I could drink in my lake view anytime I wanted.

  6. Oh man... I've heard of this, and know Cape Cod really well, but have not read it. Now it will be on my list.

    I love the concept. And can't wait to have my own refuge away from the world. Someday...

  7. Now Irish, love this and your obvious passion for this beautiful sounding piece of work to.
    But 'My outermost house', is currently residing inside my own head and I'm trying to move out and find somewhere with a better view!
    Trust me to get all deep! Shit!

  8. I sense a little optimism and happiness here! :o)

  9. I read this book in early graduate school and thought it fantastic. Thanks for reminding me to read it again. I think that my outermost house is where I live now--on an island with 7 acres. And it is also symbolic for my boat which is a movable house. It can go to the outermost places too.

  10. Lovely house. I haven't read "The Outermost House" yet, but from your description it reminds me of "Gift from the sea" by Lindbergh. Lovely book, insightful, descriptive, reflective. And so intertwined with descriptions of nature as to have me wishing I lived in such a remote, thought-inspiring place.

  11. My Outermost House is a metaphor for a state of being that I work my everyday for. Or, at least, I used to think that way. Right now, from my window, I can see the sun has gone, leaving a gray blanket across the sky. And the day is suddenly quiet.
    I guess I've arrived because I feel as if there is nothing between me and the rest, even as the cooling air dips into the tops of my boots.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...