Book Review: A Haunting Reverence

waterfall by paul jarvis

There are times when returning to what we know is the best and most important thing we can do. When life is crazy, when things are falling apart around us or threaten to swallow us whole, we rely on the familiar to keep us grounded and keep us sane.

So when my life turned upside down and my partner went from being a healthy, active person to suddenly unable to walk without a cane and suffering debilitating vertigo with no explanation (or diagnosis yet), I needed the safety of a familiar book to keep me calm in the storm. I went to my bookshelf and simply asked, “Who wants to walk with me through this struggle?” Several of my books spoke to me, but one stood out among the voices. I pulled it from the shelf and curled up with a cup of tea.

A Haunting Reverence came into my life 15 years ago. The author, Kent Nerburn, is someone I know and consider a mentor. He spoke about being a writer at a career day, and my 13-year-old self couldn’t help but approach him. We talked about writing, about my own dreams as a writer, and before he left he signed the only book he brought with him and gave it to me. I wept.

Kent Nerburn

Nerburn writes about the mystery and magic of living in the northwoods of Minnesota. From his adventures on the reservation to meditations on the deepest winter, Kent brings alive for us the truth about the people and the environment of a land that is not usually part of the national conversation. But more important than the land or the people is the essence of a place he shares so beautifully with us.

You know that feeling, when you find a book that simply sings to your heart?

When each page is like a photo album of your own life, and you can place when and where you first read it?

This is that book for me.

Here is a passage from one essay, A Memory of Trees. Nerburn writes about a beloved pussywillow tree that grows in his front yard. The tree is the source of much conversation and play from all the neighborhood kids, though their play and adventure ends up killing the tree.

I stood quietly behind him, watching his powerful arms, as he threw her limb by limb into the hungry flames. Helpless, I ran to the maple and hoisted myself onto the protection of its great branch. The smoke from the fire rose, shifted, and sought me out. The coals stared up at me with animals’ eyes.

Long into the dark I sat there, silent among the foliage, ignoring my parents’ calls and pleadings. I could see them moving below me, combing the shadows for their lost son. But I would not answer. They looked like trees walking, and I was choked with an unknown grief.

There is a power in words that seem simple but carry such weight and meaning. Conversations about trees, about the history of a place, or the difference in a memory can rise above the mundane and become magic. In A Haunting Reverence, Nerburn shows us the power of this magic and gives us clues to how we can bring that magic into our own lives.

By being open, noticing the moments we have in front of us, we cherish the possibility that lives in everyday experience.

A Haunting Reverence is just one of Kent’s books. He’s written about life on the reservation, about growing up in Indian Country, about finding simple truths. He’s considered a “nature” writer, but in truth I feel he writes about human nature, about the moments we each experience, the threads that connect us all. While I might be struggling now, my friend Kent keeps reminding me that I am not alone, that our moments are connected.

I return to what is most familiar, and from here I find the strength to continue.

What book do you return to over and over again?

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