Through Thicket and Thin

A reclusive novelist reveals the perfect hideaway

| November/December 2000

As a poet and novelist, I've grown rather inured to my own peculiarities but have long openly accepted my penchant for secret places, mostly thickets, that I depend on almost daily for solace. I can think of specific thickets in Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula, but also in Arizona and New Mexico, a single place in New York City, one in Paris, and another near a friend's house down in western Burgundy.

The original, the ur-thicket, was near the porch of our childhood home in a dense collection of shrubs. I often retreated there for hours with my dog after I was blinded in one eye by a playmate. Soon after this 'accident' (intentional) I also lost the dog because she was overly defensive, but I kept the thicket for years.

The prerequisite of a first-rate thicket is that I can see out but it is unlikely that I'll be noticed by others. It is helpful to have a dog with me, even if it is a friend's dog, which is the case in Burgundy. Birds often visit. Once in a prized thicket in Arizona during a violent rain squall I shared my thicket with dozens of rare vermilion flycatchers. They treated me as an equal.

I don't care for the idea of bullfighting but there is a Spanish word, querencia, that refers to the place in the ring where a particular bull feels the strongest, most at home, most able to deal with his impending doom. I'm sure that my thickets offer me peace in a life that is permanently inconsolable but reasonably vital and productive. Thickets quickly draw off the poison. After a few minutes of sitting, you hear your own tentative heartbeat. What people clumsily call the 'inner child' gracefully rises to the surface without much coaxing. Your normally watchful dog takes a snooze and occasionally you doze off yourself within these few yards of earth where you feel no dislocation and are totally at home.

From Michigan Quarterly Review (Summer 2000). Subscriptions: $18/yr. (4 issues) from University of Michigan, Room 3032, Rackham Bldg., 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

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