Thursday, July 05, 2007

from the shores of Lake Erie



The logic of geography, the inexorable power of a city well situated, should mean that Buffalo can revive itself. How that will happen, when it will happen are puzzles beyond my telling. History has not been kind to other ports on inland seas. Trebizond, Alexandria, Trieste have never recovered their times of glory. But perhaps one can say something else about Buffalo in the company of these inland ports: that it will be named in the chronicle of places that have for a time dealt in fire and water, in the transforming elements of life.
~Nicholas Howe, Across an Inland Sea


It seems oddly appropriate that I'm writing this -- the 100th post I've written on this blog! -- from the shores of Lake Erie, while visiting with my father's family in Buffalo New York. These lines from Across an Inland Sea are always present for me when I look out over this immense body of water. It almost seems to be an ocean from the shore -- but I remember, years ago, going out on the lake with my grandfather in his boat. You could see clear down to the bottom. In my memory I see rock formations and gravel far off, seen through the glimmer of sunshine on the lake's surface -- a novel sight for me, as in all my childhood beach trips I'd never seen the bottom of the Atlantic. One side of the lake was Canada. The side with the smog, Grandpa joked, was Buffalo.

All these years later, I look out over the waters of Lake Erie. In winter, I like to think I know a little of what an an-haga must have seen in Anglo-Saxon England, as the lonely exile paddled with frozen hands through the ice-flecked waves. And as the sun sets over the lake in the summer, and gilds the ruins of a once-"great" city with gold, I can't help but wonder what the price is for such inland seas as Howe describes -- what consequences come with water and fire. In a way, perhaps this new Lake Erie -- the lake that was once declared dead -- already has been brought back, literally "revived." And though Buffalo's glory days were already over, the price of the lake's new life may well have been an inland port -- and the knowledge that survival nearly always means change.

2 comments:

ljs said...

A fitting 100th post! It reminds me that, elsewhere, perhaps in "The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England: Inherited, Invented, Imagined", Howe wrote about the way impressions of the landscape on the Anglo-Saxon eye were very different from the way we (post-Constable?) of imagining, invent and inhert - which is to say, construct - landscape.

Given MK's thoughts on Buffalo, I wonder what internal landscape we bring to the poems and prose we're reading from a distant period. I've been re-reading a favorite poem of mine, "Internal West" by Priscilla Becker, with the beautiful lines

It's been so long since I heard
bells, I thought at first
I heard them wrong.

So here's my question: what's our Internal [Fill in Blank] that we bring to the Anglo-Saxon age? Mary Kate's seems to be Internal Interior Lake. Mine's Internal Island with Knowledge of Coast, I think. Others?

MKH said...

I like this idea of an "Internal X" we bring to AS -- but I wonder if it isn't something a little more complex, not unlike your "internal island with knowledge of the coast". It's like a whole internal geography, wherein we map our our own, literary journeys -- partially shaped by our lives, and partially shaped by the books that intersect them.

Never heard of "Internal West" but those lines are lovely. There's a certain degree to which that sense of being able to hear something wrong -- it resonates (pun partially intended) with the way in which things we go back to after a long time away seem different. It's as though in our own internal geographies, the landscape changes as much as it is changed my the texts we navigate.

Makes me wonder what will happen the next time I return to the Wanderer.