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NONFICTION

A BEGINNER’S FAITH IN THINGS UNSEEN by John Hay. (Beacon: $22; 130 pp.) “I think I have the silent chemistry in me of the lands in which I grew up. At any season a cool wind often passes across my face. I hear the sound of water, salt or fresh, booming in the distance....” Hay grew up in Manhattan and New Hampshire. As an adult, he spends part of each year in Maine and part on Cape Cod. He’s been around for eighty years, has his favorite species (alewives, or freshwater herring), his favorite birds (swallows), his favorite places and rituals. When this child-eyed writer looks at these birds or fish or visits these places everything he notices is enriched by all of his senses, including memory. He looks at a group of whales stranded on the beach in East Dennis, on the Cape, and remembers “a feeling of being alone, of being detached . . . It had come to me a long time ago, when I was a boy, and I vaguely associated it with the dark weight of the city where we lived.” He watches the wind and thinks about chaos and lightening, and scattering leaves: “I had such accomplices in the electric process of growth, emerging out of dark grounds I was barely conscious of. They led me toward a beginner’s ‘faith in things unseen.”’ At the end of a season he remembers, “In the fall, as a child in New Hampshire, I had a feeling of ‘going away,’ which was not so much a sadness at the end of summer . . . but an inner mood that corresponded with the sailing of the year. The fire in the trees made me long to go on voyages.” Hay is the perfect union of what Rachel Carson called a “child’s sense of wonder,” and a deep, deep ancestral ocean of associations and connections. “I join a wind I am unable to control,” writes John Hay. “I am out on the passionate waters, which are tumbling in and tumbling out on a rip tide. . . . “


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