Book Notes: The Outermost House by Henry Beston

Bestoncover

A recent trip to the vet on behalf of one of my kitties found me waiting in what serves as the acupuncture room. Quietly awaiting I began to explore the room. A framed quote caught my eye and as it was mounted quite high, I pulled it off the wall to read more carefully. Here is what it said:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

I was deeply moved, as this quote resonated with the deepest part of my being and I have many times tried to vocalize some of these same thoughts, but never so eloquently! But who wrote it? There was no author attributed. When I arrived home I typed in a portion of the quote and thus began my introduction to Henry Beston, the author of The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod, which I promptly ordered. There is a synchronicity to this finding, as I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cape these last few months. I have a very old friend, a former teacher I met when I was doing my student teaching in college in Ohio, who has lived on the Cape for years. She took me there once, all the way out to Provincetown. I think once one has been to the Cape it is not forgotten.
Apparently this is what happened to Henry Beston, who, in 1926, after having someone build him a small house on the Cape where he might on occasion visit, he writes, “I went there to spend a fortnight in September. The fortnight ending, I lingered on, and as the year lengthened into autumn, the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea so possessed and held me that I could not go.”

Bestonhouse

Henry subsequently spends a year on the Cape in his small, but comfortable home, documenting, as a naturalist, all the things he bears witness to on those dunes, at the sea’s edge. His adventure closes and he becomes engaged and his future wife tells him she will marry him only when the book is done. :)

It would be easy and natural to compare Beston to Thoreau, and while one might call them kindred spirits, Beston is a very different kind of man and writer.
Beston

His writing is authentic and speaks to issues of our day without the political layers intrinsic to Thoreau, thus, perhaps, capturing a different, and maybe even a wider audience. The copy I secured is stamped as the “75th Anniversary Edition”. I’m happy to bring his work to the attention of my readers. I’m certain many will find nurturance in Beston’s writings.

Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach.

When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes, as it were a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of a true humanity.

Happy reading!

Love and spring blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Footnote: Some of you will find it interesting that Beston’s outermost house was proclaimed a National Literary Landmark in 1964, however it was unfortunately destroyed in a massive winter storm in 1978.

8 Responses to “Book Notes: The Outermost House by Henry Beston”

  1. What a lovely introduction, mom! Sounds like a wonderful book for all, but especially to resonate with gardeners and nature lovers. I’ll have to explore his work.

    Love,
    Antonia
    xoxo

  2. Hi, Antonia, Yes, I think you would find some excellent inspirational quotes among his writings. Love, Mom xoxo

  3. But Kathryn, my family lived on the Cape, from 1632 untill about 1800 when some of them moved to NY and linked up with your family. Sure I still have family there and expect that you might as well. It calls to me all the time. The Wing house is set up as a museum in Sandwich, my sister Natalie went there several years ago, on Thanksgiving, with her granddaughters. It’s a very special place, a remnent of a continental ice sheet advance that ended in the sea, leaving a hooking end moraine behind that is the Cape. Was there once in 1968, have wanted to go back ever since to just meld into the wind, water, sand and vegetation, watching the animals and the birds. On my list of adventures before I die. Hugs from Ohio where we now have tulips budding and daffodils in full bloom, peach trees just opening and Magnolias everywhere and forsythias. We are so late this year. Julie

  4. Hi, Julie, Well, now there is even more reason to go–to visit the Wing house in Sandwich! Yes, I have Erastus Hall to thank for marrying a Wing. :) And, yes, I suppose the fact my gggggggggrandfather arrived in Bristol County in the 1630′s has some relevance. ;) If I get there before you do I will send you pics. :) Enjoy your spring! Kathryn xoxo

  5. Always uplifting to read your notes. I save them for the “need” and today, as usual, you have lifted me up. Thanks, Alice

  6. Good morning, Alice! Many thanks and happy to hear it. Kathryn xoxo

  7. “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.”

    Hi… I’m just a simple ranch manager living in Central Texas, working and tending the land. I am of a philosophical mind and think tenderly of all my animal & insect friends that help me out, from the smallest ladybug for my plants, to my cats that chase away the rodents, to the horses that provide fertilizer for my herbs, veggies, and pecan trees.
    Each time I am out on the tractor and running our hay machines, I offer up a prayer to our Creator asking forgiveness for the animals that I may inadvertently hurt or destroy their habitats.
    Although I do go to church almost every Sunday, I also believe in karma in that what comes around, goes around. I believe in nature and nature is kind to me.
    Thanks for opening my eyes about Henry Beston. I’ll have to look up one of his books to read on my Kindle…. David

  8. Hi, David, and welcome. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I had a friend once who used to say, “Go back to God,” whenever she felt she needed to kill a snail or earwig or somesuch in her garden. Just a thought…Kathryn xoxo

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