Read Having Everything Right Online

Authors: Robert Michael; Kim; Pyle Stafford

Having Everything Right

BOOK: Having Everything Right
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“In an age in which we often find ourselves at odds with nature, Stafford serves as a guide and interpreter listening for the way stories name a region, a country, and with familiarity and affection, explicating the terrain for those of us who have forgotten or never learned how.”


Having Everything Right
was a joy to read. Stafford is immensely talented with an unerring ear, the clearest vision, and a lovely exactitude of language. This book is sheer pleasure.”


Having Everything Right
is not just an Indian place name but the summation of a way of living on earth in a spirit of harmony, gratitude, and adventure . . . (Stafford's) poetic eye to nature and personal biography knit together themes and ideas, which range from the unique fragility of the earth to the breadth and courage of the human spirit.”


“Kim Stafford's senses are tuned like fine instruments to perceive, record, and draw memory and meaning from the quiet daily events that surround all of us, but are lost on most of us because we are still learning how to see and hear. These pages contain a record of what we've missed and an invitation to wake, and become whole.”


“The energies and acuities that make Kim Stafford's poetry so valuable are wonderfully at play here in his essays: an eager and dilated eye for lore, both human and natural; a belief in the wisdom of the stories people tell, and an enviable gift for telling his own; as well as a conviction that the more things change, the more important it is for us to apprentice ourselves to the humble things that continue and abide.”


“The effort registered here is not only to understand, as Thoreau put it, where we live and what we live for, but also to translate that comprehension into belonging; to achieve a connection with earth, time, history, and the universally common elements of human existence.”


ebook ISBN 9781940436418

Text copyright © 1986, 2016 by Kim R. Stafford

Illustrations copyright © 1986 by Barbara Stafford

Introduction copyright © 2016 by Robert Michael Pyle

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Published by Confluence Press 1986

Published by Pharos Editions 2016

“Out of This World with Chaucer and the Astronauts” and a shorter version of “Local Character” first appeared in
Sweet Reason
, a publication by the Oregon Committee for the Humanities. A shorter version of “The Separate Hearth” first appeared in
Northwest Magazine

The author thanks the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, for a grant which assisted in the writing of this book.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available

Cover and interior design by Faceout Studio


An Imprint of Counterpoint

2560 Ninth Street, Suite 318

Berkeley, CA 94710

Distributed by Publishers Group West




A Rooted Companionship with Kim Stafford

Few things have made me as plainly, outright
on first hearing about them as the word from Pharos publisher Harry Kirchner that he would be bringing Kim Stafford's book
Having Everything Right
back into print.

Some books just don't belong out of print. Not that there aren't many, many titles languishing in out-of-print land that, in a smart and just world, would remain available as bright new books as well as library titles and twice-read finds in secondhand bookstores. But
book—it is simply the best volume of Northwest essays I know, and its out-of-print status was awfully hard to take. So,
, Harry and Pharos. And as for you readers? Celebrate!

“Sometimes,” Kim writes, in his essay “A Few Miles Short of Wisdom,” “stories from thoughtful travelers you trust, or some old book you believe, or the mind's own credulous pilgrim named Imagination will make a place dazzle in anticipation.” Well, that's true. And
Having Everything Right
is one old book that I believe. When I reread it, or even think about it, the Northwest writ large fairly dazzles in my anticipation.

And an old book it is, by some measures. While still just a lad compared to the great Northwest essayists that went before—say, Murray Morgan or Stewart Holbrook—Kim saw this book first
published by Confluence Press in 1986: the same year my own book
came out, just four years before Tim Egan's
The Good Rain
, and five prior to Sallie Tisdale's
Stepping Westward
. It is no mystery that these four titles have stridden together across the years since, sharing space in many a review, reading list, and syllabus together, as complementary windows on a region defined as much by its writers as its rain.

But even in its natural company, Kim's book stands apart. He goes out on adventure a dozen times plus, and from each outing fetches back a field report, a ship's log, a dispatch from the frontier, a libretto from the human heart in all its muddling variety, through all of which he builds his own cosmology—and his highly personal approach to life, land, and language—right before our eyes. And, through that, we grow. We can't help it, any more than we can help peeking ahead to see what the next adventure will be. But we hold back after all, and take them in turn, as they come. This book cannot be skimmed. Almost every sentence glimmers and glows with the shiny details of What Kim Finds Out There, and with lapidary words to match.

Neither of these traits is really surprising. In “The Separate Hearth,” one of the truly great kids-in-nature works (pre-
Geography of Childhood
, pre-
The Thunder Tree
, way-pre-
Last Child in the Woods
), Kim testifies for the kind of freedom, encouragement, and self-organizing wanderment and wonderment that rendered his childhood the perfect springboard for seeking the way toward having things right forever after. Plus, he sprang from a house of poetry, and later lodged in an academic program of Medieval Literature, studying the very origins of our storytelling tools and traditions. None of this can have impeded his wish or ability to meet the very World Itself with words that might possibly do it justice.

Time after time I have taught with this book. I've brought several of the essays to my students, and the whole book, when
there was time. I sometimes put forth “A Few Miles Short of Wisdom” or “The Barn and the Bees” along with Brian Doyle's “Van” (about Van Morrison) as examples of The Perfect Essay: “Now tell me why,” I assign. But in dozens of classrooms and workshops I have read and parsed the book's introduction, “Naming the Northwest.” This short essay is a small masterpiece of concision, precision, and incision. It is also witty, elegiac, and wise. Kim contrasts the old ways of naming the landscape drawn from its own features and stories, as practiced by the Kwakiutl: “Two Round Things Meeting Now and Then,” “Having Coho Salmon,” “Place Where
Cried Out
,” with the names of the “new white tribe”—“Cannery,” “Courthouse,” “Cemetery.” He tells that the Kwakiutl named several kinds of places
, meaning “Having Everything Right.” Kim says this is “a portable name, an expandable place. It could be what we call earth. But it will not,” he continues, “unless we sift from our habits the nourishing ways: listening, remembering, telling, weaving a rooted companionship with home ground.”

Now, this is gorgeous writing. But it is also wonderfully aphoristic. “Weaving a rooted companionship with home ground” is right up there with Pattiann Rogers's phrase, from her poem “The Family Is All There Is”: “The grasp/ of the self on place,” and means, as I read them, the same thing. Which reminds me of a time when Kim and Pattiann and I were all traveling and reading together on one of the Orion Society's storied “Forgotten Language Tours,” along with Scott Sanders and Ann Zwinger. We were in Ohio, kitting up to drive down to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. We'd been out for days already. Kim was seeking a perfect piece of pie he imagined that some old cafe along this stretch of back road would hold out to us. Pattiann and Ann were getting tired of all the boy-talk in the van.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, we came upon the museum-home of Gene Stratton Porter, the naturalist and wildly
successful novelist of an earlier era, whose
Girl of the Limberlost
wooed a great many young readers to think about the lost swamp where the story takes place. Each of us was swept up in our own way with the life and lore of the writer, her artifacts, faded specimens, once-upon-a-world, and life in a gentler, wilder time. I think we all felt that this was a woman with a grasp of her self on her place, with a true rooted companionship to her home ground. It filled our long, wilting trip with fresh new life. And we were all thrilled a couple of days later to learn of a movement underway to bring back the Limberlost.

On these multi-author barnstorming tours, Kim acquired a special role. Early in the morning or whenever we were at rest and at will, he would wander the town where we had gone to ground for the night. He'd fill two or three of the special little pocket notebooks he constantly creates from single sheets of paper, with observations, snatches of overheard conversation or found poetry, and his own refraction of his spotful encounters. Then, on the last night, he would conclude the final reading with a poem constructed from the elements he'd concocted from his little notebooks. We all felt that this poem caught the essence of our gypsy band and its travels better than any number of snapshots or journal entries.

I mention this, because it is just how Kim goes about illuminating the Northwest and the broader concerns beyond in each essay of
Having Everything Right
: through lyric distillation of the Field Notes he is forever gathering, refinement of the ore mined from his many human encounters (whether intentional for oral history, or deliciously random), and loving attention to minutia that most would not even notice to dismiss. In other words, he writes out of utter devotion to
, and an unshakeable belief that story lies everywhere, and never lies.

Kim Stafford's other published writing makes a large and eclectic corpus. Both before and after
Having Everything Right
he wrote compelling books of poems, collected in
A Thousand Friends of Rain. Lochsa Road: A Pilgrim in the West
is a haunting love song to the land expressed through a journey up the famed Clearwater River and beyond. For
Wind on the Waves
, he was asked to write text to accompany the seascape photographs of Ray Atkeson and responded with fifty indelible short stories. He has written beautiful, gut-gripping memoirs of his brother (
100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared
) and his father (
Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford
). And there have been others. Kim is also a singer-songwriter with CDs I have worn out, a remarkably perceptive photographer, and lately, a digital storyteller. But for as many readers and listeners as all these have reached and touched, he has probably reached and touched even more through his legendary teaching—as long-time director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College, mainstay from the start at both Sitka Center for Art and Ecology and Fishtrap, and elsewhere. It's hard for me to think of anyone who has had as much of an impact on the Northwest literary landscape as Kim Stafford.

Yet this work is not Cascadian alone, any more than E. B. White belonged solely to New York or Maine, or Peter Matthiessen to Long Island or Florida. Kim's subjects and settings frequently lie in Oregon, it's true. Yet his actual topic is the human heart and how it situates itself in place—
place where it finds itself, or better yet belongs, but never truly
placed, or unplaced. Before there was a discipline called “place-based writing,” there was Kim Stafford. Not that the loci his genius explores are all balm, tonic, or posies. Kim knows heartbreak and loss, slaughter and exile, and cruelty, oh, yes, cruelty, to self and others, humans and non-. The stories he excavates and adumbrates touch every base of emotion and experience, but good humor, love, and the kindly fruits of the earth almost always enter in such a way as to save the day, or at least salve it.

Kim says “I want to learn place, custom, and story for my home. I want to name it in my own tongue, ‘Having Everything Right.'” To my eye and mind, his work, in seemingly every medium, especially these essays, has met his desire. It could stand for any place where humans make their way among the roads, rivers, pines, firs, battlegrounds and burying grounds, misfits and perfect fits, old-timers and astronauts, bees, bears, and barns of the whole wide world: call it

BOOK: Having Everything Right
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Terrible Ones by Nick Carter
The Arrangement by Mary Balogh
Dominated by Becca Jameson
One Secret Night by Jennifer Morey
The Riddle of Penncroft Farm by Dorothea Jensen
The Unnamable by Samuel beckett
The Trainmasters by Jesse Taylor Croft
Choices by Ann Herendeen
Beneath These Lies by Meghan March