“It is only when we are aware of the earth and of the earth as poetry that we truly live.”–Henry Beston
The Outermost House by Henry Beston is my favourite work of nonfiction. Reading it changed my life. Rereading it changed my life. One day I’ll write a great big lovely essay about its impact on my thinking and being and attitude. Until then, curious people can check out the fabulous henrybeston.com.
This fun and informative site is the perfect gateway into the life and works of the only writer to have a real literary impact on the great Rachel Carson. It also provides information about Beston’s wife, the writer Elizabeth Coatsworth, and their many years of partnership.
With its breathtakingly evocative retelling of a year spent living on a remote Cape Cod beach wedded to solid and careful craftsmanship, ‘The Outermost House’, first published in 1928, is an indispensable classic. It contains a treasure-trove of amateur naturalist Beston’s descriptions of the local terrain and animal-life, especially the many species of migrating birds, set side-by-side with his lush and emotional reactions to the never-still life force unfolding around him. It is sated, brim-full, with the author’s uncanny yet non-judgmental wonder at his milieu. Beston dwells magnificently on the minutia of his surroundings, firing his awed and reverent accounts of the movements of the tides and peregrinations of diverse animal species with soaring, deft prose. From the changing sound of the surf to the ages-old tragedy of ship-wreck, ‘The Outermost House’ is a vivid and vigorous representation of the rhythm of coastal life in its many forms. It is a broad yet hypnotically intimate account of the primitive and plenary pageant of life that was even then slipping into the confines of the modern world. Beston’s lovely and enduring masterpiece never bows to sentimentality but maintains an instinctive and sympathetic understanding of the enigmatic ordering of nature.
*First published in the Atomic Tomorrow, February 2005.