"....The truth is out there."
-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
-- Books, Old & New --
One of those assisting the Auburn team along the Choctawhatchee this season is a veterinarian out of North Carolina, Dr. Gregory Lewbart. Dr. Lewbart wrote possibly the only novel ever centered around the Ivory-billed Woodpecker back in 1996, well before all the current hoopla, entitled "Ivory Hunters: A Novel of Extinction." The action-adventure story revolves, somewhat presciently, around the discovery of Ivory-bills in the Big Cypress woods area of southern Florida. You can find used copies here on Amazon (and probably through other used book venues on the Web as well).
Amazon also is taking pre-orders for Dr. Hill's forthcoming book, "Ivory-bill Hunters: The Search For Proof In a Flooded Wilderness," on the Auburn find here, though I would urge those who can wait, to purchase it at your local area bookstore when available (Feb/Mar. --- they need your business more than Amazon! the Lewbart book, on-the-other-hand, is probably out-of-print and only available through the Web or occasionally in used bookshops).
By: Warren Smith
--- When I got news this week that scientists in Arkansas had seen an ivory-billed woodpecker thought to be extinct, a rush of memories came back, and they had little to do with the woodpecker, and everything to do with God and man and what the natural world has to teach us about both.
These were lessons at the heart of Jim Kilgo’s “Deep Enough For Ivorybills,” which was one of the first books published by the now venerable Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Dr. Kilgo was a friend and teacher 20 years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Georgia. Some years earlier, Kilgo had written a newspaper column that contained his hunting and fishing tales. He decided to compile the articles into a book, but upon revisiting the material, he discovered the true genius, the complete arc of the book. It was not a collection of hunting stories after all, but a hunt for that deep place in the soul. A quest for a blank spot on the map and in the heart that contains beauty and mystery -- a wilderness “deep enough for ivorybills.”
The book’s opening scene introduces ivorybills as a symbol of that beauty and mystery. It’s the story of a family trip from Kilgo’s boyhood home in Darlington, S.C., to Myrtle Beach. As they cross the Big Pee Dee River bridge his father observes: “I bet there’re still ivorybills in there.”
“Really?” the young Kilgo wondered.
“Could be,” his dad replied. “There’re places in that swamp nobody’s ever been in.”
That opening story became the theme of the book: to go, or at least to approach, places “nobody’s ever been in,” in search of mystery, beauty, and truth.
Jim Kilgo did that in his own life. In the “publish or perish” culture of the modern university, he decided instead to become a master teacher. He poured himself into the classes he taught and into his students, winning at least five campus-wide awards for his teaching – that on a campus with so many teachers that almost no one else had won the award even once.
And in an environment hostile to Christianity, which the modern state-run university has become, Kilgo’s Christian faith was also known. He was never, ever ideological, especially in the classroom. But he made sure that his students knew and understood Flannery O’Connor’s famous assessment of Southern writers, that they could “outwrite anybody in the country because [they have] the Bible and a little history.”
He eventually did get around to publishing. “Deep Enough For Ivory Bills” came out in 1988, when he was in his forties, and it put him on the literary map. Other books, including a novel, followed in quick succession.
But in the early 90s, he entered a swamp that contained other mysteries and other truths. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I would occasionally speak with him on the phone during this time, and he would call his cancer a “damned thing.” Ever precise with language, I knew he was not being glib or profane. He meant me to understand that God is a God of life, and anything that destroys life would – count on it -- be damned. Dr. Kilgo was simply doing with cancer what he had always done: look deeply into the thing and tell the truth about it. But there was also a joy in calling cancer a “damned thing.” He wanted me to know that God, not this cancer, was sovereign and that he was not – and I should not – be afraid.
When Dr. Kilgo’s body finally succumbed to cancer, in 2002, his family and members of his church were gathered around him, praying and singing hymns. By then, “Deep Enough For Ivorybills” was being compared to Thoreau’s “Walden” and Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” – a classic in the “pastoral narrative” tradition.
Dr. Kilgo would have delighted in the news of the discovery of an ivorybill in the swamps of Arkansas, the first confirmed sighting since 1944, when Dr. Kilgo was a small boy. He may have feigned disappointment that they weren’t discovered in the Pee Dee River swamp, but that would have been all in fun. I think he would have said, “I knew it all along.”
Indeed, hoping in the unseen was one of the lessons of Jim Kilgo’s books and his life. And not just to hope, but to enter in and know the mysterious beyond. We should strive toward the Beautiful, the Real, and the True – though it is as yet unseen.
In other words, Jim Kilgo knew, and taught others, that looking deeply into both riverswamps and the human heart takes courage and energy, but is always, always worth the cost.
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