Monday, January 30, 2017

"Fine and strong and simple."

Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out the dust a faint ‘Poop-poop!’ wailed like an uneasy animal in pain. Hardly regarding it, they turned to resume their conversation, when in an instant (as it seemed) the peaceful scene was changed, and with a blast of wind and a whirl of sound that made them jump for the nearest ditch, It was on them! The ‘Poop-poop’ rang with a brazen shout in their ears, they had a moment’s glimpse of an interior of glittering plate-glass and rich morocco, and the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more.
Toad sat straight down in the middle of the dusty road, his legs stretched out before him, and stared fixedly in the direction of the disappearing motor-car. He breathed short, his face wore a placid satisfied expression, and at intervals he faintly murmured ‘Poop-poop!’ .
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows 
Karli and I are currently in the final stages of tactical planning for a trip to Disneyland for her birthday next week.  As part of the process, Karli has been going through the various rides, attractions and activities available at the park and dividing them up based on the following criteria: things that she really wants to do; things we could do; and things which fall below the threshold of interest* for adults.

This list is not as self-evident as it would seem - there are some entries in the first category which many people might well consider to belong solidly in the third group.  However, Karli has a strongly nostalgic bias for our visit to Anaheim, and as such there are activities that she wants to do based on her youthful memories of them rather than their adult appeal. (Which in my mind is a completely valid approach -I'm a big fan of reliving childhood.)

One of the selections which came up as part of this process was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, which premiered at the park's opening in 1955 but received a facelift in 1983. When it was suggested as a preference, my first question was, "Does it go 'poop poop'?"

Karli lowered her iPad Mini and looked at me quizzically.

"Does it what?"

"Go 'poop poop'."

"Why in the world would it go poop poop?"

At this point, I went to the bookcase and pulled out my worn copy of The Wind in the Willows for a brief dissertation on the foundations of Toad's ill-fated obsession with motor cars, as seen in the opening quote.

Written by British author Kenneth Grahame in 1908, The Wind in the Willows is part of the great body of Edwardian children's literature. Beatrix Potter first introduces The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902, J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan debuts on stage in 1904, E. Nesbit's The Railway Children is published in 1906, and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden in 1911.  (In the interests of Canadian content, Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, makes its appearance before the public eye in 1908.)

The Wind in the Willows tells the story - or more accurately the stories - of a mismatched quartet of animal companions:  the Mole, a naive but earnest visitor to the world aboveground; his more experienced guide the Water Rat, who lives in a burrow by the river; the Badger, a gruff, respected and somewhat feared senior member of the woodland community, and the Toad, the egotistical and somewhat scatterbrained inheritor of Toad Hall.

The book is intensely episodic, ranging widely from the broad comedy of Toad's mishaps and adventures to the lyricism of the Water Rat's encounter with the Sea Rat, the unexpected mysticism of chapter entitled "The Piper At The Gates of Dawn" and the simple heartfelt nostalgia of the Mole's desire to see his old burrow once again when he catches its scent.

I first read The Wind in the Willows when I was about 20.  My then girlfriend owned a copy, and one evening when I was looking for something to read, my eye fell upon it in the bookcase as a recognized title. I started to read, and fell in love with it instantly.

Since then, The Wind in the Willows has been one of the great quiet foundations of my life. Reading the poetry of its text has calmed me when my spirit has been troubled, and comforted me after nightmares. In times of contentment, it has warmed me and satisfied me.  Like the Mole, I am "bewitched, entranced, fascinated" - taken out of my life and shown a different world through Grahame's descriptions of simple things: sunlight on water, a welcoming light at night, good food and the company of good friends, and the whispering of the wind through the willows.

- Sid

* Or seat size.

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