I do not know what the city-bred recollect of childhood, but one of my earliest memories is of a sunny Easter morning, when I was no more than three or four years old, standing in an unpaved lane that led down to a tiny farm: the bright new grass was pushing through last year's burnt-over stubble; the chickens muttered approvingly about the weather; and—though this seems hardly likely so close to the shore of Lake Superior—a few wild flowers had begun to unfold at the edge of the ditch.
A little later there were the summer days spent on a Swedish farm owned by a deer-hunting friend of my father or the July afternoon I stood boiling from the waist up while the rest of me froze in the Brule River, waiting patiently for the trout that never came. When I think of those days I always see birches on a bluff over an expanse of blue water.
In later years it was the sea, vast and crystalline, that spread before our house in South Carolina, and behind us what Charleston's poet Henry Timrod described as
A league of desolate marshland, with its lush
Hot grasses in a noisome tide-left bed,
And faint warm airs that rustle in the hush
Like whispers round the body of the dead.
There is no point pretending indifference to such things. Even the hardest man will notice the landscape, and more than a few military veterans devote themselves to a garden in their...