Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-5

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Introduction

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pp. vii-xii

Last month I dreamed about a family so famously happy that the government commissioned a study of them. “Unearthing the secret of happiness,” the principal investigator said, “would spread blessings around the globe, ending all wars and thus altering the courses of human history and evolution.” ...

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The End of Term

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pp. 1-7

“In the summer,” Wendy began her final paper for my class on nature writers, “I wake up at seven, eat oatmeal with blueberries, and leave the house on my purple bicycle, wearing a sweatshirt to protect myself from the cold morning air. I ride past tobacco barns and through tobacco fields, sometimes taking my hands off the handlebars ...

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Research

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pp. 8-16

Connecticut takes pride in being a “Tier I” research university, and an archipelago of centers and institutes surrounds the library and athletic fields. Reefs of specialized learning bracket many of the islands, and I have never explored the Institute of Material Science, for example, with its Electrical Insulation Research Center ...

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Resort

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pp. 17-33

Dreaming begins in late fall and stretches through winter. In November I dreamed that I was raking leaves and woke up musty with perspiration, blankets scraped into a pile. I went downstairs to the kitchen, drank a glass of orange juice, and for twenty minutes stared at the linoleum before returning to bed to be smothered by leaves again. ...

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Be of Good Cheer

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pp. 34-41

In 1712 Joseph Addison said cheerfulness was “a Moral Habit of the Mind” that turned “the Universe into a kind of Theatre filled with Objects that either raise in us Pleasure, Amusement, or Admiration.” Alas scruples cause stage fright and, diminishing the capacity for merriment, lead one to avoid treading the boards of life. ...

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Unsettled

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pp. 42-46

Connecticut is the land of steady winters. Spring drizzles cold and willful through late April. As I await the warm blooms of May, I become impatient and dream of Tennessee, redbuds sprinkled across its hillsides and in its cities mockingbirds cavalierly bucking over yards. ...

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Spring Pruning

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pp. 47-59

Two years ago calcium spiked in my blood, and Ken, my family doctor, sent me to a kidney specialist. I struggled through a decathlon of blood tests, at the end of which the man said, “You don’t have cancer, but you probably have a benign tumor in a parathyroid. You should see an endocrinologist.” ...

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Puffing

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pp. 60-68

Last March the Oxford University Press asked me to write a puff for the book jacket of Stanley Fish’s Save the World on Your Own Time. I have written a library of blurbs, so many that my friend Josh has nicknamed me “Puff Adder.” Moments determine words. ...

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Post Operative

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pp. 69-73

In September, as the old story puts it, two bulls met outside a barn. “How was your summer?” the first bull asked. “Splendid,” the second bull lowed, rubbing his hide against a door jam. “I spent the vacation in the lowlands up to my hocks in clover, drinking spring water that tasted like oats. ...

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Everything Can’t be Perfect

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pp. 74-80

One mild fall evening a farmer and his wife sat on the front porch rocking. Dinner had been good: chicken that pecked through bushels of bugs to sweetness, turnip greens seasoned by hog not worms, blood-red tomatoes, and rolls rounder than the harvest moon. The mortgage had been paid off. ...

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Plots

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pp. 81-91

One Sunday afternoon near the end of July, Vicki and I visited four gardens in Yarmouth. For forty years owners had dug and filled, transforming spruce thickets and the corners of pastures bristly with alders into small plots of order and beauty. Daylilies shined brassy, their petals practically notes, usually orange and yellow but occasionally scarlet. ...

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Close Reading

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pp. 92-97

“What’s the difference between a flimsy dress and an extracted tooth?” the filler at the bottom of the page asked before answering, “one is too thin while the other is tooth out.” “Shouldn’t a sheep dog have a lamb pup?” another filler mused. Recently I’d read an article praising close observation and criticizing broad generalities. ...

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Doing Nothing, Nothing Doing

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pp. 98-107

“Here you are,” Vicki said, standing in the doorway, rain raking the fog outside, “a gray man in a moldy room. What are you thinking?” I could have been thinking about many things: Excalibur, the name Edward dubbed the trowel used to scoop dog droppings out of the side meadow; ...

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Fall

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pp. 108-112

“It was just one of those Malibu nights,” Elizabeth Adler wrote in the first paragraph of a novel, “dark as a velvet shroud, creamy waves crashing onto the shore, breeze soft as a kitten’s breath.” Fall nights in Beaver River are different. In Beaver River waves thump the shore, then ratchet over the rocks before withdrawing, leaving them spackled. ...

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Ports of Call

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pp. 113-129

During the economic debacle my pension flew south and, drifting offshore, molted, most of its green feathers vanishing in the financial Sargasso Sea. Vicki is eleven years younger than me, and the money set aside for my retirement must take care of her after I’m dead. I don’t need to amass more money. ...

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Winter Dreams

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pp. 130-135

Early in December a dream so cheered me that I woke myself. The dream was a story, and I wanted to remember it. In the dream a nice but diffident and socially awkward man had a secret life writing comic novels under a pseudonym. Anonymity freed the man from shyness, and on the page his personality expanded into confidence and laughter. ...

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Boring

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pp. 136-143

“Daddy,” Eliza said turning in her chair and staring down the dinner table at me, “you are the only old person I have ever really known.” Eliza’s grandparents died before becoming fixed in her memory. Moreover Eliza grew up in a university town populated by people who left home in order to teach, forsaking place and parents. ...

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Afterword

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pp. 144-147

Last Saturday was gray, the snow thin and hard across the yard, rising into brown welts at the edge of the road. Silence was rusty and thick. Squirrels stayed in their nests and didn’t scribble through trees. I watched an oak leaf drag across the ground, staggering and shuffling as if on crutches. ...