The call of the wild

images-1He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars…


These are Buck’s thoughts as he leads a pack of fellow sled dogs on a night chase to track and kill a snowshoe rabbit.  It’s the Yukon at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush and Buck, kidnapped from his loving home in the Santa Clara Valley and forced to work on a dog team, is quickly shedding his domesticated ways and reverting to an atavistic wildness.  He’s cold and hungry and driven to violence.  You can almost taste the blood on your tongue and feel the bitter wind in your fur as you read Jack London’s 1903 novel. During this dreary final stretch of March, it is something of a wonder to be transported to such a different place and time and, in this case, transformed into an entirely different species. As with all great books, The Call of the Wild offers the thrill of escape and adventure without even having to kick off the bed sheets.

A friend of mine wrote that she was recovering from the flu by rereading Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. This masterwork begins with the throwing of a single snowball which misses its target — and sets off a series of events that will reverberate  across many years and many characters’ lives.  It takes place primarily in the fictional small village of Deptford, Ontario.  However, if you chance to visit the place you’ll discover that it will soon feel as real and memorable as the Kent marshland in Great Expectations or Anna Karenina’s Moscow.

My father read The Call of the Wild aloud to my siblings and me when we were young.  We’d go camping every summer and he’d read something to us each night at bedtime; My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber was another favorite. There’s a scene early on in the The Call of the Wild where Buck, trying to find a warm place to sleep on the snow-bound tundra, realizes that all the other dogs have disappeared.  Weary and shivering, he searches for them and finally discovers that they’ve curled up under the snow which, reflecting their animal heat, keeps them warm. Closing my eyes, I can almost hear my father’s voice again reading that passage and imagine the light from the campfire outside casting long shadows across the roof of our canvas tent.  Just as I can almost remember being that girl, snuggling into her sleeping bag — with Buck right there beside her in the snow.

What have you been reading lately?  And where has it taken you?  Write and tell me about it in the comments section below.

Here’s a poem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Wilbur about the joys of rereading.

 She is going back, these days, to the great stories
That charmed her younger mind. A shaded light
Shines on the nape half-shadowed by her curls,
And a page turns now with a scuffing sound.
Onward they come again, the orphans reaching
For a first handhold in a stony world,
The young provincials who at last look down
On the city’s maze, and will descend into it,
The serious girl, once more, who would live nobly,
The sly one who aspires to marry so,
The young man bent on glory, and that other
Who seeks a burden. Knowing as she does
What will become of them in bloody field
Or Tuscan garden, it may be that at times
She sees their first and final selves at once,
As a god might to whom all time is now.
Or, having lived so much herself, perhaps
She meets them this time with a wiser eye,
Noting that Julien’s calculating head
Is from the first too severed from his heart.
But the true wonder of it is that she,
For all that she may know of consequences,
Still turns enchanted to the next bright page
Like some Natasha in the ballroom door—
Caught in the flow of things wherever bound,
The blind delight of being, ready still
To enter life on life and see them through.

For more poems by and information about Richard Wilbur and to listen to him read this poem aloud, click here:


This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The call of the wild

  1. Liza, I wonder if you have already read The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (2003). It takes place during World War II, and concerns a gardener who is hired to reclaim a rural garden for the war effort. She discovers a hidden spot within the large acreage with all sorts of delightful plants for her to work on besides the utilitarian project she is charged with.

    I just read Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons for the first time. How did I never read him until now? 200 pages of perfection.

    Have been rereading Dickens … and reading some of the ones I missed like Our Mutual Friend.

  2. Lorraine Tinger says:

    Liza, whew! Food for the soul on this icy, last day of March, morning.

    I have never been able to get past the first few pages of a Jack London novel, but when we visit our son in Oakland, CA, we always go to the Heingold First and Last Chance Saloon in Jack London Square. This is where Jack London would go to study and the owner, Heingold, loaned him the money to study to become a writer. Jack may have written some of his novels in the bar. The cabin where he lived in Alaska has been imported and rebuilt and is located right next to the bar. Hope you get to visit it.

    I loved the Richard Wilbur poem, Reader.

    Thank you, Lorraine

    • Liza says:

      Thank you, Lorraine. You may want to give The Call of the Wild another try — I found some of the passages pure poetry. The skies are clearing — and April is almost here. Hold on!

  3. Liza says:

    Thank you, Patty. I’ve ordered ‘The Lost Garden’ and look forward to reading it. I reread Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ recently. This is probably my third or fourth time ’round with the book and always before I was enthralled by the characters and the story. But this time I was struck by the his descriptive power. How the marshes come alive — and that last scene on the Thames at night!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.