The Outermost House

Bookshelf: The Outermost House

The Outermost House – Henry Beston

The Outermost House
The Outermost House

Henry Beston spent more than a year living in a two-roomed wooden house on a dune in Cape Cod, and published this classic of American nature writing about his time there in 1929. Living in isolation except for occasional encounters with the staff of the coastguard stations along that stretch of coast, Beston watched the rhythms of the weather and migratory birds as the seasons passed. He saw shipwrecks on the beach outside his home, and felt the wind and waves during the winter months, threatening the dune on which his house stood.

It is from this short volume that Beston’s beautiful quote about animals (“they are other Nations” -you can read it here) comes. Beston’s prose compels one to read on and on, washing the reader along in a flood of effortless prose. He does not often make a demand of the reader, a required pause for thought, but when he does, it is beautiful.

Carl Safina’s latest book, The View from Lazy Point, at first glance may seem to be in Beston’s nature writing tradition, but for himself he explicitly rejects the introspection and solitude that pervades The Outermost House. Safina also tracks the seasons of a year at his home at Lazy Point, but he steps outside of that milieu and identifies the threats to our way of life – and our enjoyment of coastal idylls such as Beston’s – that originate far and wide.

This inward focus does not mean that The Outermost House is outdated or irrelevant. It is a glimpse into an increasingly unusual set of experiences, at the kind of unspoiled location that is more and more rare. Perhaps the best way to read it – apart from as beautiful literature – is as a challenge to seek out wilderness experiences as the antidote to modern life.

The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.

You can get a copy here or here, and if you’re in South Africa, here.

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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