Learning | Reading | Writing

Beacons

“The books I read are like the stone men built by the Eskimos of the great desolate tundras west of Hudson’s Bay. They still build them today, according to Farley Mowat. An Eskimo traveling alone in flat barrens will heap round stones to the height of a man, travel till he can no longer see the beacon, and build another. So I travel mute among these books, these eyeless men and women that people the empty plain. I wake up thinking: What am I reading? What will I read next? I’m terrified that I’ll run out, that I will read through all I want to, and be forced to learn wildflowers at last, to keep awake.” — Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

These stone beacons, called Inuksuk by the Inuit, are like cairns for hikers above tree line. Dillard’s description, borrowed from Mowat, stirred my imagination. I’ve used a similar analogy of stepping stones across a stream in this blog before but I love this concept of books guiding you across a barren landscape. Each of us moves through our days, finding beacons that show us the way, or, if we need it, how to get back to where we started.

It made me wonder, reading Dillard’s words, what are my own beacons? They come readily to mind. And I smile at the recollection. For they’ve been guiding me all along through the starkest and stormiest of days. Reliable and ringing truth in my most uncertain moments. Beacons save us when all hope seems lost.

And then, I wondered, what beacons am I building?

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