By Robert Root
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Additional resources for Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place
Born in Cairo, he became the master guerrilla, master terrorist, of the Middle East, waging what he called “the battle for peace,” which really was the battle for a place for Palestinians to live among the Jews. He once famously spoke to the United Nations wearing an empty gun holster and waving an olive branch, an image of perfect contradiction, which is what his life measured up to in the end, neither war nor peace completed after nearly ﬁfty years of ﬁghting, when he died in Paris of mysterious causes.
And so on a winter’s day I ﬁnd myself visiting a farm in Maine where in the gray afternoon light with the desiccated sunﬂower heads leaning from their drooping stalks and a heron loping across the sky, I watch two cows labor to cross the muddy snow-edged stream and climb the crusted slope to meet the man spreading sheaves of baled hay along the hillside. Have I come to love simple beauty because the world is too cruel to bear? Yes, there is still this balm of the pastoral, but it is not simple.
A man I know once experienced a sexually induced amnesia in which he lost memory of place. He had taken a walk into the woods with his companion. This was a sunny June afternoon, and the man and woman wandered down an abandoned forest lane, the wheel ruts of a hundred years past visible as impressions on the leaf-thick ground, an area once farmland now grown to deciduous forest where ghost tracks of stone foundations and pasture fences ran for miles, the old hand-hewn grid where sounds of sheep, chicken, horses, and children had mingled with those of the songbirds the man and woman heard on this bright green day.