It can be hard to read a coffee table sized book while sitting on a Boston subway during rush hour. But that’s what I was trying to do after a visit to the library to retrieve the book Nature’s Chaos, a collaboration between photographer Eliot Porter and writer James Gleick. I sat snugly between, on my left, an older African fellow wearing a very puffy and, I’m sure, warm coat. On my right sat a young Chinese boy wearing a very puffy and, I’m sure, warm coat. The little boy kept getting in trouble with his dad because he was a bit hyper.
I’d been waiting a long time for this book. Carefully, very carefully, trying to respect the space of my neighbors, I opened up the book into a narrow V-shape. I figured the text I could read later, but I wanted a peek at Porter’s vast landscapes. I could see a little but not enough. Wider I opened the book. I peered closely at the sweeping patterns in cracked mud and lava flows. There were leaves on water and sunset clouds. As I lost myself in these scenes, perhaps the book fell open wider still because all of a sudden I noticed something.
Now the African gentleman was a bit more subtle but I could tell he was looking at the book with me. He’d adjust his glasses as I turned a page and every now and then he’d bend over slightly, trying to see the cover to find out what in the world I was looking at. The little boy hadn’t learned how to be subtle. He just peered right over my arm. I didn’t bother looking at his dad. I just began pointing out features on the page to the boy. Occasionally I’d drag my finger along a seemingly mundane scene, like orange flowers in a green field or vines on a tree trunk. I’d say softly, “That’s pretty cool, hunh?” His eyes never leaving the page, he’d nod and say softly, “Yeah.”
On the last page, I made a dramatic show of closing the book and saying in a little louder voice, “And that’s it!” The little boy (and the gentleman too I suppose) slid back into his chair. His father whispered to him. The little boy looked up at me.
“Thank you,” he said.
I smiled. “You’re welcome.”