Reading “Wild Delicate Seconds, 29 Wildlife Encounters,
” a recent book by one-time Bitterroot resident Charles Finn, is a little like flipping through someone’s family photo album as they recount the events pictured there. Only in this case the family is all animals, twenty-nine to be exact, ranging from bears to frogs, from flying squirrels to pygmy owls.
It’s a short book full of what Finn calls “micro-essays” on animals he has encountered over the years. Almost all of the encounters are by chance, many are surprising. Only three were encounters that he planned, when he went out specifically to meet some snowy owls, sandhill cranes and golden eagles.
“Because of the unexpectedness of these meetings they held a special quality for me,” writes Finn in the preface to his book. “Always there was a timelessness, a residue of the sacred, and a lingering feeling that I was witnessing something spectacular. And I was.”
The result is a very different kind of nature book. In an effort to keep true to the surprising and fleeting nature of most of the encounters, Finn chose to keep his recounting brief. He does not include any background material about the animals. He leaves out information about the location, the natural history of the animal and even his own history of meeting other animals of its kind.
“In this way only the most important details survive,” he said, “those few shimmering moments I spent lost to the world, alive in the company of these ‘other nations’, as Henry Beston describes them, the wild, feathered, and furred creatures we share this planet with.”
There are no maulings or fantastic escapes in Finn’s narratives, only stillness and attentiveness to beauty. With profundity, humor, and compassion, Finn pays homage to the creatures we share our world with, the black bears, bumble bees, mountain lions and muskrats – and, in doing so, touches on what it means to be human.
Finn is editor of High Desert Journal. His writing has appeared in more than fifty newspapers, journals, magazines, and anthologies, including The Sun, Open Spaces, Northern Lights, Big Sky Journal and High Country News. Before joining the journal, Charles taught English as a foreign language for three years in Hiroshima, Japan, hid out in the woods of British Columbia, Canada for ten, living in a 8 x 12 cabin of his own making with no running water or electricity, and spent five years in Montana where, as a self-taught woodworker and proponent of “living little” he began building “microhomes,” one-room wood cabins constructed entirely out of reclaimed lumber and materials he salvaged from taking down old barns and buildings. Originally from Vermont he moved from Stevensville to Bend, Oregon in 2008, but has recently relocated to Elizabeth, New Jersey where he lives with his wife, Joyce Mphande, and their two cats, Pushkin and Lutsa.
Finn will be reading and signing copies of his book at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and at Fact & Fiction in Missoula on Tuesday, May 8 at 7 p.m.