Birds sing, love blooms in 'Accidental Birds'

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 19, 2011

“Accidental Birds of the Cariolinas,” by Marjorie Hudson. Press 53, Winston-Salem. 216 pp. $17.95.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
SALISBURY — Most of the stories in Marjorie Hudson’s “Accidental Birds of the Carolinas” feature women who are shut tight in small worlds, women who fight to maintain either their misery or happiness by isolating themselves, emotionally, physically, even geographically.
And then there’s the retired army colonel who finds himself isolated by his wife’s multiple activities and friends, even by the retirement village where they live.
Always there is a sense of wanting to get out or wanting to stay hidden — anything to avoid whatever is “out there,” whether it be love, belonging, change or truth.
In the first story, “The Clearing,” Lizzie escapes a relationship gone sour and the rest of her maddening world. She is an editor for science journals, and still does that, but back in the woods, in an old farmhouse tucked back from the road, in a happy solitude. She falls completely in love with the place: “How can I describe this place? It was rich as molecules. I knew the microbes of the soil lifted to my tongue; sometimes rain fell, metallic and dusty as a tin roof. I knew the smell of my own body — legs, breasts, hair —inside the scent of the surrounding woods. All these things held in the air like the gold must of evening or the pink chatter of dawn.”
It’s here you capture Hudson’s heart, her motivation for the book, the prose poetic, yet grounded in earth.
All the stories take place in Ambler County, North Carolina, somewhere not far from Chapel Hill. There’s a little town called Quarryville that some of the characters venture in to.
The farmer who owns the land next to Lizzie, Sarton Lee, is in the next story, “Rapture.” Sarton suffers more than the usual pains of life — his daughter ran away and died, his granddaughter comes to live with Sarton and Irma, and she dies; Irma dies.
Sarton is left with Old Weiner, a golden retriever who has an amazing power to heal broken hearts and souls.
“The High Life” brings in Dip and Royal, carnies who run a ride in the midway of here, there and yonder. Dip’s not but 16, and Royal behaves like he’s 16, though he’s seen a lot of years on the midway, drank a lot of beer, met up with plenty of one-time women.
Dip has left an abusive family; Royal’s family seems to be the people who come to the fair, and he tells Dip why they come: “Royal said they all came to get jolted out of being so boring, to get so scared they got sick, to play at living high.”
In “Providence” another young woman runs away from a mentally damaged young veteran who clings to her so tightly at night that her ribs are bruised and she can’t breathe. She steals his prized Mustang and heads South, to Ambler County, to the town of Sissipahaw, population 41, where, like Lizzie, she moves into a bedraggled old house and takes a chance on trust.
The title story again carries that lament — “I’m here but I want it to be someplace else” — and the love story of a long-married couple. Retired Army colonel Rand Lee and his wife Anne have moved to a retirement village in that same North Carolina county. Rand, who has recently had his second heart attack, wants to live quietly and physically, even if it means a third and deadly heart attack. He wants to go fast and he doesn’t want Anne to be burdened with his care.
Anne is the social one, immediately making friends and joining in on group activities.
They begin to drift apart. Anne does what she wants, she enjoys her friends and their dinners and outings. She gives up on Rand, building a distance he finally cannot cross.
The novella in the collection, “The Outside World,” pulls in references from the other stories. Unsettling and by turns joyful and disturbing, this work almost overshadows the rest of the pieces.
It is intensely felt, written with passion and longing and full of unanswered questions.
Jolene is a Mennonite woman from Nebraska whose upbringing does not include demonstrative love. Her parents work hard, attend church, keep up appearances, but like so many others in Hudson’s stories, they are isolated, insulated from “The Outside World”
When Jolene goes to college, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she finds some of what she’s looking for — and then much more, falling for a graduate student who teaches one of her classes.
Her innocence and other-worldliness appeal so to John that they are quickly married and set up house on an old farm, owned by John’s uncle, way back off the road, away from hustle, bustle and demands. Here, John says, he can finish his book on Thoreau by living like Thoreau.
When Jolene becomes pregnant, there’s no doctor or pre-natal care. Instead, John takes her to the midwife who delivered him, Reba, who’s something from a different era, and not just because she’s in her 80s. She uses herbs and incantations and a beautiful baby boy arrives without incident.
He earns a long, fancy name, Beauregard Simpson Blake, but he’s called Bobo.
Only Bobo isn’t quite right; by age 2, he is neither walking nor talking, not even crawling. Jolene suspects something wrong, but John convinces her it’s nothing.
When they learn the truth, everything about their idyllic life in the woods is at risk. John retreats from Jolene, even though Bobo thrives with new care and special attention.
He has a furry guardian angel, Ace, who keeps him out of trouble and even seems to speak his language.
Isolated and miserable again, Jolene sets out to find healing for what’s broken, broken in her and John — not the joyful Bobo.
Hudson must believe in magic, and uses it in her writing, creating magical scenes, magical effects, vivid dreams, mysterious events.
The place in each story is vital to the person and the story, and almost all the places are off back roads, deep in the woods, anchored in ancient land and bursting with nature.
Birds sing through several stories, and by the end of the novella, there’s been a symphony of mockingbirds, whippoorwills, sparrows, frogs, dogs, bees, butterflies and more.
Each lost soul connects to the natural world for healing and solace.
There’s nothing accidental in this collection — everything is related, through place.
It’s a revelation of feelings and yearnings and finally, peace.