Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall

Pull up a chair and settle in at Donald Hall’s old farmhouse. He makes a fine companion — wry, humble, intelligent, interesting. His essays wander fearlessly through the past and present of his life, sharing details comic, touching, and illuminating. Poetry, of course, is one of his topics, less the art itself than the vagaries of being a writer and editor (his recounting of some of the readings he’s given is a hoot). His clear prose brings numerous characters and scenes to life, from haying as a boy beside his grandfather to being wheeled through airports as an elderly man. He is well into his ninth decade carrying a sharp eye and an animated mind.

from “Out the Window”

Whatever the season, I watch the barn. I see it through the snow in January, and in August I will gaze at trailing vines of roses on a trellis against the vertical boards. I watch at the height of summer and when darkness comes early in November. From my chair I look at the west side, a gorgeous amber laved by the setting sun, as rich to the eyes as the darkening sweet of bees’ honey. The unpainted boards are dark at the bottom, and rise toward the top in a brownish yellow that holds light the longest. At barn’s end is the horse’s window, where Riley stuck out his head to count the pickups and Fords on Route 4. I study the angles of roof, a geometry of tilting, symmetrical and importantly asymmetrical, endlessly losing and recapturing itself. Over eighty years, it has changed from a working barn to a barn for looking at. Down the road, I see the ghosts of elm trees, which lined the road when Route 4 led to the Grafton Turnpike. A hundred and fifty years transformed them from green shoots to blighted bark. Out the window, I watch a white landscape that turns pale green, dark green, yellow and red, brown under bare branches, until snow falls again.