Always Coming Home: A Brief Memory of Ursula K. Le Guin
North Dakota had a great deal to offer a young boy like me in the ’70s and ’80s. Raised as I was in an unusual hybrid of town living and farm life, my childhood was something like idyllic, marked by tons of free-range bicycling and unsupervised exploration. What more can any of us wish for? A pleasant childhood, free of want and ill health, is what shores us up for the turbulence of adolescence and beyond. I don’t understand how kids survive without a reasonable foundation. Many don’t, I suppose.
But there is a provincialism to small-town America that I shouldn’t need to belabor here. It’s something that at best we need to come to terms with and at worst fall victim to. With the help of a bunch of writers, musicians, and film and television people, I was able to accomplish the former. One of those writers was Ursula K. Le Guin, who, sadly, has left us at the age of 88. Her short stories and novels pulled me out of myself, out of the Midwest, and out of reality itself, while paradoxically teaching me something new about all three of those states.
There’s irony, I suppose, in the fact that I ended up moving as an adult to the Pacific Northwest, where Le Guin toiled away at her unearthly visions and words of wisdom. It’s as if she not only called me away from the geography of my youth but nearer to her influence. I even had the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine with her some years ago (part of one, anyway), after she had delivered a rousing speech that stressed the urgency of inducting J.R.R. Tolkien into the literary canon.
Always Coming Home is the apotheosis of her fiction for me, an immersive coming together of poetry, song, prose, maps, illustrations, and parables. Still, I haven’t read everything of hers. It’s probably time to seek to change that. After all, she’s left a great deal of herself behind in the words she placed so delicately, so beautifully, side by side over the decades. It’s almost as if she isn’t really gone.
That’s a kind of magic that goes beyond even the strangest of her tales. May they be read for many, many years to come.