The decision to go to the estate sale that morning was spontaneous, based on 5th hand email information, but there were supposed to be books. Specifically, “a great deal of gardening, botany, and entomology books—$2 hardback, $1 soft cover.”
To a major nature and gardening book freak on a budget, those words made for one sweet carrot. After calling to make sure there were some left (I was told they were still “hundreds”), I hit the road.
Off Colorado Springs’ Highway 83 I took a bumpy, still-icy-in-spots dirt lane that meandered through greening ponderosa pines. “No Trespassing” signs bobbed by as I met people leaving the sale in their SUVs and extended cabs. They pulled over, made room for my Taurus. The anticipation and excitement built as I got closer to what might be a good score.
The excitement ebbed when I entered the handsome Spanish Colonial home. The reality of the sale hit home. The sad and simple truth struck me as vaguely obscene—those who attend estate sales were invited intruders, shuffling through the material details of a lost loved one’s life. They were there to see if anything struck their fancy, if others’ loss could be their gain.
In the foyer, a woman sitting behind a table greeted me. We chatted, she told me the deceased had been a naturalist, and directed me to her personal library.
I noticed the rocks first—piles of mostly unmarked specimens scattered across a huge brick hearth. The sight put me at ease. I, too, collected rocks, an unusual hobby for most women. (Nothing says nature is a passion like rocks strewn about one’s home.) I had to look through them, but I reminded myself the reason I came was books.
Browsing the shelves, I was reminded how intimate and telling a personal library is. Paper and ink reveal passions, amusements, and concerns, the head and the heart. Mine stirred to realize this woman was a kindred spirit. Such wonderful books! One on seashells, one on feathers, and so many more that celebrated Nature’s extraordinary physical designs. To my growing pile, I added books that explored what we know about the minds and souls of animals. I thrilled to discover a vintage copy of The Harvest of the Years by Luther Burbank, and it was a godsend to claim a recent dictionary–as mine was in tatters. I found a book on Einstein, Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and Mark Twain’s The Jumping Frog. This lady and I not only shared a love for nature, but our tastes merged in other subjects.
Most of the books were marked in. I would be able to see what she found most interesting and if it jelled with my own perceptions. We could almost converse! Soon, I had a stack of about 30, and I still had the minerals to explore.
“Are you a member of the family?” I asked the woman at checkout, hoping to express both my condolences and gratitude. “Oh no,” the woman said, looking embarrassed. “We’re just handling the sale.”
A few days later, as I headed out the door to pick up my daughters from elementary and middle-school, I grabbed one of the books, Earth Prayers from Around the World. Waiting in the car, I thumbed through it, giving special attention to the dog-eared pages. I stopped on a poem circled with thin red marker. The first line began, “Do not stand at my grave and weep.”
The poem described how the spirits of the dead live on in wind, rain, sunlight and starlight. The last lines of Joyce Fossen’s poem read:
Do not stand at my grave
I am not there. I do not sleep.
Underneath, my benefactress added her own two lines of verse:
Do not cry—
I did not Die!
I caressed the casual red script of my newest acquaintance. Spirits could live on in wind and sun. They could also live on, and even communicate with, those of like minds in second-hand books.