Peter Matthiessen In Paradise


Matthiessen In Paradise

Perhaps so.

Rivendell Books, here in Montpelier, didn’t waste anytime putting this where it belongs, right out front. I think of Matthiessen late as I go birding, for he set the bird hook in my long ago with Wildife in America and then the African books.

On down the track. I’m finding the death of artists I like brings a particular and particularly painful sort of grief. Experienced first many years ago when John Cheever died, and I wept and wept.  Goodbye, My Brother. Could hardly bear it.

James Salter has a good remembrance of Matthiessen in The New Yorker, where PM first published “The Snow Leopard”:

I was reluctant to give him my work to read. I was afraid of his disapproval and too proud for advice. This may seem funny, considering how much we were with one another and how freely we talked, but there was always that slight competitive element to things. He did give me suggestions about “Burning the Days” that I took.

I’m leaving out the trips to Europe and the intimacy that developed between our families. My children felt close to him, especially Theo, my younger son. When you celebrate Christmases together and everyone’s birthdays and other events through the years, a dense and indestructible fabric is made, really too rich to imitate or describe. We sailed up the Nile. We were in France together, St. Petersburg, Italy. We drank together, sometimes quite a bit. For a few years, in our sixties, we had a ritual of throwing ourselves into the cold sea on November 1st, then having an icy martini with our wives on the beach.

We got old. At the end of the 2012, he left on a trip to Mongolia to write about great Siberian tigers, a threatened group, though he wasn’t feeling well. It involved twenty hours or more of flying and trekking after that. He forced himself to go, and he returned completely exhausted. It turned out to be leukemia.

His illness was private. It lasted more than a year, and the treatment was difficult. During it, as he became weaker, with his characteristic determination he wrote a final book, just published this past week, “In Paradise.” He died in his home near the sea.