Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Willa Cather’s landscape
In my review earlier this week I mentioned that Willa Cather‘s description of pioneer life in My Ántonia could apply pretty closely to Australia, but I didn’t say that her description of the landscape could too. Again, the details are different, but the sense is the same. The expansive blue skies and the preponderance of yellows and reds in a vast landscape are all very familiar to Australians. The book is full of gorgeous descriptions featuring the sun and sky, and with the colours of red, rosy, and yellow dominating.
Here is Jim in Book 1 describing a landscape that is still new to him:
I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass.
And here he is in the 5th and final book some 30 or so years later:
Out there I felt at home again. Overhead the sky was that indescribable blue of autumn; bright and shadowless, hard as enamel. To the south I could see the dun-shaded river bluffs that used to look so big to me, and all about stretched drying cornfields, of the pale-gold colour, I remembered so well. Russian thistles were blowing across the uplands and piling against the wire fences like barricades. Along the cattle-paths the plumes of goldenrod were already fading into sun-warmed velvet, grey with gold threads in it.
If I think wheat instead of corn, and spinifex and wattles instead of Russian thistles and goldenrod, I could be reading about Australia. Not that I need to apply my reading to Australia, of course, but in this particular book it struck me again what similarities there are between the two New Worlds of Australia and America. For both our countries, Jim’s description that “there was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made” rings true.