Strawberries on the Tundra
The moon isn’t shining. It never shines on this part of the world. The perpetual clouds choke out its feeble light. Even the sun breaks through only infrequently, like the echo of some other age when things were warm and all the colors had not drained into the endless scraggly gray plateau. The wind never stops blowing here and the buzzards never stop circling. Silence is just a word on this tempest-tossed plane.
But what is that? A bright light flashes on the horizon. Was it just a trick of our eyes? No, there it is again. But where is it coming from? It’s supposed to be night here—or is it? We lost track of time so long ago, about the same time we lost our compass. And yet, there comes that shocking ray a third time, now so bright it’s hard to look at and this time it isn’t fading. It’s growing. It’s coming towards us.
Now is the moment of decision. Should we flee back across the tundra, back to safety, back to our bed of wind-beaten undergrowth filled with nettles and forgotten dreams? Or do we face this apparition of light, this brilliant, unsettling arrival. We are so hungry, so tired. Perhaps it is help, perhaps it is someone come to rescue us. Could it be, after all this time?
And then we see it; the light splits. It divides itself into a dozen separate motes, then two dozen, then more. And we see that the lights are not merely lights, they are people, carrying lanterns, carrying torches. In fact, even their robes, full of colors we’d long forgotten, seem to carry some of the light with them. And the light brings back memories of older days, days when life was not like this, when we were not here. When we lived in sunlit lands.
We run to meet them. It’s more of a hobble really, but we rush towards them as fast as our weary legs will take us. And as we get closer we see they are bringing something else besides the light: baskets. Wicker extravagances of artful design, finery which is not supposed to exist—could not exist—out here in the tundra. And yet there they are. They must have brought them from other lands, from places we have long forgotten.
The strangers, these light-bearing pilgrims, bend down as they reach us, placing their delicate bundles before us and opening the baskets wide. And wonder of wonders, look what they have inside of them! Strawberries! Bright, red, juicy, bursting so that we can hardly contain ourselves. But still we hold back from fear. Might this be a trick after all? For it seems too marvelous to be true. One glance in the strangers’ eyes tells us that, no, this fruit was meant for us. Carefully gathered, prepared, garnished, washed, and placed there for our nourishment.
And that is how the feast began. We will never forget that day. For we were never the same after it. The winds still howl, the moon still fails, but the light—the light has never left us since that day. Not since the messengers came bearing gifts. Not since they brought us strawberries on the tundra.
Welcome to the literary landscape we find ourselves wandering in today, where what sells and what’s worth reading are not always the same thing, where anti-heroes abound and conscience-searing plot-lines are to be had a plenty. At least that is one author’s perspective on it. And it’s kind of a bleak picture, isn’t it? But it is not without hope.
Many years ago, two men whom I consider literary mentors, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were observing something similar in their own day, a dearth of a certain kind of story. And Tolkien recorded what Lewis said to him in one of his letters. What Lewis said was this, “If they won’t write the kinds of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.” And those words have been something of a rallying cry for myself in the face of what I see as a world woefully absent of good stories. Good, not only in the sense of engaging or fascinating, or page-turning good, but good in that other, more lasting sense: good for our minds and souls, something that encourages and touches us and leaves us the better for it.
There are still good stories out there. There are still pilgrims who appear on the horizon from time to time bearing gifts. You may have to hunt to find them, but there are authors who want to bring light, to bring the truth, to bring stories that, when you read them, you may find a bit like eating strawberries in the tundra.