Friday, March 23, 2007

Crossing Paths With Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen is part pirate and part priest.

For decades, this prodigious author has been plundering the planet for scenes, for stories, for plot, for action and adventure he can turn into books. He doesn't take the treasures he finds away, except in memory. From the Amazon and Africa and Asia and Antarctica, he bears his severe and soaring witness away in little water-resistant notebooks full of scribbles he'll rework again and again.

In person, Matthiessen is a curious bird, a writer who is also a master story teller.

He's an excitable raconteur, downright boyish in his enthusiasms and yet worldy-wise in his skeptical take on things, the powerless and the powers that be. He spins his yards with a gravelly voice and with hands that seem to dance and soar like little jets and wings. He pauses to give the deeper undercurrents of a tale, the moral of the story, and speaks with subtle gestures caught in the furrow and the wrinkles of his brow and his deep set eyes, yet his hands are all over the map, so eager to show us, to express to us where he's been and what he found there.

Matthiessen is masculine yet soft, a boxer from the old days, and still boyish in his overt passions and enthusiasms and mannerisms. His mind and career have been tethered not to home but to boats and small planes and rough and muddy trails. For a man, he is distinctly migratory, filled with an insatiably curious and attentive wanderlust. At 79, almost 80, he remains ambitious and yet impish.

The renowned adventure traveler, pilgrim and author is a rakish sort of guy. For decades, he's been outward bound to the remote nooks and crannies of the planet, plundering it for stories, yet at the same time endearing himself to the natives near and far.

[to be continued, check back]


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