For many reasons – and for reasons that have varied through the years – Labor Day has long been my favorite national holiday.
That’s been especially so for the past twelve years, as that’s when the annual Decatur Book Festival takes place.
This year’s festival was as delightful as it invariably is, even though – and perhaps even because – I decided to attend fewer events than usual, and even though the main person I had hoped to listen to (Krista Tippit of NPR’s “On Being”) fell ill and had to cancel.
As usual, the authors I got to listen to were extraordinarily articulate, funny, engaging, and refreshingly non-pretentious. Among the authors I got to see and hear this year:
- Elizabeth Kostova, whose Dracula-centric book The Historian I thoroughly enjoyed reading a few years ago, and who happens to know a mutual friend who lives in Asheville, where Kostova nows lives.
- Four exceptionally bright and funny panelists explaining the mysteriously enduring popularity of Jane Austen’s novels (all of which I’ve listened to, enthralled, via audiobooks).
- Editors of two anthologies talking about their collections of letters exchanged between two pair of Civil War soldiers and their wives – something that I would never have guessed would have been so interesting, but was.
- Dylan Thuras, the sweet, funny, and down-to-earth co-founder of Atlas Obscura, which has recently published a book with that title, each of them showcasing off-the-beaten path attractions around the world – including several in the Atlanta area.
- A panel of archivists and authors talking about the archives and special collections at Emory University’s Library’s Rose Archives – a panel especially interesting because two of the panelists (and the panel moderator) are African-Americans who’ve used the archives at Emory (and elsewhere), and who had eloquent and inspiring things to say about the importance of archives. And also because one the other panelist I know as a fellow-member of the Georgia LGBTQ Archives Project.
- Sam Kean, the author of (among other books) Caesar’s Last Breath, who talked hilariously and clearly about the taken-for-granted gases that make up our atmosphere – and who told an intriguing story about the refrigerator Einstein invented.
Besides enjoying a lot more people-watching than usual in the perfect (vs. the often hot-and-humid) weather during the festival, I also (also unusual for me) bought some books from one of the used-book vendors at the Festival. I am now the excited owner of yet another biography of Virginia Woolf, plus a published collection of photos, drawings, and engravings of Oscar Wilde and his circle. Those in addition to the half-dozen gardening books I picked up at bargain prices at the event that (for me) kicks off every Festival, the Dekalb Public Library’s book sale, held outdoors in front of the library.
A Bonus Day of Bliss
After happily mingling with thousands of strolling booklovers on the closed-off streets of Decatur, Georgia, I don’t usually make any special plans for the Monday holiday after the Festival ends on Sunday evening. This year, however, I decided to join a group of four other men who signed up for a Labor Day hike just over the Georgia border in South Carolina, one of the many hikes sponsored by the Wilderness Network of Georgia.
The spot along the Chatooga River that hike organizer Charles had located as the destination of our half-mile hike was as perfect as the weather turned out to be.
The five of us spent our leisurely afternoon sitting by (or cavorting around in) the river, talking, napping, and snacking next to a campfire we managed to keep going the whole time we were there. (I’ve never built a campfire during the day, or in such mild weather.)
Our day of lollygagging beside the banks of the unspoiled river was punctuated by several groups of passing kyackers or canoeists floating downstream, a gaggle of geese paddling upstream, repeated visits by two blue butterflies, and the constant background sounds of the nearby rapids.
After putting out our campfire and trudging back up the hill to our cars, we stopped for dinner at a Chinese/Thai restaurant in Clayton, Georgia. We finished our meal there just in time for a glorious sunset and the rising of an almost-full moon.
Among the factors that contributed to the perfection of this third consecutive day of bliss:
- I am part of the large cohort of middle-class Americans who’ve retired from our careers as paid laborers – with at least some savings to finance those retirements.
- I am privileged to have acheived a standard of living that’s unmarred by debt or constrained by other major financial worries.
- Despite my age – I’ll be 70 – 70!!! – next July – my health is good enough to hike down to a remote river – and back uphill again.
- I live in a country whose governments have set aside, and made accessible to citizens, vast swaths of unspoiled countryside, some of them including freely-flowing, unpolluted rivers!
- I still have functioning senses that allow me to enjoy the colors, the sounds, the smells, the textures and the other sensual delights that a picnic in the woods along the banks of a beautiful river provides.
- Waiting for me at the top of the the steepish hiking trail was a nice car whose driver got me to the river and transported me back again to my comfortable home – making it possible for me to spend the afternoon in a place remote from where I live.
- I’m not coping with trying to survive floods, wildfires, or other horrific natural catastrophes, and my life is not being disrupted by the cruel antics of any government official.
Three consecutive days of Perfection. I am a lucky, lucky man.