I think I discovered Byrd Baylor’s books when I was teaching a 4th grade geology unit. From Everybody Needs A Rock:
Everybody needs a rock.
I’m sorry for kids who don’t have a rock for a friend.
I’m sorry for kids who only have tricycles bicycles horses elephants goldfish three-room playhouses fire engines wind-up dragons and things like that – if they don’t have a rock for a friend.
Back then I read some of Baylor’s other books and resonated with the compelling poetic prose frequently set into quiet Southwest landscapes. Without investigating author information or context, I put Baylor on my list of favorites. I was compelled by the regular thematic call to Stop. To Step Away from the noise. And Be Present in that place. In that moment.
Your Own Best Secret Place is a wonderful look at where to find a special place: A hollow in the foot of an old cottonwood tree, an old sand gully, amidst the mountains and tunnels and craters and caves of bales of hay in a barn, perhaps a pear tree in Virginia that bends down to the ground. And what to do in that special place? Perhaps sit there on a fallen white tree trunk and watch for beavers or badgers or fox to pass by. Or if it’s raining: curl up like a fox, cozy and warm, looking out at the rain. You may find that hay smells better than flowers and is the best thing in the world to sleep on. You can eat a pear for breakfast.
Find your own best secret place and BE there.
Baylor further illustrates this idea of being still and present in The Other Way to Listen, which is a beautiful tale of a young boy learning from the wisdom and instruction of an old man how to fully hear the natural world. I’ve just finished listening to the On Being podcast in which Krista Tippett interviewed Gordon Hempton. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who “defines real quiet as presence – not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise.”
“Sometimes EVERYTHING BEING RIGHT makes a kind of sound,” says the old man in Baylor’s book. There is so much depth and richness to this mash-up of Baylor and Hempton that I’m going to circle back another day. The podcast is thoughtful and challenging. I recommend it.
I ran across a copy of The Other Way to Listen when I was at Powells this past spring. I bought it. And after reading it to my boys when we got home I began to poke around on Amazon and then Google as I followed the trail for information about this author whose words I love. I learned two startling facts:
1. Byrd Baylor is a woman!! For completely unfounded reason these 10 years I had assumed she was a he.
2. She wrote a book titled Amigo. WHAT?!?! Amigo – the tired, tattered, well-loved book I got some time in my early childhood. WAIT!!! My copy is autographed. MORE!!! I hate “stuff” and am easily a thrower rather than a saver (how many treasures my husband and boys have rescued from our garbage cans) – but I was sure that book was downstairs in a bookshelf pile!!
I ran downstairs to check and there it was easily found. That is simply unbelievable. I hadn’t read the book for years, but as I picked it up memories raced through my hands straight back through time and landed in my childhood. I flipped to the first page of this story I have always loved and found the inscription: To Jennifer Hosler – Best Wishes. Byrd Baylor Schweitzer April 1975.
I was 3 years old.
“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and the future is let in.” Graham Greene