Voices and Visions at the Library

by Bill Peak

At the Easton library's temporary quarters on Glebe Road, a long, canopied walkway led from the front door to the parking lot. One day, as I was making my way down that walk, I noticed a golden Lab sitting in a car at the far end of the sidewalk watching me. I was struck by how unwaveringly the animal followed my progress. Things grew stranger still when I reached the parking lot and veered off toward my pick-up, for the dog, instead of tracking my change in direction, continued to stare up the pathway as if it were the sidewalk and not me that held its attention.

Intrigued, I began to wonder if the thing was real. Had someone with a wonderfully wicked Eastern Shore sense of humor placed a stuffed animal in the back of their car, thinking the beast's hypnotic stare would ward off tailgaters? Curious, I walked back toward the automobile, and it was then that the dog came to life. Glancing once in my direction, it dismissed me as irrelevant to the task at hand and quickly resumed its observation of the place where it had last seen its owner's back disappearing through the library door. I was reminded of the old record labels showing a dog sitting by the bell of an antique, wind-up Victrola listening to the sound of its master's voice.

Which, in turn, got me to thinking about the voices we listen to, the figures our eyes follow. Are hounds capable of a greater devotion to man than man himself? And then, relieved, I remembered all the times I have picked my wife's figure out of a crowd. In airports, museums, sports stadiums, I find Melissa with ease—her form, her gait and carriage, possessing a certain fascination for my eye.

But when it comes to voices, Melissa's is not the only one that catches my ear. How many times have I, detecting the first hints of a daube's thyme-scented aroma, heard Virginia Woolf proclaim the glories of a dinner party given by Mrs. Ramsay on Skye? How many times, catching sight of a pretty girl, have I listened as James Joyce described—quietly, rapturously—a similar vision, skirts held high, wading unself-consciously along the margins of the Irish Sea? If Dylan Thomas taught me Christmas, Thomas Merton taught me solitude. If Wendell Berry gave me topography, a love for the lay of the land, Shakespeare gave me love itself, to say nothing of my notions of manliness, honor, comedy, tragedy—the debt due all human beings trapped within our allotted three score and ten.

At the library, of course, I hear such voices constantly. As I make my way down the aisles, the shelves rise round me like a live and murmuring sea. Yes. Yes, I know—He hears voices!—there are those who would think me mad. But they are not our sort, are they? They've not joined our gallant band—we few, we happy few, who hear the sweet whisper of books at the Talbot County Free Library.