Acorn Wheel

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is a superb novel about redemption during the waning days of the Civil War. These are some of the best passages. Buy the book and read them all!

Page 14

"Swimmer knew a few ways to kill the soul of an enemy and many ways to protect your own. His spells portrayed the spirit as a frail thing, constantly under attack and in need of strength, always threatening to die inside you. Inman found this notion dismal indeed, since he had been taught by sermon and hymn to hold as truth that the soul of man never dies."

Page 16

"Inman guessed Swimmer's spells were right in saying a man's spirit could be torn apart and cease and yet his body keep on living. They could take deathblows independently. He was himself a case in point, and perhaps not a rare one, for his spirit, it seemed, had been about burned out of him to fear that the mere existence of the Henry repeating rifle or the éprouvette mortar made all talk of spirit immediately antique. His spirit, he feared, had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him as a sad old heron standing pointless watch in the mudflats of a pond lacking frogs. It seemed a poor swap to find that the only way one might keep from fearing death was to act numb and set apart as if dead already, with nothing left of you but a hut of bones.

"As Inman sat brooding and pining for his lost self, one of Swimmer's creekside stories rushed into his memory with great urgency and attractiveness. Swimmer claimed that above the blue vault of heaven there was a forest inhabited by a celestial race. Men could not go there to stay and live, but in that high land the dead spirit could be reborn. Swimmer described it as a far and inaccessible region, but he said the highest mountains lifted their dark summits into the lower reaches. Signs and wonders both large and small did sometimes make transit from that world to our own. Animals, Swimmer said, were its primary messengers. Inman pointed out to Swimmer that he had climbed Cold Mountain to its top, and Pisgah and Mount Sterling as well. Mountains don't get much higher than those, and Inman had seen no upper realm from their summit.

"--There's more to it than just climbing, Swimmer had said."

Page 104

"The crops were growing well, largely, Ruby claimed, because they had been planted, at her insistence, in strict accordance with the signs. In Ruby's mind, everything-setting fence posts, making sauerkraut, killing hogs- fell under the rule of the heavens. Cut firewood in the old of the moon, she'd advise, otherwise it won't do much but fry and hiss at you come winter. Next April when the poplar leaves are about the size of a squirrel's ears, we'll plant corn when the signs are in the feet; otherwise the corn will just shank and hang down. November, will kill a hog in the growing of the moon, for if we don't the meat will lack grease and pork chops will cup up in the pan.

"Monroe would have dismissed such beliefs as superstition, folklore. But Ada, increasingly covetous of Ruby's learning in the ways living things inhabited this particular place, chose to view the signs as metaphoric. They were, as Ada saw them, an expression of stewardship, a means of taking care, a discipline. They provided a ritual of concerns for the patterns and tendencies of the material world. Ultimately, she decided, the signs were a way of being alert, and under those terms she could honor them."

Page 106

"Some came from helping Sally Swanger, who knew, Ruby claimed. A great many quiet things such as the names of all the plants down to the plainest weed. Partly, though, she claimed she had just puzzled out in her own mind how the world's logic works. It was mostly a matter of being attentive."

(She goes on talking about why the sumac and dogwood have red leaves...)

Page 137

"When three crows harried a hawk across the sky, Ruby expressed her great respect for the normally reviled crow, finding much worthy of emulation in their outlook on life. She noted with disapproval that many a bird would rather die than eat any but food it relishes. Crows will relish what presents itself. She admired their keenness of wit, lack of pridefulness, love of practical jokes, slyness in a fight. All of these she saw as a making up the genius of crow, which was a kind of willed mastery over what she assumed was a natural inclination toward bile and melancholy, as evidenced by its drear plumage."

Page 219

"That's just pain, she said. It goes eventually. And when it's gone, there's no lasting memory. Not the worst of it, anyway. It fades. Our minds aren't made to hold on to the particulars of pain the way we do bliss. It's a gift God gives us, a sign of His care for us."

Page 220

"To Inman's surprise, he found himself telling about Ada. He described her character and her person item by item and said the verdict he had come to at the hospital was that he loved he and wished to marry her, though he realized marriage implied some faith in a theoretical future, a projection of paired lines running forward through time, drawing nearer and nearer to one another until they became one line.

Page 220

"Marrying a woman for her beauty makes no more sense than eating a bird for its singing. But it's a common mistake nonetheless."

Page 233

"The grouping of sounds, their forms in the air as they rang out and faded, said something comforting to him about the rule of creation. What the music said was that there is a right way for things to be ordered so that life might not always be just a tangle and drift but have a shape, an aim. It was a powerful argument against the notion that things just happen."

Page 258

"Not one idea crosses my mind, though my senses are alert to all around me. Should a crow fly over, I mark it in all its details, but do not seek analogy for its blackness. I know it is a type of nothingness, not metaphoric. A thing unto itself without comparison."

Page 335

"And she thought that you went on living one day after another, and in time you were somebody else, your previous self only like a close relative, a sister or a brother, with whom you share a past. But you are a different person, a separate life."

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Paul Burns

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

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